As always, Vic Crawford was immaculate, his suit a perfect fit, a white handkerchief tucked jauntily in his pocket. As always, his wit was sharp, his delivery smooth. Although he vowed "you haven't heard the last of me yet," this was farewell for Victor L. Crawford, state senator from Montgomery County for 14 years, often the bane of his colleagues because of his maverick approach and his willingness to say almost anything about anyone.
Yesterday morning, in a meeting room in Rockville's County Office Building, Crawford announced that he would not seek reelection, that instead he would throw his support to Stewart Bainum Jr., the wealthy young delegate who was mounting what promised to be a tough challenge to Crawford.
Word around the county had it that a poll done for Bainum showed him beating Crawford easily and that was the reason the veteran liberal legislator was pulling out. According to Crawford, nothing could be further from the truth.
"I've never seen the poll and even if I had I've never been scared off by a poll. This has been coming for two years," he said. "As much as I love the legislature and politics, I've had to make a lot of personal sacrifices involving my business [law] because I'm a senator.
"I met with Gov. Hughes in early March and told him I did not think I would seek reelection. I told him then I would be very interested in being his running mate." Crawford paused, the characteristic twinkle flashing in his eyes. "Since I haven't heard from him yet, I presume he's found someone else."
Crawford, 50, had waffled during the last several weeks on whether to run. At one point, he said he would be willing to spend $50,000 to beat Bainum. But on May 24 he called Bainum and asked for a meeting. Two days later, the two men met for breakfast and Crawford told Bainum he was thinking of dropping out of the race and offering Bainum his endorsement.
Bainum was surprised, but not shocked.
"When he called and asked for the meeting I had a lot of thoughts and one of them was that he might be dropping out," Bainum said. "I understand what kind of financial sacrifices one makes to be in the legislature. And, 16 years is a long time."
The arrangements were finalized in a second meeting, this one over iced tea last Friday evening. Crawford went on vacation to Ocean City and returned Thursday night, tan and relaxed.
"This wasn't a decision I made lightly," he said. "I delayed this long because the Irish in me was spoiling for a good fight. I guess I'm like a football player or a boxer. When I hear the bell my feet start shuffling without even knowing it . . . .I almost went through with it at the end. I was itchy. But in the end I thought, 'Sure, I can beat this kid,' but where would that leave me? Back in the Senate. It's been 16 years, I've had it."
His decision means the state legislature will be without one of its more colorful figures next winter. Crawford was first elected to the House of Delegates in 1966 and was appointed to the Senate in 1969. Several times Crawford tried to move up, running once for the House of Representatives, twice for the U.S. Senate and once seeking a U.S. attorney appointment.
But those ventures did not pan out so he remained in the state Senate, eventually becoming the head of the Montgomery County delegation. He was one of Marvin Mandel's most vocal critics when Mandel was governor and his votes--and antics--were rarely predictable. Once he burned his credit cards on the floor of the Senate to protest the passage of a bill. In an era when many members of the county delegation were scorned because they held meetings until late hours and rarely partook in the night life, Crawford was very much a part of the scene.
The only thing predictable about Crawford, other than his sartorial splendor, was his glibness. State House reporters called him, "the best third paragraph in Annapolis," because he was always available with a spicy, sharp-tongued quote, whenever a controversy arose.
"He was the rarest of the rare," Del. Gerard F. Devlin said yesterday, "a liberal with a sense of humor."