Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes eluded a gantlet of nearly 250 angry savings and loan depositors in Prince George's County last night to slip almost unnoticed into a $1,000-a-head fund-raising dinner for his U.S. Senate campaign.
"Chicken Harry!" yelled the few depositors who raced around to the rear of the Greenbelt Hilton to see a smiling Hughes walk into a ballroom where about 50 of his closest political friends were drinking cocktails.
The fund-raiser, one of several this fall to raise what a spokesman called "seed money" for the 1986 Senate campaign, and Hughes' back-door entrance struck many depositors as insult added to the injury of Maryland's seven-month savings and loan crisis, they said.
"A leader of a state takes charge of the problem, not run away from it," said Joe Mann, a spokesman for the depositors group, which organized a human chain across the front entrance of the hotel. Hughes' state car and two escort vehicles slipped through a side parking lot to avoid the depositors.
"Back-door Harry is scared to face 250 of his constituents," added Mann, one of more than 100,000 depositors statewide with virtually no access to funds at three crippled thrifts. "What the hell is he going to do when the rest of the state votes next year?"
The same question was on the minds of some of the guests at the party, according to one of them. "There was a lot of talk about the demonstration tonight," said Charles A. Dukes Jr., an executive of John Hanson Savings and Loan and a Republican active in local politics. Dukes, whose thrift organization is operating normally under the protection of federal deposit insurance, left before the scheduled dinner and said Hughes had not addressed his supporters by then.
Later, a state police officer told reporters the governor would not leave his private party to comment about the depositors' demonstration.
The depositors' anger at Hughes, not cooled by the passage of time or last night's falling temperatures, represents a liability for the Democratic governor as he contemplates a campaign for the U.S. Senate seat to be vacated by Republican Charles McC. Mathias Jr. He trails Rep. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Baltimore Democrat, in popularity surveys conducted by that city's major newspapers.
Hughes is under considerable pressure from depositors, legislative leaders and the Baltimore judge who controls the three frozen thrifts to expand quickly the state plan that now allows S&L withdrawals only for extreme hardships. The governor has said he will propose a broader withdrawal plan by next month.
"We simply want our money now," said John F. McHale, head of the Maryland Savings and Loan Depositors Committee, an umbrella group for several thousand depositors that has dogged Hughes for months.
"We want to let the governor know that we're still here and that we don't think he should run for the U.S. Senate until our deposits are returned," McHale said.
That message got across loud and clear to Hughes' supporters, nearly all of whom were pelted with insults -- and some obscenities -- as they drove among depositors clustered at the hotel's entrance. A couple of guests, including Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening, scooted through the side entrance to avoid the angry crowd.
The party was given by Fred L. Wineland and Irving Kidwell, two businessmen and Hughes supporters.
Greenbelt and state police beefed up security arrangements at the Hilton, but the demonstration was peaceful. The depositors went through what by now is a familiar drill: marching, chanting and waving posters for television crews and reporters. A few passing motorists honked their horns or waved their support for the marchers.
"Hughes won't get to the Senate if we don't get our money," said one poster. "We can't withdraw our money but we can withdraw our votes," read another.
Charles Higgs, a Catonsville man with money tied up in Old Court Savings and Loan, brandished a sign that summed up the crowd's feeling: "Hi Harry," it said. "Think of all the poor depositors while you're eating your $1,000-a-plate dinner!"