The cold weather. It has kept the energy staff here working overtime but it has cooled the passions of the concerned citizen who has been in short supply around these marble hallways. The paid lobbyist, yes. But the neighborhood groups, the civic associations, and the impromptu Citizens Concerned. About Whatever haven't stampeded their legislators as they have been went to do in the past.
The weather seasoned observors say, is to blame. Isn't it too much to ask of the harried citizen to drive down Ronte 50 from the Washington area or down Ritchie Highway from Baltimore?
On the last bitter cold night of January, on a Monday, citizens were here. Bundled up with scarves and heavy overcoats, stamping their feet to find warmth, they prowled the hallways looking for senators or delegates to tell them whether the political debates of the session had yet produced anything close to a solution to their problems.
The problems were two: Where to build a much-needed prison and how to control the fast-rising property tax assessments.
Down Ritchie Highway came the Baltimore City activists who do not want a can factory converted into a neighborhood prison. Across on Route 50 came Prince George's County taxpayers, mostly senior citizens hardest hit by the inflation and the property taxes.
With the thaw hundreds of state employees arrived the following Monday for the traditional night of lobbying but the medals of honor go to the late January crowd who demonstrated the urgency of their problems.
About 120 Baltimore residents filled the lavishly appointed conference room of the new Legislative Services Building, whose dark wood interior is accented by the vibrant colors of stained glass windows rescued from the old Court of Appeals Building.
What they saw was a virtuoso performance in waffling by Mayor William Donald Schaefer before the city's legislative delegation.
Yes, the mayor had an alternative to purchasing the East Baltimore can factory as a prison site, a stance that pleased most of his constituents in the audience.
But no, that didn't mean he was opposed to the can factory site.
Schaefer insisted that it was not his place to favor or oppose a site, it was a state problem. But because many residents, especially those from the black neighborhood that abuts the can factory, oppose that site, the mayor offered an option.
Schaefer's dilemma was this: The can factory site is favored by Gov. Marvin Mandel, and while Schaefer is no Mandel crony or lackey, the government has helped the mayor in some major legislative battles. Last year, for example, Mandel helped get money for the Baltimore subway and a new convention center in addition to usual economic aid to the state's metroplis.
The meeting in which legislators sharply questioned the mayor, was a rare opportunity for Statehouse observors to see "the Baltimores" wage an intra-city fight on neutral territory.
Schaefer's indecisivess may have been political astute as far as the warring home folks were concerned but his performance did little to change his luckluster image as one of the many could-be gubernatorial candidates next year.
On the steps of the statehouse - braving the breath-takingly cold air - Gov. Mandel heard the petitions of the senior citizens.
The audience was necessarily short. The senior citizens were promised legislation that would somehow being them relief from the inflation-bound property-tax assessment system that was shooting up their yearly tax bills even when the tax rate remained the same.
It was a fitting response for a well-organized posses. These Prince George's County citizens wore red and blue paper badges advertising their anger at the tax system. Members of either the Alliance of Communities for Tax Seniors - ACTS and BUS respectively - they disgorged from their hired buses in order and corraled their delegates with equal determination.
Monitors stood strategically at entry-ways and portals, clutching a piece of paper covered with photographs of their delegates and senator, like so many post office mug shot sheets. When one was spotted, the activists were surprised to find sympathetic ears.
Del. Perry O. Wilkinson Jr. not only signed his name to a statement - attesting to his determination to help the group - he also volunteered to pass the statement on to a more illusive colleague.
When the whistle blew and the citizens retreated to the night and the buses, the score card was nearly perfect. "They nearly all said they agreed with us," reported Lyman Beall of Hyattsville."Mind you, we haven't had to go hungry because of taxes but we also were thinking of moving to North Carolina."