There was an open bar in the banquet room of the Friendship International Motel last Wednesday night. The 25 or 30 special guests were offered prime rib and baked Alaska along with the free drinks. The setting was designed, as one guest said, "with the idea in mind that if you want to attract big money, you display it."
Some flew in to nearby Baltimore-Washington International airport on private planes from the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Others drove up from the Washington suburbs or down from Baltimore in their own cars.
They all had one thing in common - they were the people Maryland Senate President Steny H. Hoyer turned to when he needed money to support his campaign for Maryland's Democratic gubernatorial nomination. It was not "big money" that Hoyer needed on this occasion, it was quick money.
Hoyer told his dinner guests that he needed some money - about $50,000 - for a specific and immediate purpose.
He had to go on television, with what is called a "media blitz," before the end of May. He had to remind the voters - in Baltimore, in the Washington suburbs, in Cumberland and Hagerstown to the west and in the Eastern Shore towns - that Steny Hoyer was alive and well and running.
The need was immediate, said Fran Tracy, his campaign director, because the polls were still showing that Hoyer's recognition factor outside his base in Prince George's County was the lowest of the six Democratic candidates. And, day by day, the rumors were becoming more persistent and widespread that Hoyer was about to drop out of the race.
Hoyer and Tracy have worked valiantly to dismiss such rumors by talking about all the events they have planned for coming months. But the image of Hoyer as an imminent dropout already has had a noticeable affect. Hoyer's opponents unanimously dismiss him as a serious contender for the nomination. They speak of his talent, his future, but not his 1978 campaign.
Many of his colleagues in Prince George's, while still publicly supporting Hoyer's gubernatorial quest, admit privately that they would be surprised if he lasted much longer. County Executive Winfield Kelly, who has gubernatorial ambitions of his own, said in a recent interview that he advised Hoyer two years ago that he would rather have Hoyer seek reelection to the Senate presidency than run an uphill fight for governor.
The people at the meeting represented most of the inner core of Hoyer's financial network. It is a network formed mostly of lawyers, but it also includes several developers, such as Albert Turner and Kenneth Michael, and Abe Pollin, the owner of the Washington Bullets and Capitals. Turner and Michael attended the dinner. Pollin was invited, but was preoccupied by the Bullet's playoff fortunes in the National Basketball Association.
"It was a remarkable speech Steny gave that night," said state Sen. Thomas V. (Mike) Miller (D.-Prince George's), one of the guests.
"He analyzed all the poll results and told us, convincingly, that they were encouraging. He said the polls showed he was the favorite candidate of the college educated, the political cognoscenti, and that he needed the television to spread the message."
Miller and all the other guests had heard the rumors about Hoyer lowering his sights to become a candidate for lieutenant governor in the Sept. 12 party primary on a ticket headed by Acting Gov. Blair Lee III or Attorney General Francis Burch or Baltimore County Executive Theodore Venetoulis.
Hoyer discussed those rumors, and all his options, in frank detail, according to several of those at the gathering.He said that all of his opponents have asked him to run as lieutenant governor with them, but that he was not yet ready to accept any of the offers.
"The impression I got was that Steny was saying: 'Give me the money for the media blitz.Then we'll take a poll and see where we stand in early June,'" said one guest.
Joseph Moore, an Eastern Shore attorney who traveled to the meeting in a chartered airplane, said he was impressed by Hoyer's clear thinking on his political status. "Steny was very honest, as he always is," said Moore. "He doesn't paint a picture that doesn't exist."
James Hanks, a Baltimore City attorney, put it this way:
"I think it would be fair to characterize the meeting as a group of people primarily interested in Steny as a young, responsible leader of Maryland. We're for him for whatever he decides to run for among his options - governor, lieutenant governor or senate president. He's in the best position to decide what it will be."
With this prevailing sentiment, Hoyer's financiers to a person told the candidate that they would round up the $50,000 he needed. Most of them had already contributed the legal limit of $1,000 to the campaign, so they went back to their home territories - law offices and businesses - to raise the money. Ronald Pickett, Hoyer's brother-in-law, was placed in charge of coordinating the effort.
The television spots are being prepared by the Earle Palmer Brown agency in Bethesda and will run in Baltimore, Washington, Hagerstown and Salisbury. They are expected to include footage of Hoyer presiding over the Senate and at bill signing ceremonies with Acting Gov. Lee.
Most politicians and political observers in Maryland believe that if Hoyer does go for lieutenant governor it will be on Lee's ticket. While Hoyer refuses to speculate on that, he does say that he has spoken with Lee quite often over the last few weeks.
Several of Hoyer's Democratic colleagues in Prince Georgia's, including County Executive Winfield Kelly and party chairman Lance Billingsley, have indicated they would support Lee if Hoyer abandoned his campaign.
"It seems to me," said one Lee associate, "that it's all over but the handshake."