When it comes to bad publicity, many Maryland politicians adhere to a standard maxim: "It doesn't matter what they write about me, as long as they get the name spelled right."
The "name" has a hallowed place in Maryland politics, a sort of passport to the voters. A good name can endear a politican to the voters. It can neutralize an opponent with a similar name.
There are nicknames galore, evoking rich images of politicians, like Harry J. "Soft Shoes" McQuirk, a powerful Baltimore senator, who so deftly maneuvers through the legislature that his footsteps are rarely heard.
Then, there are politicians who legally change their names to conform with nicknames known to the voters. That practice was made necessary by a state law forbidding anything but an official name on an election day ballot.
One of the more exotic brouhahas in Maryland these days centers on a court petition by Attorney General Francis Boucher Burch, a gubernatorial candidate, who wants to change his middle name to "Bill," the name by which he is known to friends and associates.
In what may be a legal first, Burch's proposal was opposed. Leonard J. Kerpelman, a gadfly lawyer from Baltimore, said in a counter petition that he has always associated the name "Bill" with a "cuddly, friendly, down-to-earth, boy-next-door, palsy, all-American boy type of fellow."
Kerpelman said he has known and observed Burch for most of his professional career and "certifies" that he would use at least 10 names other than "Bill" to describe the attorney general, including "Attila" (king of the Huns) and "Caligula" (the cruel Roman emperor).
If Burch overcomes his opposition, he will follow the rich tradition of name changes in Maryland, a practice amde famous in recent years by American Joe Miedusiewski, a member of the House of Delegates from East Baltimore.
Miedusiewski, who was Baptised Joseph Francis, officially changed his first name to American just before his 1974 election to assure association with his family's popular tavern, American Joe's Bar. The tavern was opened in 1923 by the delegate's grandgather, also named Joseph Francis, who was known as American Joe to Patrons who could not pronounce his Polish surname.
The delegate decided to shed his Christian name after analyzing the political experience of his father, Frank Joseph, who ran unsuccessfully for the House of Delegates four years earlier. After his loss, many patrons of the Miedusiewski bar said they would have voted for him if they had known he worked at American Joe's.
Another East Baltimore delegate, Elmer Elmo Walters, legally changed his middle name from Elsworth 16 years ago after losing three consecutive races for public office. Voters rejected him, Walter maintains, because he had always been known as Elmo, a name he adopted as a child in the 1920s from the silent movie star, Elmo Lincoln, the first actor to play Tarzan.
"I had two friends," Walters said recently, "one of them wanted to be known as Tom Mix and one wanted to be called Buck Jones. So I became Elmo. Since I legally changed it to Elmo, I've never lost a race. It would be foolish for me to lose the efficiency of the name."
The origins of the nicknames are often as colorful as the appelations themselves. One of Baltimore's most beloved politicians, Dominic Mimi DiPetro, who belongs to a diminishing species of political characters, recently explained how he was given the pet name, Mimi.
"When I was born, my mother wanted to name me Mimi," he explained. "I dunno what it means. My father was the boss, and in those days, your father got to pick your goomba (godfather). The name my father's goomba wanted to give me was Dominic. My mother's goomba wanted to name me Mimi. My father superceded my mother and I was Dominic. Then, when I had whatchamacall it . . . confirmation, they stuck Mimi in there."
A name can break as well as make a politician in Maryland. One of the favorite pastimes of Baltimore machine strategists is a practice known as "name's-the-same game." The purpose of the game is simple: to knock off an opponent by running a candidate with a similar name.
The all-time champion of "name's-the-same" was the late Baltimore political boss, James H. (Jack) Pollack. In 1975, Pollack forces used the tactic to help preserve of the Baltimore councilmanic seat of a Pollack stalwart, Reuben Caplan, whose job was considered to be in some jeopardy.
When Norman V. A. Reeves, a black high school principal, emerged as Caplan's prime threat, one of Pollack's lieutenants got an unemployed truck driver, named James Reeves, to file for office. Although James Reeves never appeared during the campaign, his name on the ballot siphoned off enough voted from Norman Reeves to enable Caplan to return to office.
Another version of "name's-the-same game" was engineered by Baltimore Councilman John A. Schaefer in the 1975 citywide election. Earlier in the year, Schaefer was convicted of a conflict of interest charge and was thrown off the council.
Not only did Schaefer print up campaign materials similar to those used by his namesake, the popular Mayor William Donald Schaefer, he put a candidate named Linda Hammen to neutralize the candidacy of one of his chief opponents, Donald Hammen.
A year later, Schaefer was given a quick refresher course in the old adage - in politics, there are no permanent winners or losers - when he ran for a spot as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. The Staszak-DiPetro machine, which backed. Donald Hammen a year earlier, deprived Schaefer of the convention spot by running a candidate by the name of John Shaffer.