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To someone from Baltimore, Crisfield may not equate to much other than lump crab and former Loyola Basketball standout Andre Collins. But once each year, known politicos and organizations gather in this sleepy Eastern Shore town at the Somers Cove Marina for the J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake, which had its 37th annual event yesterday. Named after the state’s former Treasurer, Comptroller, and Governor, the event is known for its food as well as being a major political event for established and aspiring public servants. For $40 you can encounter known politicians, locals, and organizations over steamed crab and clams, corn on the cob, beer and fries.
Armed with the knowledge the 2014 Gubernatorial Primary is months away and an empty stomach, I drove three hours to the sunny shores of Crisfield. When I arrived at the site I was very aware what politicians had arrived, immediately encountering a David Craig for Governor sign, followed by a Ron George for Governor sign. Anthony Brown’s campaign, perhaps to outdo other competitors, plastered the last quarter mile of 7th Street (the road which lead to the event) with Brown/Ulman signs, leaving a wall of blue and brown for anyone who dared to venture to the site. Not to be outshined, the Blaine Young campaign left a Young for Governor RV in viewing distance of the entry point.
For three hours I observed and in some cases met a number of officials running for statewide office in every position. Those present included David Craig, Ron George and Charles Lollar (Governor), Bill Frick, Brian Frosh (Attorney General) and Peter Franchot (Comptroller). Those who I didn’t directly see – such as Anthony Brown, Doug Gansler, and Heather Mizeur – were still well represented as their volunteers blanketed the site armed with t shirts and signs. Even regional politicians – such as current Anne Arundel County Executive Laura Neuman – made their presence felt, sharing handshakes and stories with those who encountered them. In addition, organizations such as Change Maryland – which recently surpassed 50,000 likes on facebook – and AFSCME were represented as well. Perhaps the most interesting local political displays came from Baltimore City where Donoven Brooks – a local candidate for Sheriff – and Joan Carter Conaway (who represents the 43rd district) came with dozens of volunteers, each donning campaign attire.
Of the groups who assembled at the feast, the most interesting site to observe was lobbyist Bruce Bereano’s Corner. Although he previously was convicted for mail fraud, you wouldn’t have such an impression by visiting the tent he had at the site. Armed with powered fans and slices of Smith Island Cake, the tent had a significant presence in the center of the activities, with many politicians – including Senate President Mike Miller, Delegate Joe Vallario, and Senator JB Jennings among others – paying a visit. In a state where the relationship between lobbyists and politicians is actively questioned it was surprising to see fraternization with someone who had a checkered past.
While the political conversations may draw you to Crisfield, the annual feast keeps you there through its food. Despite the high volume of people and long lines each dish I tried was quite good. The fried food – including fries, clams and fish – were cooked to perfection and provided a delightful treat worth the wait in line. The grilled corn was crunchy but sweet, and the seafood – including raw and steamed clams and crab legs – provided a nice taste on a hot day. And those who preferred to stay cool instead of full had plenty to choose from as the beverage stations – offering beer, soda and water – remained stocked the time I was there.
Despite the questionable political associations and scorching heat, I’d describe my first time at the event as worth the trip if only for the people. If you’re an average citizen there are few opportunities to meet established politicians on both sides of the aisle in one location. Luckily, the Tawes Clam Bake provides this in spades. Combined with the unlimited buffet, the trip is a bargain at $40. Although the 2014 event promises to be different since the Primary election will have passed it will still be worth the trip.
Should you dare to traverse the Bay Bridge to attend next year, here are a few useful tips:
1) Leave early: The Bay Bridge, combined with the weather conditions can lead to a deceptively long drive. The sooner you can hit the road the better, especially since you’ll likely encounter normal workday traffic while headed there.
2) Parking isn’t included in the ticket so bring some cash: If you’re up for the walk you can certainly park a few blocks away for free, but with the weather it just isn’t worth it. $20 cash will save you a load of pain and allow you to park in proximity to the event.
3) Bring a box or two: Because there are multiple lines you have to enter to get food (which can lead to long lines), you should take a box/milkcrate/box top to carry everything. If you don’t, fear not – they were sold outside of the location for a dollar a piece.
4) While you’re at it, bring a partner: Besides having someone to talk with on the trip, a partner means you can split up to grab different food for when you eventually sit down (and trust me, you’ll want to).
5) Don’t come to the event hungry or thirsty: If you come with an appetite you may find yourself famished by the time you get to the front of the line. Combined with the heat this could be a recipe for trouble.
6) If you can, spend the night there before: besides saving yourself a long hot trip, you could help the good people of Crisfield by staying in the town overnight. In a town where City Hall is adjacent to an unoccupied building (not even joking), every dollar could be used.
7) Stay hydrated: The event planners did an excellent job of keeping cold water available. Be sure to take advantage of this whenever you can.
One last tip for the Crisfield Chamber of Commerce who planned the event: Please consider moving the event a month where it isn’t so hot. As enjoyable as the event was, the heat made enjoying the food and fraternization difficult. Interestingly, one of the most popular locations at the event was the restroom (where there was air conditioning). With a track record of drawing star power and providing good food there’s no reason this event couldn’t be as big a success (if not a bigger one) in August or even mid to late September.
Tags: Anthony Brown, Blaine Young, David Craig, Del. Heather Mizeur, Ken Ulman, Peter Franchot, Ron George, Tawes Crab and Clam Bake
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