Sitting in a comfortable box seat overlooking the track at Pimlico Race Course, Maryland Acting Gov. Blair Lee III was handicapped the next race yesterday when a wealthy food broker came over to shake his hand.
"I'm taking care of that (campaign) contribution through my man, Maurice," the businessman told Lee, who is running for governor in this year's election. "Give me a call anytime if I can do anything to help."
In the 88-degree heat of the track's teeming infield, Baltimore County Executive Theodore G. Venetoulis, who is also running for governor, was kissing cheeks and pumping arms in the immense crowd of spectators.
I'll vote for you if you kiss me again," a young woman said as Venetoulis moved behind a flying wedge of 40 campaign aides plying the crowd with buttons and blaring his name through a bullhorn.
Lee and Venetoulis used different strategies for a day of election year politicking at the annual Preakness race, which has become as important a social event in Baltimore as it is an important racing event in the sporting world.
Yesterday, as the crowd's favorite, Affirmed, held off arch-rival Alydar in a close finish, Lee and Venetoulis were there, taking advantage of the opportunity to see and be seen by thousands of racing fans. And Lee, as acting governor, had the advantage, as well, of appearing on national television as he presented the winning owners and jockey their trophy.
It has always been a day for politicians to show their feathers. When Marvin Mandel was seated governor, he always had the second seat from the aisle in a box. His close friend, Irvin Kovens, sat at the outside of his box and admitted voters one at a time to sit in the aisle seat and whisper in th Mandel's ear while a photographer took pictures of the event.
"It's a good place to be seen," said Frank A. DeFilippo, Mandel's former chief of staff, who now serves as a campaign consultant to Lee. "The entire American public is out there in miniature."
There are basically two social orbits at the northwest Baltimore track on Preakness Day - one in the cushy clubhouse where formally attired guests sip cocktails and the other in the grassy infield where casually dressed spectators swill beer.
One seasoned political hand, who has attended the last 10 Preakness outings, summed up the social differences this way: The votes are in the infield, the money is in the box seats. tr for ad four [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]
Lee, who took over from Mandel after race tracks got him into legal trouble, is a patrician politian from an old Montgomery County family. He chose the more refined atmosphere of the clubhouse as his campaign arena yesterday. Squired around by DeFilippo, he greeted weathy businessmen at their box seats and restaurant tables.
Unlike Mandel, who was always swamped with well-wishers, Lee, dressed in a gray suit and blue tie, spent most of the afternoon discussing horse races with his daughter-in-law, Mary, and state personnel secretary Henry Bosz.
When Lee left his box to meet comedian Red Skelton, a small rag-time gand followed through the grandstand crowd palying "California, Here I Come" as the acting governor stopped to shake hands and grin for photographers.
"I never like to mix sports and politics," the 62-year-old Lee explained when asked why he did not visit the tens of thousands of infield fans. "People are here to see the horse race, not a bunch of noisy politicians."
For Venetoulis, the infield was the center of action. With his red-checked shirt sleeves rolled to the elbow, the perspiring politician was in constant motion, ducking fluing Frisbees and warmly hugging people as he snaked through the crowd.
At one point, he stopped to greet a Montgomery County resident who said he was a friend of Lee. When Venetoulis was told that the acting governor was giving a television interview in his box, he replied, "I wish I'd thought of that."
While Venetoulis greeted the mostly youthful crowd, a band was playing his campaign theme song on the grandstand patio, and volunteers pasted 800 bumper stickers on parked cars in the race track lot. A 30-foot blue and white "Venetoulis for Governor" banner was stretched across a grassy hill on the highway ramp leading to the track.
"Our whole thing is touching and feeling people," said the 43-year-old county executive. "The people upstairs (in the clubhouse) are serious horse bettors. You don't fool around with that crowd."
As the time for the Preakness race approached, Venetoulis left the infield picknickers for the posh, glass-enclosed "jockey club" restaurant in the clubhouse, where Lee had circulated three hours earlier.
In the dining room crowd of contractors, lawyers and politicians was former Baltimore mayor Thomas J. D'Alesandro Jr., who has attended dozens of Preakness days in his 74 years and never considered them rites for a politician on the make. "People here aren't interested in politics," he said with a wide grin. "All they're interested in is winners."