41st annual Tawes Crab and Clam Bake in pictures and text

July 19, 2017 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Campaign 2018, Culture and Politics, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on 41st annual Tawes Crab and Clam Bake in pictures and text 

For some reason the vibe seemed a little different to me this time around – maybe it’s because this is the first one I’ve attended as an erstwhile political participant. But at 10:00 I rolled into town and got my ticket (this was a first, too – more on that in a bit) so I started looking around while I was there. Immediately I found there was still one constant.

Bruce Bereano probably brings half the people down there, and I’m not kidding. If you consider that the political people are a significant draw to this festival, and his massive tent is annually chock-full of Annapolis movers and shakers, one has to wonder just what would be left if he ever pulled up stakes. Would they have a crowd like this?

But the Crisfield Chamber of Commerce (as event sponsor) has its own ideas on VIP treatment.

For an additional $15 fee on top of the ticket price, you could get access to this tent with its amenities. It was an answer to some of the corporate tents that were doing this anyway. Many of those were still doing their thing.

Most of the people were already in line at 11:30 waiting on lunch. While the ticket says 12, if you wait until then you’re waiting for food.

But let’s face it: the media doesn’t really come here to see food lines, although that’s where I found this crew from Channel 47, WMDT-TV.

No, the real draw for this edition was the potential 2018 candidates. Until the last couple cycles, odd-numbered years were somewhat sleepy because the campaigns weren’t really underway yet, while the even-numbered years saw Tawes fall on a date less than two months before the primary. That’s now flipped on its head because the primary was moved up to June, so this is the last Tawes before the 2018 primary. So several contenders were out scouring for votes – none, I would say, moreso than this guy.

State Senator Jim Mathias (standing, in the gray shirt) has a huge target on his back that’s far larger than the logo on the front. He is the one Democrat Senator on the Eastern Shore, and the GOP sees his seat as a prime candidate for taking over next year as they need to flip five Senate seats to assure themselves the numbers to sustain Larry Hogan’s vetoes.

To that end, Mathias was the one candidate who had his own supporter tent. To me, that was interesting because most of the local Democrats that I know spent their time milling around the Mathias tent (wearing their own gray shirts) and didn’t hang out at the “regular” Democrat party tent.

Just a couple spots over from Mathias was the Somerset GOP tent.

Now you’ll notice I said Somerset. For whatever reason, Wicomico’s Republicans chose not to participate this year and there were few of my former cohorts to be found. Since that’s how I used to get my tickets, I had to make alternate arrangements this time. That’s not to say there weren’t Wicomico County Republicans there such as County Executive Bob Culver, Judge Matt Maciarello, Salisbury City Councilman Muir Boda, and many others – just not the Central Committee.

Closer to their usual back corner spot were the Democrats.

Their focus seemed to be more on the larger races, as even their state chair Kathleen Matthews was there. Here she’s speaking with Crisfield mayor Kim Lawson.

(Lawson has a smart-aleck sense of humor I can appreciate. When a photographer introduced herself as being from the Sun, he thanked her for making it a little cooler here than back home. I got it right away, she looked befuddled.)

The small posse you may have noticed in the original photo of the Democrats’ tent belonged to gubernatorial candidate Alec Ross, who eventually caught up to them at the tent.

I asked Ross what he would do differently than the current governor, and he said he would focus more on education. One thing I agreed with him on was something he called a Democratic “failure” – focusing too much on preparing kids for college when some aren’t college material and would be better suited for vocational training. But he limits himself in the palette of school improvement and choice to public and charter schools, whereas I believe money should follow the child regardless. Ross also has this pie-in-the-sky scheme about government credit to working moms for child care which I may not quite be grasping, but one assumes that all moms want to work. I think some may feel they have to work but would rather be stay-at-home moms.

The thing that stuck out at me was his saying that when two people disagree, at least one of them is thinking. You be the judge of who ponders more.

But the Democrats’ field for the top spot is getting so crowded that I got about five steps from talking to Ross and saw State Senator Richard Madaleno, another candidate.

Having done the monoblogue Accountability Project for a decade now, I pretty much know where Madaleno stands on issues – but I was handed a palm card anyway. Indeed, he’s running as a “progressive.”

And then there’s this guy. I didn’t realize he was talking to the state chair Matthews at the time, but I wonder if she was begging him to get in the governor’s race or stay out of it. I suspect state Comptroller Peter Franchot is probably happy where he is.

Franchot is probably happy because he works so well with this guy, the undisputed star of the show.

This turned out to be a pretty cool photo because I was standing in just the right spot to see his car swoop around the corner, come to a halt, and watch the trooper open the door for Governor Hogan to emerge.

If you follow me on social media you already saw this one.

Say what you will, and Lord knows I don’t agree with him on everything: but Governor Larry Hogan was treated like a rock star at this gathering, to a point where he could barely make it 50 yards in a half-hour.

This would have been of no use.

I said my quick hello to Larry moments before WBOC grabbed him for an interview, and that’s fine with me.

Here are two ladies who were probably glad he was there, too.

In her usual pink was State Senator Addie Eckardt, while Delegate Mary Beth Carozza was in her campaign blue. And since Carozza told me she treasures my observations, here are a couple.

First of all, it’s obvious that Jim Mathias is running scared because why else would he spend the big money on a tent and dozens of shirts for the volunteers that showed up (plus others who may have asked)? Not that he doesn’t have a lot of money – the special interests across the bridge make sure of that – but Mathias has to realize there is some disconnect between his rhetoric and his voting record. And he’s not prepping for a major challenge from Ed Tinus.

A second observation is that most of the Mathias signs I saw driving down there were flanked by signs for Sheree Sample-Hughes, and you don’t do that for a Delegate seat you were unopposed for the first time you ran. Something tells me Sheree has a higher goal in mind, but it may not one worth pursuing unless the circumstances were right.

One thing I found out from the Democrat chair Matthews is that at least two people are in the running against Andy Harris and were there. I didn’t get to speak with Michael Pullen, but I did get to chat for a bit with Allison Galbraith.

So when I asked her what she would do differently than Andy Harris, the basic response was what wouldn’t she do differently? We talked a little bit about defense, entitlements, and health care. Now she is against government waste (as am I) but I think my idea of waste is somewhat different. She also claimed to have saved some sum of money based on her previous work, but I reminded her she would be one of 435 and there seems to be a “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” mentality in Congress. (I should have asked her who she would pattern herself after as a Congresswoman.)

But in the end, I was hot, sweaty, sunburned, and dog tired. I will say, though, that despite the rancor that seems to be pervasive in our world these days when it comes to politics most of the people in Crisfield got along just fine. I think I was very bipartisan in speaking since I talked to many GOP friends and met some of these Democrat candidates I didn’t know so I had an idea who they were. And who knows? I haven’t checked yet, but I may be on the Sun‘s website – that same photographer Lawson joked with took my photo later while I was asking Ross questions and got my info.

By the time we do this next year, we will know who’s running for office and the campaigning will be more serious. So will the eating for the 50% that don’t care about politics and never wander by Bereano’s massive setup. As long as the Tawes event can cater to both they should be okay.

Head south, everyone!

July 15, 2014 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on Head south, everyone! 

Crisfield is the southernmost town in Maryland, but one day per summer it becomes the state’s political capital. Anyone familiar with Maryland politics knows that a summer tradition is standing around on the blacktop at Somers Cove Marina waiting for crabs and watching politicians try to create a show of support. But this year’s affair promises to be somewhat different than ones in years past, perhaps getting the feel of one held the year after the previous gubernatorial election.

This is because, for the first time, we already know for sure who the nominees will be. In years past we had a primary just weeks away but that’s no more. So Anthony Brown will be there, presumably with a cadre of blue-shirted volunteers who will head straight to the AFSCME tent. Larry Hogan’s posse will arrive at some point and the question will be how much smaller will his be, as it always seems Republican groups are smaller.

If things hold as they have over the past few years, there will be a steady stream of traffic going by the GOP tent, if only because Bruce Bereano’s bipartisan party is generally right across the walkway; meanwhile, the Democrats will hole up in the opposite corner by the cove, near a place I generally go to get some shade as I walk around. The only difference is that shade may not be such a requirement – the forecast for Crisfield tomorrow is for temperatures only in the upper 70s but a chance of rain throughout the afternoon after a stormy early morning. It could affect the business portion of the event, as a number of local businesses use this as a party for their employees and clients. (It’s not just politicians having a good time – I have some beer pong photos from a few years back. I was not a participant.)

I have no insight as to how ticket sales are doing, aside from knowing we sold most of our allotment. I do know this will be the ninth straight one I’ve gone to (beginning in 2006) and a lot of things have stayed pretty constant. Something worth noting from 2006 is that then-Governor Ehrlich skipped the event – and lost. Martin O’Malley didn’t skip the event in 2006 and 2010, and won.

But instead of blast-furnace hot as is usual, we may be drowned rat wet. Fortunately, there are tents but those cardboard box halves may come in handy as makeshift umbrellas. (Pro tip: don’t forget the box half, although occasionally campaigns will be one step ahead and bring a bunch. It’s a good place to use old bumper stickers.)

In any event, be looking for me. I got my ticket last week and will be there with my little camera taking pictures as I have for most of the last several years. I have a lot of good memories of Tawes and met some fine people, so there’s no reason to stop going now.

$4 million could do a lot more good

December 7, 2012 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items, National politics, Politics · Comments Off on $4 million could do a lot more good 

It’s not often that our little slice of Maryland makes national news, but Crisfield attorney John Phoebus struck a chord by promoting the latest White House petition. The petition, titled “Cancel the President’s vacation and send the $4 million it will cost to Somerset County, Maryland for disaster relief” reads as follows:

On December 3, 2012, President Obama denied the request of Governor O’Malley and the entire Maryland congressional delegation to award Individual Assistance to Somerset County, Maryland to recover from Hurricane Sandy.

Somerset County is Maryland’s poorest county. The towns of Crisfield, Fairmount, and Deal Island were devastated by the hurricane, with flood waters causing widespread damage. These poor, working waterfront communities were already fragile from the decline of the seafood industry. Super Storm Sandy left them with no where to turn except FEMA for assistance.

For the $4 million it will cost taxpayers for the President to vacation in Hawaii, we could rebuild Somerset County. The President should stay home and send our tax money to Somerset County to rebuild.

Okay, insofar as the main compare and contrast point I agree wholeheartedly; in fact, by making national news Phoebus is bringing attention to a part of the country arguably devastated as much as those areas around the New York City metroplex where news outlets like the Weather Channel camped out and breathlessly followed the story of devastation. Somerset County is much farther off the beaten track and not a lot of people live there, so no one cared. Even when a grocery store which had operated 64 years was shut down as a result of the storm, it attracted little notice.

But the question is also one of assuming it’s the federal government’s job to step in and bail us out. In all honesty, if someone handed a $4 million check to the residents of Crisfield, how would they divvy the money out? Furthermore, how quickly do you think the complaints would come that so-and-so was getting benefits while we weren’t? Or that the money wasn’t being spent properly – remember those debit cards handed out after Katrina? I suspect the government learned an expensive lesson.

Needless to say, in the great scheme of government spending $4 million is a rounding error. If you figure the number of people affected it would likely only be about $1,000 each, if that. That’s why I have to question Phoebus’s assertion that it would be enough to “rebuild Somerset County.”  He correctly points out that the damage has long since been done since the seafood industry left, and $4 million won’t fix that either. Obviously it’s a completely symbolic gesture.

So far 3,440 have signed the petition, with a threshold of 25,000 to become eligible for a White House response. It’s likely that getting to 25,000 will take longer than the time remaining before Barack Obama steps onto Air Force One and jets off to Hawaii for the holidays, so the question may become moot.

I suspect what may happen this year is that certain one-time tax provisions will be made for victims of Sandy and millions will be doled out throughout the affected area to help particular victims. Somerset County won’t get rich from that, but I think that’s about the best they’ll be able to expect.

The bitter end

November 15, 2012 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items · 3 Comments 

In my travels today for work, I came across this curious scene. Sorry it’s so dark, I took it around twilight through my car window.

The now-former Riggin's Grocery in Crisfield.

This may illustrate the key point I want to make better; it’s a close-up of the door signage.

19 jobs lost, according to the sign.

Not being a native or resident of Crisfield, I had never heard of the store until it was placed on my job board. From the looks of it, the store resembles several others I service in my outside job as it’s older and without the modern amenities you’d find in the large chain grocery stores like Giant or Food Lion. But the important sign is on the right-hand door: 19 jobs lost.

Something I notice about Crisfield in my infrequent travels there is that if I leave there in the late afternoon on most days (aside from the third Wednesday in July, which is the annual Tawes Crab and Clam Bake) there is much more traffic going into Crisfield than leaving. That tells me jobs are sort of scarce in the town, and losing another 19 is a blow a once-thriving bayside community doesn’t need.

In looking into the situation, it appears that the store was barely hanging on anyway until Sandy blew into town and put a foot or more of water into the place. And in reading their Facebook page, it appears they’ll be missed. Obviously a business that’s been around serving the community 64 years is something of a landmark, even if it was well off the beaten path.

So what drove them out of business? If I were to guess, the opening of a new Food Lion a few years back didn’t do them any favors. While the Crisfield location is smaller than most other Food Lion stores I’m familiar with, the fact that it’s a chain store and can more than compete on price makes a difference. People may have raved about the meat and deli items found at Riggin’s, but surely many more former customers were just as happy to purchase Food Lion’s products.

Yet niche stores can and do survive, even in a world of Walmarts, Food Lions, and other chains. On the other hand, even chain grocery stores can fail – just ask the hundreds who used to work at the various local Super Fresh locations where the plug was pulled. Apparently, though, the damage done by this natural disaster was too much for the little independent grocery to overcome, so the doors were shut and 19 people are now out of work.

Unfortunately, the closure doesn’t just mean the loss of jobs – presumably a flood-damaged building with no tenant and few prospects for one to move in could soon fall into disrepair. And while its location may have seemed a logical choice when the building was built in 1956 (according to tax records) it’s now too cramped for any sort of more modern retail facility.

So a portion of the Eastern Shore will mourn the loss of yet another local landmark, perhaps a victim of these difficult economic times. A booming community could handle two (or more) competing grocery stores, but Crisfield’s boom times have been a memory for many years now. Add Riggin’s to the list of fading memories of a bygone time.

35th Annual Tawes Crab and Clam Bake in pictures and text

As the old saying goes, there are two sides to (almost) every story, and the annual event in Crisfield provides plenty of comparisons.

Take the location for example – a marina filled with boats valued in the tens of thousands of dollars hard by low-income housing. Denizens of the immediate neighborhood look forward to the Clam Bake as it provides an opportunity to sell parking spots to people who don’t wish to walk as far to the event.

In short, they create their own economic development. But bringing 3,500 visitors to Crisfield is an economic boost to the area.

While the event has a reputation as a political stop, there is a business element there too. Some companies look to get or keep their name out in the area.

Others use it as a reward to their customers, hosting elaborate parties within the party.

But the crowd was noticeably smaller than last year’s. Yes, this is not an election year but even the number of businesses which took tent space seemed smaller. How often do you see this?

Maybe it’s something about Area 51? But this is a shot I took around 1:30 or so at the peak of the festivities.

Compare that crowd to this still shot from last year.

Even the mugs weren’t being snatched up as quickly.

As you’ll notice in the panoramic picture, there are two main areas where crowds gather. On one side are the smaller tents set up for businesses and groups. But many people sit in the pavilion and enjoy musical entertainment.

I can’t say I’m a fan of country or bluegrass, but a number of people sat under the pavilion to listen.

I know, I know – you readers are saying, “Michael, you have a political website. What’s the political dirt?” Well, there are two sides to that as well.

One guy who seems to straddle that line is Bruce Bereano, who annually has among the largest tents and his own “corner.” However, with a revised setup this year he was more in the middle.

In a nice touch, Bereano has honored a local leader for the last couple years.

If you don’t believe he works to both sides of the aisle, consider that the following two signs were close together on his tent.

Could this be the gubernatorial matchup for 2014? Peter Franchot could obviously be entrenched as Comptroller for as long as he wants to be but my feeling is he wants something more. Meanwhile, David Craig is term-limited as Harford County Executive but obviously has a run for something in mind three years hence. My guess would be that “something” is a long-term stay in Government House.

A matchup which will occur sooner is a statewide battle for the U.S. Senate seat held by Ben Cardin. Presumably he was a little busy today, but a number of volunteers were sporting his colors and registering voters as they stood in the food lines.

Arriving a little later was a man who’s aiming to be his Republican rival, Dan Bongino. Here he’s talking to Bill Harris of Cecil County.

I also spied Eric Wargotz there with his wife. But he wasn’t openly campaigning at this time.

Like Senator Cardin, Congressman Andy Harris was likely a little busy today but had volunteers and signs with a sharply pointed message about. Eventually a lot of folks were wearing yellow Harris shirts.

By gosh, I think Andy is right. But there was someone quite familiar to him there.

Allow me to pose a question. Why would you spend $200 on tickets and a half tank of gas to come down and eat crabs one can probably get just as readily in Queen Anne’s County? Perhaps it’s a case of best two out of three? For all his talk about time with the family I don’t think, given the power and prestige of a seat in Congress, he can let it go just to be a cheerleader for Ben Cardin.

And there were a few cheerleaders for our state’s junior Senator.

Yet the Democrats had a modest, unassuming presence compared to the GOP.

That’s not to say both parties weren’t represented, to be sure. Here’s two of our best freshman Delegates, Charles Otto and Justin Ready.

They weren’t the only freshmen Republicans there, as I saw Michael Hough, Kathy Szeliga, and of course my Delegate Mike McDermott at the event.

Meanwhile, Wicomico County Executive Rick Pollitt was reaching across the aisle, greeting old friends in the Somerset County Republican tent.

On the other hand, Norm Conway was holed up around the Democrats’ base.

Even the unaffiliated were there. Yes, last I checked Laura Mitchell of Salisbury City Council doesn’t state a party affiliation. I did catch up to her just outside the Democratic tent, though.

Nor was national politics forgotten. Kevin Waterman (who some may know for the Questing for Atlantis website) came supporting his choice for President, Gary Johnson.

Republican politics must run in that family – his mother Diana (who I cut off in the photo) is First Vice-Chair of the Maryland GOP.

Needless to say, the media was there as well. WBOC-TV was on location shooting footage, and I saw print reporters and fellow bloggers about, too.

But I’m curious if anyone else will report on this tidbit.

Notice the flag placed in the corner of the Democrats’ tent? It’s the Wicomico County flag.

Now I’m not convinced that the official imprimatur of our fair county should be in that tent – granted, Democrats have a plurality of voters here but Republicans hold more elected seats in county government. If it’s an endorsement of Democratic principles (such as they are) for our county, consider me as a conscientious objector.

So while the turnout was smaller than in years past, it was still a good event for the Crisfield community. And the rain, which I noticed on my drive back, stayed away.

Look for an interesting cast of characters for next year’s event, which should fall after the 2012 primary on July 18, 2012.

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