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Advertise on the Tentacle

July 23, 2008

Fetching Food and Politics

Kevin E. Dayhoff

Every third Wednesday in July the Maryland State Capital, if not the center of the Maryland political universe, moves from Annapolis to Crisfield for the annual J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake.


This year marked the 32nd occasion for the storied unique mixture of great southern Eastern Shore hospitality, tradition, Maryland seafood, and some of the best people watching of the year.


Last Wednesday was a beautiful, hot, and humid Maryland summer day at the quintessential Eastern Shore community situated within sight of the Chesapeake Bay on Tangier Sound, where the Manokin, Annemessex, and Pocomoke Rivers come together.


I, along with fellow columnist Chris Cavey, spent a delightful afternoon at the event with a number of good friends from Central Maryland.


For the uninitiated, or those who have never had an opportunity to attend, it may seem to be a suspension of good sense to spend $40 a ticket and a total of eight hours – down and back – on the highway, all to spend a mere 3½ hours eating seafood in 90-plus-degree heat with 5,800 others. Not to be overlooked was the expenditure of the cash equivalent of the gross national product of a small developing country on gasoline.


It is a wonder why the event has not been the subject of a Food Channel episode as the humongous volume of seafood prepared for the event is consistently excellent. It is as good as anything ordered in an upscale restaurant and the atmosphere, decor, and ambiance are without rival.


To stand in the middle of the event in the parking lot of the nearby 485-berth Somers Cove Marina and look around, one gazes on a Norman Rockwell painting of people, scenery, and everything that is great about America.


Located adjacent to Virginia in Somerset County, Crisfield has been known by several names since it was founded in 1666 by Benjamin Summers. First it was known as Annemessex, or by the same namesake of the nearby Somers Cove.


It was finally and officially named after John W. Crisfield, who, according to the Crisfield Chamber of Commerce website history, recognized the importance of the abundant quantity of oysters located near the town in 1854, and pushed the Eastern Shore Railroad from Salisbury to Crisfield.


In 1904 Crisfield “was the second largest city in the State of Maryland … and one of the finest seaports in the country. It quickly became known as the ‘Seafood Capital of the World’.”


However, last week, in the words of the ever-personable Bruce Bereano – who according to published accounts “is once again the highest-paid lobbyist in the state” – Crisfield hosted the “super bowl of Maryland politics.”


As a generalization, the Tawes event is a glimpse into Maryland politics of yesteryear when people disagreed about the issues but were seldom disagreeable.


Once again I had the opportunity to chat with former Maryland Governor Marvin Mandel. I put my reporters pad away and just enjoyed his company as long as others would allow. Perennially one of the more popular former elected officials that attend the event, many eagerly crowded-in to exchange pleasantries with the 88-year-old elder statesman. He reminisced that he was Speaker of the House when J. Millard Tawes was governor. “We were really good friends,” he said nostalgically.


“I was here for the first (Tawes Clam Bake) 32 years ago and I’ve been coming ever since.”


Gaithersburg Mayor Sidney Katz was there with Eastern Shore native and Maryland Municipal League executive director Scott A. Hancock. The ever-popular Mayor Katz was recently elected the president of the Maryland Municipal League at its recent summer convention.


It was the mayor’s first opportunity to attend the event, and he found it “extremely impressive. It’s fun seeing officials from across the state and making connections to promote municipalities across the state.”


Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, (R., Howard/Carroll), looked up from a full plate of corn and seafood long enough to say that he enjoys the people, the weather – “and the food is wonderful.”


Senator Kittleman was one of several, from both sides of the aisle, to remark that they noticed little presence or support for the presumptive Democrat candidate, Sen. Barack Obama, at the clambake.


Supporters for the presumed Republican presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain – and for First Congressional district contenders, Republican State Senator Andy Harris and Democrat Queen Anne’s County state’s attorney Frank Kratovil, were everywhere and relatively vocal.


However, two pointedly partisan political expressions of the day were the t-shirts worn by Westminster residents, Tom and Leith Clinton, and several road signs on the road into Crisfield, for which no one took credit.


Mr. Clintons sported a t-shirt which proclaimed “O’Malley Sucks,” while Mrs. Clinton’s shirt said, “O’Malley Stinks.” Both t-shirts had a Maryland logo which read, “Maryland welcomes you. Bring your wallet.”


Following a number of the obligatory, run-of-the-mill political signs promoting either Senator Harris or States’ Attorney Kratovil near Crisfield, two signs abruptly challenged the routine. One read: ‘‘Like O’Malley? You’ll love Kratovil.” The other proclaimed” ‘‘O’Malley and Kratovil go together like tax and spend.”


In a gesture to history, Tom Zolper, of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, entertained the crowd dressed in a costume representing the likeness of the historic Chesapeake Bay explorer Captain John Smith. Claiming he was running for president, “Captain Smith” was there to remind those enjoying the seafood that it will take a healthy Chesapeake Bay to continue to provide the food for the event.


If only Benjamin Summers, from 1666, could come back to witness the annual Tawes seafood festival. One can only wonder what he would have to say – in between mouthfuls of corn, clam strips and cracking open a couple of crabs.


Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster: E-mail him at:


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