Martin Resnick has no idea how many registered voters there are in Harford County or how the people of Seat Pleasant feel about pension reform. But he can serve an elegant roast beef dinner to 3,500 people in 17 minutes. For that, he is a major figure in Maryland politics.
Resnick, who presides over an empire of seven banquet halls from Martin's West, his suburban Baltimore County catering house, for the past eight years has turned Maryland's tired fund-raising dinner into something approaching an art form.
Thus, his name and his work have become closely entwined with the practice of politics in present-day Maryland. And for many an aspiring politician the ability to offer prospective backers and donors food and drink by Marty Resnick lends an immediate air of legitimacy to a campaign.
When the leaders of Maryland's political establishment sponsored California Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. in the state's presidential primary two years ago they turned to Resnick for help.
They wanted Brown to win an upset victory over Jimmy Carter. Could Resnick help by hosting a private party - French pastries, champagne, perhaps - at his Baltimore home? "I said yes because I was asked. They wanted Brown to meet the Jewish community," Resnick explained.
The Californian went on to win the primary and Resnick received a small share of the honors. But this gentle entrepreneur who has kept his multimillion dollar business a family operation, is reluctant to admit to a place in politics.
"All I ever tried to do is upgrade political affairs. I wanted to be proud of every event I catered so I refused to give a party that cost $5 a person when the ticket price was $100 a person."
That wish for quality, as Resnick described it, revolutionized fund-raisers and helped make the Democrat businessman a millionaire. He bought his first ball in 1964 with plans to turn over the catering to his father, who declined at the last minute.
Resnick's wife and mother stepped in and helped in the kitchen and before the end of the year Resnick had quit his job with a Baltimore department store to turn full attention to catering.
"We've been living our business ever since," he said.
Resnick's approach to political affairs is rooted in his philosophy of free enterprise. "I don't believe in spending a lot of money on advertising; that comes from satisfied customers."
His gamble paid off. Resnick started demanding that politicians provide at least $15 worth of food and drink to their fund-raiser guests just at the time when there was room for a man of his taste. Politics, like business, was booming in Maryland in the late 60s and the fund-raiser was still pretty much a provincial affair.
When a Baltimore politician began his election campaign he would often throw a "chicken party." For $25, his contributors were fed corn-on-the-cob, fried chicken and cold beer.
After a few hours, everyone filed out of the party and headed for a downtown restaurant to eat dinner. "It was beer and cold chicken. How could they bring their wives for that garbage and pay that price," said Barbara Mandel, former wife of suspended Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel and a "chicken party" veteran.
Others remember parties where the string beans were as stringy as the meat and the speeches so long that guests felt trapped as they lined long white-sheeted tables and downed watery drinks.
They tell these stories when they talk about Resnick: how he introduced the buffet-style of dining, party themes and good liquor. They even credit Resnick with making gala fund-raisers so popular that they have doubled in number - a tribute in a state where elections are traditionally waged at oyster roasts and bull roasts.
Resnick throws roasts at Martin's West as well but it his fancy fund-raisers that bring out the glamour of the state. Women come in mink, chiffon, jewels and with hairstyles that indicate a day spent at the beauty parlor.
This election year four of the six Democratic candidates for governor of Maryland asked Resnick to cater their fund-raisers. It was tricky. Within three months Resnick had to devise unique themes for each of the men running in the same primary to which many of the same potential contributors were invited.
For Acting Gov. Blair Lee 111. Montgomery County patrician and the candidate occupying the state mansion, Resnick modified has basic prime rib menu. A Chesapeake Bay raw bar, Irish coffee and French pastry were added and served buffet style at the Baltimore Civic Center, where Resnick holds the coveted concession rights.
Bleachers were pulled down for guests to lounge on as a gilded circus wagon filled with senior citizens wheeled past the stage: "The Lee Bandwagon."
Theodore G. Venetoulis, Baltimore County's youthful executive and the candidate regularly found shaking hands at factories and on freeways, got a national convention motif. The ceiling at Martin's West was crowded with banners, balloons, crepe paper streamers and floodlights as guests bobbed around to music from the movie "Saturday Night Fever." It was fried chicken for Venetoulis; altered to include corn fritters and "Oysters Venetoulis", the Rockefeller variety with bacon and parmesan cheese toping.
The staff brought out the ethnic food scheme for the fund-raiser of Francis B. Burch, Maryland's millionaire attorney general who is running as a conservative populist. Stalls serving Polish, Italian, kosher and soul food lined the civic center and overhead screens descended to show slides of Burch as a family man, Burch as a lawyer and Burch as a politician.
The fourth gubernatorial candidate who hired Resnick was Steny Hoyer, now running for lieutenant governor on Lee's ticket.
The details paid off for everyone. The candidates averaged about $20.000 in profits each from the events and Resnick said he did not do badly himself.
Gubernatorial candidate Walter S. Orlinsky is a friendly opponent of such profit-sharing evenings. "If you want to give money to a caterer, send him a check. If you want to give me a check, send it . . . Marty is a friend, he even made a contribution to my campaign and I told him he wouldn't get it back. He is one of the most elegant eaterers around . . . But for fund-raisers, I'll stick to the covered dish variety"
This is a pleasant sort of success for Resnick who still speaks with awe about his career. Two loans of $15,000 and then $40,000 from the Small Business Administration started him off when no bank would give him credit.
"I don't know of any other country in the world that would do that . . . give me money and then honor me when my business did well. I couldn't believe it. They named me small businessman of the year for the region and I went to the White House where the resident shook my hand and thanked me when I wanted to thank him."
Resnick is now a millionaire, a friend to politicians and officials - both Democrats and Republicans - and a caterer who served 850,000 meals last year. He adamantly denies that his political connections made his success. Even his competitors don't make that charge. They say instead that Resnick is a hard-working businessman, has union employes and expanded quickly to take advantage of the market.
Resnick has only one main competitor these days, the Bluefeld family, kosher catering firm of Baltimore County. Their catering business started the trend toward elegance in fund-raising but during the growth years of political business - 1969 to 1976 - the company was owned by the ARA Food Services Co., which frowned on any connection to Maryland politicians.