Mickey Greenblatt had promised a special event at the Sunday fundraiser for the three-candidate slate he's backing in the Montgomery County Board of Education race. Now,with a broad grin, he was tugging the campaign's largest gimmick out of a brown paper bag.
It was small and plastic, and it had brown hair and tightly closed eyes. It was a doll. "This," announced Greenblatt to roaring audience as candidates Joseph Barse, Carol Wallace and Eleanor Zappone looked on, "is the golden sleep award, which we have decided to give to out opposition, the Team of Positive Platitudes, for their performance in this campaign."
Across the country, Federicks Hodges, one of the four members of the Team for Positive Action, the school bnoard slate that is warring with Zappone, Wallace and Barse in the Hottest - and Silliest - campaign the country has seen in years, was not amused.
"We were sitting around last night, trying to think of names we could call them," said Hodges of her meeting with running mates Nancy Wiecking, Sandra King-Shaw and incumbent Elizabeth Spencer. "Well, I finally thought of something I'm used to use: Greenblatt's husband Mickey is campaign manager for Barse, Wallace and Zappone, Wallace and Zappone.
Thus ended another day in the election campaign that probably will determine the future of Montgomery County's proposed middle schools, a mandatory black studies course for employes and computer-assited teaching, not to mention the career of its superintendent, Charles M. Bernardo.
The two powerfully backed slates are polarized over these and other issues. But the two slates seemt to spend most of their time dreaming up new name-calling gimmicks.
"No onetalks about the issues," said Barry Klein, the eighth and only independent candidate in the race, who is hoping to capture one of the four open seats. "There's just been this hollering back and forth every night. There's a new name every day."
Part of the trouble appears to be the grueling schedile of nightly candidate forums and debates for the school board slates. Every night, conservative, back-to-the basicas Barse. Wallace and Zappone have had to slug it out with moderate, shcool-board-and PTA establishment Spencer Hodges, Wiecking and King-Shaw.
With less than two weeks to go before election day, the two deeply divided groups are simply sick and tired of looking at each other.
"It's terrible," said Wiecking. "We have to listen to the same sentences over and over again, every night. The three of them (Barse, Wallace, Zappone) are interchangeable. They keep pounding away at the same dumb points, which are really irrelevant to the problems in the schools. And if they drop their notecards, they get lost and can't finish the sentences."
"Everything the other slate saysis for apple pie and motherland, "complained Carol Wallace. "There's no way you can disagree with them, because they never say anything but meaningless platitudes.
"Our exchange are going to be much sharper in the coming weeks," promised Joseph Barse. "We are raising the issues and we are going to force them to take a stand on them."
Those issues, as far as the slates are concerned, can all be traced to one essential difference between the two groups: background and contacts.
Hodges, Wiecking, King-Shaw and SPencer have all been deeply involved in countywide school politics and programs for years. Although only Spencer is an incumbent, all have executive board members of the Montgomery County Council of PTAs, and have been involved in numerous committees and studies.
As a group, they are not very different in backgroud or educational outlook from the kind of people who have managed the Montgomery Board of Education for years. They have been endorsed by the county's powerful teachers union. They are the establishment.
In contrast, Barse, Wallace and Zappone have had little background in school-system work, and are proud of their status as "outsiders." They have mounted a well-organized, $15,000 campaign that calls for sweeping changes inthe policies of the current board. They say they would fire Bernardo, scrap most of his projects, cut the administrative budget by millions of dollars, and return to the familiar "three Rs."
Their most powerful ally is Marian Greenblatt, the maverick school board member who was elected two years ago in a similarly divided race. Greeblatt is hoping that her husband's three candidates will join her for a new majority on the seven-member board that will join her for a new majority on the seven-member board that will turn around the votes that Greeblatt has lost by to 1 in the last two years.
If Greenblatt had commanded a majority on the school board during the last two years, Bernardo would have lost his contract, his reorganization of the school administration would have been halted, the controversial black studies course requirement would not have been instituted, and a system of mandatory homework asby the board.
To the Team for Positive Action, it is their opponents' ignorance of the school system that prompts them to champion the causes of Greenblatt.
"They don't understand the board, of the spectrum of problems in the school system," said Weicking. "So they go back to the superintendant, and the basics and the school establishment. These are issues in every campaign, and they're the issues of people who don't know what the problems really are. There's nothing new about these ussues, and they're really irrelevant."
For the most part, Spencer. King-Shaw. Hodges and Wiecking could be expected to continue certain current board policies: experimenting with middle schools and computer-assisted math and trying to work with Bernardo, whom they dislike, but who , they say, cannot be dislodged from the new contact granted him by the current board last June.
The outcome of the race will almost certainly be close, and both sides will be watching Klein, the race's wild card who has worked hard for months and has portrayed himself as the moderate alternative to the two bickering camps.
"Both on the present board and in theis campaign it's been the good guys versus the bad guys," Klain said. I talk to everybody, and that makes me unique."