Walter Orlinsky was sitting in a holding room at WJLA-TV in Washington, nervously awaiting a taping of the third gubernatorial debate of the campaign. After taking sarcastic swipes at Venetoulis and Lee as they entered the room, the Baltimore City Council president took another puff on his cigarette and said: "If I can make this exciting enough, maybe they'll air it a second time."

That one sentence, offered in Jest, may have summarized precisely what Orlinsky's image has been during this campaign and how he has conveyed it. Months ago, Orlinsky reached the conclusion that a lack of money and low ratings in the polls threatened to stifle his attempts to get his massage and image across. "The best way I can do it," he said then, "is to say things controversial and quotable."

Orlinsky has used paid advertising much less than his three opponents. But, on the strength of his tongue and his deep knowledge of the way politics and government work, he has been able to nudge his own unique image into the fabric of the campaign. It is an image that mixes savvy with humor.

When Orlinsky thought the other candidates were attempting to portray themselves as paragons of virtue, he called them "born again virgins" and 'fessed up about a few times he had not followed the letter of the law. When he heard Venetoulis talk incessently at a debate about how he would change times, Orlinsky mumbled that he sounded like he was a "transvestite."

"Wally's image is getting angrier, more negative, the more he watches those three other guys and thinks that he's smarter than they are," said one old Baltimore friend. "It's getting to the point where everything he says embarrasses someone - either his target, or, if he misses, himself."