Some are calling it legislative heresy, others a mild symptom of Montgomery County snobbery, but the Republican state senator from Bethesda says he's quite happy breaking the cardinal rule of politics that says lawmakers shall refuse no perquisites of office.
State Sen. Howard A. Denis, apparently no friend of the three-martini lunch, has rejected a year-round 10 percent discount on food and drink offered by the Dockside restaurant, a popular dining and drinking spot on Market Space three blocks from the historic State House in Annapolis.
Eager to drum up business during the slow winter months, Dockside managers recently mailed all 188 state senators and delegates a small blue card entitling them and their staffs to discounts at meals and parties, general manager Dianna Franklin said.
Denis officially rejected the discount card last week, she said, while three other legislators wrote letters thanking the restaurant for its offer.
Franklin, who devised the wallet-sized cards, said the marketing gimmick was "meant to help" the legislators, who receive $28 per diem for meals.
"We weren't trying to influence them, but wanted to get their business," Franklin said yesterday. "They are the clientele we're after."
Denis, noting that the General Assembly handles dozens of bills each year affecting Maryland's liquor and restaurant industries, beer and wine licensing and drunk-driving penalties, said, "I felt uncomfortable about it."
A spokesman for Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs' office, which often rules on questions of possible conflicts of interest, declined comment on the Dockside discount card.
However, Denis' Senate colleague, Democrat Gerald W. Winegrad, said restaurants and hotels in his home town of Annapolis frequently offer a variety of ethical discounts to lawmakers during the 90-day legislative session.
"The cold months are one of the slowest times of the year for small businessmen like restaurant owners," said Winegrad. "I didn't sense anything improper or illegal about what the Dockside is offering."
Meanwhile, Franklin said, "We're even thinking of starting a Monday dinner buffet" prior to the legislature's traditional night sessions. "That could help business."