Theodore G. Venetoulis, who looks and acts so much like a politician in a made-for-television movie that he is known as "TV Teddy," is making a career out of calling himself a reform candidate.
Venetoulis first donned a white hat as a candidate for Baltimore County executive in 1974, promising to do better than his two immediate predecessors, Spiro T. Agnew and Dale Anderson. Not difficult, considering that Agnew had resigned the vice presidency in disgrace, and Anderson was going off to prison.
Now Venetoulis is offering himself as a reform candidate for governor in the wake of the conviction and removal of Marvin Mandel for political corruption.
But despite his boyish good looks and charm and a scandal-free record, Venetoulis isn't going to be handed the title of Mr. Clean without a fight.
Acting Gov. Blair Lee, for one, isn't willing to concede that just because a politician has been just because a politician has been associated with the Mandel administration that he can't win the confidence of the voters.
And one former Mandel adviser scoffs at Venetoulis' claims of righteousness, saying, "I knew him before he was a virgin."
But when Venetoulis took his still unofficial campaign for the Democratic nomination for governor out of his home bailiwich for the first time last week, it went right into the heart of Blair Lee territory. About 400 persons paid $100 a couple to greet the self-styled white knight at a fund raiser at the Holiday Inn in Silver Spring.
Venetoulis and his supporters at the Montgomery County rally made it clear that "TV Teddy" plans to run as the good guy against a field of contenders his supporters will attempt to portray as successors to a system of government that has produced two consecutive crooked governors.
During a brief speech to the assemblage of beautiful people, Venetoulis, sporting both a suit and a hairdo that looked new, managed to parade both his aging mother and his young son to the platform to tout his reluctant candidacy.
Lanny Davis, who put together a grass-roots organization in winning the Democratic nomination (but not the election) for Congress last year, surveyed the crowd and said he saw "a lot of new faces.
"That's what they said at my rallies," said Davis, who may be Venetoulis' most ardent supporter in Montgomery County.
Davis, who said he will bypass a third try for a Congressional seat next year because he is still $30,000 in debt from the 1976 race, predicted that "the only things that can keep Ted from winning the nomination are if Blair Lee is extremely effective (as acting governor) and if Ted can't raise the money."
The main appeal of a Venetoulis' candidacy, according to Davis, is "that if he is elected governor, you'll be able to walk through the halls of the state-house in Annapolis and not recognize any of the faces."
Davis said that "98 per cent of my organization is for Venetoulis," adding that he also believes a number of backers of former Montgomery Council President Idamae Garrott are ready to jump on a Venetoulis bandwagon.
To support his predictions, Davis noted that Steve Gelobter, who was his political director, is Venetoulis' state political co-ordinator, and that Garrott stalwart Stan Gildenhorn is co-chairman of the Venetoulis campaign.
A native of Baltimore, Venetoulis holds degrees from Towson State, Johns Hopkins and American universities, and has taught political science at Essex Community College.
His political experience includes work as an administrative aide to Rep. James C. Wright of Texas and former Maryland Rep. Carlton R. Sickles, and as campaign manager for Sickles, Mayor William D. Schaefer of Baltimore and of the Maryland presidential effort of California Gov. Jerry Brown.
A published author and experienced editor, Venetoulis has managed to employ his writing skills to get several self-serving articles published in the Baltimore Sun and The Washington Post in which he seldom missed an opportunity to proclaim his honesty and reform-mindedness.
Anonymous Venetoulis detractors already have twice mailed critical newspaper clippings to precinct workers in suburban Washington.
Both mailings centered on Venetoulis' past associations with Irv Kovens, the premier Democtatic fund raiser in Maryland who was convicted of political corruption along with his best friend, Mandel.
Venetoulis teamed with Kovens in 1971 in successfully running Schaefer's campaign for mayor. And although Venetoulis repeatedly denied it at the time, aides recently confirmed that Koven raised about $3,000 for Venetoulis' own campaign.
But reform in Maryland politics is a relative matter, and Venetoulis may get away with telling voters that he is among Kovens' least favorite candidates.
And if the admiring glances of some young women at his fund raiser in Silver Spring last week are any indication, in Montgomery County, TV Teddy may want to use the slogan "if you liked Lanny, you'll love Teddy."