Prince George's County politicians went to Maryland's Eastern Shore in golf shirts and casual slacks, sun dresses, sun hats and shorts.
Their casual attire last week was deceiving--there was no golf, no beach volleyball, no surfing. In fact, they hardly spent any time in the sun at all.
Instead, they played a popular political sport: rampant schmoozing.
And blatant politicking. Unabashed lobbying. Nonstop networking.
That's what they were there for.
The annual Maryland Municipal League convention brought the county's elected leaders together in Ocean City with dozens of other mayors, council members, town administrators and city attorneys from across the state. Together they could rub elbows, trade stories and take classes with municipal, county and state officials from across Maryland.
And not surprisingly, as the county with the most municipalities in the state--27 cities and towns--Prince George's dominated the turnout at the cavernous Ocean City Convention Center. But as numerous and varied as the municipalities and their representatives proved to be, so were the styles in which they went about lobbying, with their individual "plans of attack," as one participant dubbed them.
For example, Cheverly was on a mission.
Its six council members, mayor, town administrator, public works director and town treasurer had gotten together a few days before the convention to discuss issues and plot a strategy for Ocean City. They arrived with a specific agenda, with each member of the delegation attached to a certain concern--and on the lookout for the Annapolis power broker connected to the specific issue.
The Cheverly delegation kept a tight schedule. They traveled together in three white cars. They had a printout about where to be and when, and what was to be discussed, one council member said. There was no time to waste.
"We do a lot of politicking, a lot of schmoozing," Cheverly Mayor Larry Beyna said.
"I never made it to the beach or the pool. . . . You don't see many delegates on the beach," Cheverly Town Council member Julia A. Mosley said.
Instead they kept to the reception rooms and conference centers, from the Princess Royale Hotel on Coastal Highway to the Coconut Malorie, several blocks down the beach.
"We don't feel we can squander the opportunity," she said. "Three days at this convention and we can probably do more to get our case before people . . . you manage to see everyone from the governor on down."
And they did. Monday night was the high social event of the week: back-to-back receptions for several municipal officials, County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D) and Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D), among others.
At the county executive's reception, Mosley eased her way into conversations with Del. Rushern L. Baker III (D-Cheverly) and Curry.
Her interest was economic development in Cheverly and trying to secure financial support for the town's planned $1.7 million expansion of the municipal center. At other receptions across Ocean City, Cheverly council members pursued their agendas: community policing, youth issues and revitalization on Tuxedo Road near Route 450.
Although Cheverly may have gotten high marks for running a military-like campaign, other communities also were out to try to do some municipal business.
Bladensburg officials were similarly busy, looking for support for streetscaping and revitalization projects, as well as additional funding for a Bladensburg marina redevelopment effort.
"I was plugging away for the marina," Bladensburg Town Council member Marion M. Hoffman said. "It was to let everyone know that this is a top priority. Being able to discuss things with these people at the convention was very, very productive."
Hoffman and Bladensburg Mayor David C. Harrington took time at Curry's reception to find Yvonne S. Magee, Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission Neighborhood Revitalization Division chief, and Prince George's County Planning Board Chairman Elizabeth M. Hewlett and member Regina McNeill--all of whom hold considerable influence over redevelopment and neighborhood revitalization projects.
"This is an incredible opportunity," Harrington said. "For instance, I can get five minutes with Betty Hewlett, where that might normally take a week."
Although nothing came out of the convention written in stone, most of the municipal officials said they felt positive that steps had been taken to raise consciousness about what is important to them.
When not lobbying for their specific interests, elected officials said they use the summer convention to share common concerns and start the process of creating a political agenda to present to legislators. There are follow-up meetings in October, "then we really become a lobbying group," said University Park Town Council member Margaret Mallino.
The convention offered other opportunities besides schmoozing.
Classes, forums and exhibits on topics such as "Gearing Up for the Next Census," "Staying Sane While Going Crazy Over Competing Priorities" and "The Economic Value of Tourism and the Residential Community" kept participants busy.
The classes and exhibits were a big hit for Capitol Heights Town Council member Amizi L. Springs and Cheverly Town Council member Patricia A. Wickersty.
"I came here to get some ideas about how to get our town into the 21st century," Springs said.
Wickersty said she especially enjoyed exhibits about community policing efforts across the state, especially as Cheverly looks to expand its program.
The convention was not just for the benefit of municipal officials--legislators got a lot out of the interaction, too.
"It's a unique opportunity for legislative officials to talk to each other without having to run off to legislate," said Del. Melony Griffith (D-Suitland). "Often we're making phone calls to each other on part of constituents, but we rarely get to talk to each other on this level."
It also was a time for far-flung municipalities in Prince George's to reconnect.
"It's a great opportunity for us 27 [towns and cities] to network," Riverdale Park Mayor Ann M. Ferguson said. "We're only a phone call away, but this atmosphere causes you to go up and say, 'I've been wanting to ask you.' "
Springs added: "You can learn a lot from the people and politicians in your area. It's good to know who your neighbors are."
Anna Marie Angolia, a Town Council member from Cottage City who was casually dressed for a day of fun in the sun, agreed. But when asked if she'd be seeing any sand, she said, "No, no, no! There is too much work to be done."
The beach would have to wait for another day.