The big cars - the Cadillacs, Mercedes, Buicks and Oldsmobiles - were lined up for blocks outside Maryland Attorney General Francis B. Burch's colonial brick home here Tuesday night, just as they have been several times each week for the last couple months.
Burch, as he had done 10 other evenings, was wining and dining 40 or 50 "close friends" - lawyers, bankers, politicians and business executives. The object was to raise money for his campaign for governor.
The pitch was soft sell. "There was no arm twisting," said one guest, Richard Hartman, president of the Autombile Club of Maryland. "I've known Bill Burch for 30 years. I went because he's my friend."
The dinners are the most interesting new wrinkle in the crowded race for the Maryland governorship. Burch isn't the only politician to have the people come to him instead of going to the people. But while Warren G. Harding ran for President from his front porch in Marion, Ohio, Francis B. Burch may be the first Maryland politician to run for governor from his living room.
Burch can get by with it because he's build up a large reservoir of friendships and political IOU's in his 10 years as attorney general.
His strategy is simple. He's trying to build hugh campaign war chest - large enough to scare off some of his more than half dozen Democratic opponenets before the race really gets started. And he has decided the informal dinners in his name in the fashionable Guilford area are the best vehicle to sell tickets to his $100-a-head fund-raiser, scheduled for May 31.
"Orginally, we thought about having a luncheon type thing," said Philip Altfeld, Burch's campaign manager. "But on reflection, Bill (as Burch is called) thought it might be warmer if he invited people to his home. It's a verly lively place. Is has style and charm and grace."
Burch has barred newsmen from the dinners. "It might have a chilling effect," he says. He also refuses to discuss how much money they've raised, although his opponents estimate from $100,000 to $200,000.
Burch refuses to confirm or deny these reports although it is in his interest to let them be exaggerated at this point in the campaign. "I think my opponents are aware that I'm making significant headway," he says with a grin. Burch estimated that his campaign will cost upwards of $750,000. "I fully expect to be able to raise it," he said.
The dinners, according to those who have attended them, are not your traditional rubber-chicken affairs. Instead, Burch's carterer dishes up a strictly upper crust menu: scampi, bef burgundy, veal marasla, cold artichoke hearts, asparagus hollandaise, fried brown rice, French pastries, apple crumb cakes, etc.
Burch personally invites all the guests, who have numbered almost 500 the last eight weeks. They constitute a virtual who's who of the business, legal and political power structure of Baltimore: businessmen, labor union officials, lawyers, many drawn from the ranks of former assistant attorneys general whose career surch had aided, and people from other parts of the state.
Almost every member of the Baltimore more City Council has appeared at one point or another; so have some of the leading political bosses, like Frmermer statue Dan. Joseph Staazki; so have a numebr of Joseph / of key state legislators, and many of the wealthy businessmen who financed Marvin Mandel's two successful gubernatorial races.
The format each night is the same. Cocktails start at 5:30 p.m., the buffet dinner at 6:30. Burch's wife, Pat, and seven children mingle with the guests. About 7:10, the attorney general strips off his coat, and climbs atop a small stool in the crowded living room. His face is deeply tanned; his hair is full and white.
"I tell I'm not an announced candidate, but I'm having a testimonial dinner for those who are interested in my career," Burch says.
Two elements in every speech give an anusual glimpse at the candidate.
First is his background. "A lot of people think I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth," said Burch, now a millionaire. That's not true, and it's frustrating. I tell them my father was an insurance agent during the Depression when people barely had money to buy food and couldn't afford insurance. I had to work my wau." To buttress his agrment that tube bedn't always drive a brand new Cadillac like he does now, Burch distribution of flyer lisingt his (workd experience." It goes from 1930, when Burch was 12, to 1944 when he was 26 and a graduate of Yale Law School. It reports that the attorney general was a Christmas card salesman, a newsboy, a milkman, a postal clerk, a yard man at Bethlehem Steel for three summers, and coached lacrosse and worked as a secretary of the Moot Curt while at Yale.
The way Burch, 58, deals with his health (he had a heart attack six years ago) is also revealing. He tells each audience his height (6 feet), weight (172 pounds), blood pressure (130 over 70), that he plays a tough game of tennis and has been given a clean bill of health by his doctor, George Murgatroyd (who made this report himself at a least one dinner.)
After Burch finishes, campaign manager Altfeld takes over. He outlines campaign finance laws and the plans for the Burch testimonial dinner at the Baltimore Civic Center. "I tell them I have tickets available for people to buy, but there's no hard sell," he says. "The response has been fantastic, well beyond our wildest dreams. Somewhere between 80 and 90 per cent of the people have been taking tickets for themselves and friends."
Before the crowd breaks up there are always a series of "spontaneous" endorsements for Burch. At one dinner, for instance, former Deputy Attorney General Harry Lord told how he met Burch. At another, former Assistant Attorney General Steve Hess told how he'd been hired. "What surprised me is he never asked me if I was a Democrat or a Republican," he said. "He just gave me the job."