The precinct "executives" were standing in single file at the top of the stairs this weekend waiting their turn. "Next," came the shout from the foot of the steps, and another Democratic party worker descended to the cellar of the old-fashioned political clubhouse here.
Sitting behind a gray, marble-topped table at the far end of the unfinished basement was Dominic Mimi Di-Pietro, "The Boss," who was parceling out thousands of dollars in "walking around" money to precinct leaders who will help him "deliver" his district on election day tomorrow.
"How many workers you got signed up for us, Joe?" DiPietro asked a middle-aged precinct captain.
"Eight, Mim, I already got eight I promised to put on the corner," came the reply.
"Okay, give 'em the limit," said DiPietro, motioning to a lieutenant to hand over a white envelope with $150 in cash.
"I want to take your precinct good, ya'hear," he continued. "If the senator loses, I'll holder after ya'all night. I want the governor and all. The whole ticket's gotta win."
By the end of the night, DiPietro had distributed $12,000 in $5 and $10 dollar bills, big money that pays for one of the nest precinct operations in this still highly organized political town.
Paying "walk-around money to election day workers is a practice foreign to the Washington suburbs. But in voter-rich Baltimore City and its suburbs, this cash has always been the essential ingredient cementing a candidate's support from the powerful political machines.
There is nothing illegal about this longstanding ritual, although in recent years a number of candidates have criticized the practice, saying that paying election day workers amounts to "bossism."
Theodore Venetoulsi, one of the four contenders in tomorrow's Democratic gubernatorial primary, has raised just such objections to the pratice. Neither he nor his rivals Walter S. Orlinsky or Harry R. Hughes are pas Hughes are passing out walk-around money.
The campaign of Acting Gov. Blair Lee III, however, is sticking to the old tradition and passing campaign funds out to the people like DiPietro who run the political clubhouses around Baltimore.
Before most organizations decide to "take" a state or local candidate, "the boss" usually gets an agreement in principle that he will receive election day fund. Then, as election day nears, he sits down in private meetings with the candidates to negotiate a sum.
"Most of the political leaders feel their people are entitled to it," said Joseph G. Anastasi, campaign manager for Acting Gov. Lee, who will pay as much as $60,000 in "walk-around" money. "It's a way of repaying them for taking a day off (work)."
On election day, DiPietro's precinct leaders will arrive at the polls early and hand out $15 to each worker, as payment for such chores as distributing sample ballots carrying the names of DiPietro's candidates, scouring the neighborhoods for voters, driving them to the polls and babysitting for busy mothers.
"First, I'll see how the voice's coming along," explained Melvin Sticker, one of DiPietro's "around sergeants," who employs 21 workers in addition to making the rounds to several precincts. "If the voters aren't coming out, I'll put a couple workers out to get'em out of their houses."
In his clubhouse basement, flanked by two large standing fans to cool off the hot night, DiPietro addressed each precinct leader by his first name, checked off his precinct and ward number of his list of "executives" and asked each about his election day preparations.
"I want you to win that precinct, Charlie," he said to a young laborer. "What did you do last time, 150 (votes)?"
"Two hundred in the presidential, boss," the man replied.
"Don't give me the presidential," was Di Petrio's retort. "The president got 'em out there himself, not you, you dummy."
After receiving their money, the precinct officials picked up a string of 20 adhesive campaign buttons promoting Lee, a handful of Lee's campaign posters and literature and at least 1,000 sample ballots listing Lee at the top and DiPietro's slate of local candidate DiPietro, who is 73 and serves as a Baltimore city councilman, was very much the political boss that night in his clubhouse. As he parceled out envelopes of cash, he talked about "making" precinct executives and explained the inner workings of his organization.
"You take my secretary," he said. "Now, I made her an executive in my district. She's going to pick whatchmacallit (workers) who knows somebody in their neighborhood. She's going to say, "This is my team. Will you help me?" It's all part of the same family."
"I don't call that a machine," said DiPietro, who worked his first precinct 50 years ago. "I call that friends of a team."
It was billed as a "patriotic" event and politics was supposed to be strictly prohibited. No speech making, no pamphleteering, no blatant campaigning was allowed for the hundreds of politicans running for election tomorrow.
But yesterday's annual "I Am an American Day Parade" in East Baltimore quickly turned out into one of the best-attended and most active days of politicking days in weeks, a fitting celebration for the end of a long campaign.
"If this ain't political. I'll eat Georgie Holland's cigar," said American Joe Miedusiewski, a member of Maryland's House of Delegates, who was making the most of the political possibilities, despite the stated restrictions imposed by Holladn, the parade chairman.
When the procession of elected officials was lining up Acting Gov. Lee was forced to give way to a car carrying several lesser political figures, and a convertible filled with a man wearing a Mickey Mouse outfit.
But there was no way the East Baltimore politics would allow such a breach of protocol once they found out about it. After local politicans supporting Lee and parade officials huddled briefly, Lee's state limousine was allowed to move to the front of the procession.
Gubernatorial candidate Venetouls made a strategic decision to avoid the line of elected officials and to join the procession of colorful floats in his bid to get the attention of the thousands of spectators lining the parade route.