Josh Kurtz: Take Back Tawes!

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By Josh Kurtz: 

Bruce Bereano has hijacked the J. Millard Tawes Clam Bake and Crab Feast.

The Annapolis uber-lobbyist has always been a fixture at the annual sweat-fest in Crisfield. He’s sponsored a tent there for almost a decade now.

But over the years, Bereano and his tent have become the focal point for all the politicians who routinely attend, and for almost all the politicking.

More is the pity – because it detracts from the overall flavor of the event. It limits the amount of time the pols spend visiting the other sponsors’ tents or shaking hands with the “real” people on the food lines and in the pavilion with all the picnic tables.
Instead, they plop themselves down in Bereano’s ever-expanding tent, enjoy his and his clients’ largesse, and just stay there. Anthony Brown and Ken Ulman staged their crab-picking photo op in Bereano’s tent on Wednesday.

To my eye – and I’ve been to several crab feasts, dating back to 1998 – there were fewer sponsors’ tents on Wednesday than I’d ever seen. And they all seemed relatively empty – even the political parties’ tents, even at the last Tawes before next year’s primaries – as the crowd in and around Bereano’s tent swelled.

This is not meant to be an anti-Bereano diatribe. Bereano has plenty of critics – and he’s certainly earned them. And the muttering about Bereano and his tactics and his ethical scrapes always gets a little louder around the crab feast.
But Bereano has also earned the right to sponsor the event, invite whomever he wants, and try to make his tent the center of the action. He loves Tawes, and what’s not to love? It’s up to the politicians – and the media, and the operatives, and all the political hangers-on – to make Bereano something other than the star of the show.

Bereano has thrived all these years in Annapolis because, more than any other lobbyist, he has a unique ability to make state legislators feel like VIP’s. And legislators sure love to feel like VIP’s. Hell, Bereano reserves tables in his tent for certain officials – Gloria Lawlah! Dereck Davis! And a lot of old-timers turn up because they can still, for one steamy afternoon, feel like big shots. Marvin Mandel! Richie Palumbo! Audrey Scott, for heaven’s sake.

But they shouldn’t take the bait. Bereano sends out missives to insiders implying that if they want to buy tickets for the crab feast, they have to go through him. They don’t (one elected official asked me recently if there was any way to buy a ticket other than from Bereano).

The Crisfield crab feast has traditionally been an opportunity for politicians to mingle with ordinary voters and the interest groups that have chosen to sponsor the event. It’s supposed to feel like a little slice of democracy to go along with all the crabs, beer and fried clams you can consume.

Now, it’s the Bereano show. He holds court, and all the political people pay tribute. He is not who they should be paying tribute to.
So it’s time to take back Tawes.

According to the Crisfield Chamber of Commerce, groups as small as 30 qualify for a tent at the crab feast, if they want it. Tent, table and chair rentals from the chamber are quite reasonable.

So I say it’s time for Tawes fans to step up to the plate and provide a counter-balance to Bereano and the politicians. Maybe the media could sponsor a tent in the name of the people. Or the political wise guys and gals who hit Len Foxwell’s annual after-party in Cambridge. Maybe I’ll just drag a random assortment of friends down for a rollicking good time. Maybe my town, the People’s Republic of Takoma Park, wants to send a delegation.

The possibilities are limitless; the need, obvious. Who’s in?

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at .

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Josh Kurtz has been writing about Maryland politics since late 1995. Louie Goldstein, William Donald Schaefer and Pete Rawlings were alive, but the Intercounty Connector, as far as anyone could tell, was dead.

But some things never change: Mike Miller is still in charge of the Senate. Gerry Evans and Bruce Bereano are among the top-earning lobbyists in Annapolis. Steny Hoyer is still waiting for Nancy Pelosi to disappear. And Maryland Republicans are still struggling to be relevant.

The media landscape in Maryland has changed a lot, and Kurtz is happy to write weekly for Center Maryland. He's been writing a column for the website since it launched in January 2010.

In his "real" job, Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily down on Capitol Hill. But he'll always find Maryland politics more fascinating.

Kurtz grew up in New York City and attended public schools there. He has a BA in History from the University of Wisconsin and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University. He's married with two daughters and lives in Takoma Park, Md. He hopes you'll drop him a line, or maybe go out for a meal with him, because he's always hungry -- for political gossip.