Annual Crab Bake Is Equal Parts Food And Politics

Jul 17, 2014

Credit Christopher Connelly/WYPR

Hundreds turned out in Crisfield on Wednesday to pick crabs, eat clams, drink beer and to rub elbows at the 38th annual J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake. 

At this Maryland summertime institution, the food is served up with a huge heaping of politicians.

Cracking away at crabs, Cliff Holloway says he comes down from Somerset for the crabs, the clams, the beer and the good times. The Salisbury resident has been making the trip for decades. What he doesn’t care for is all the politicians.

“I don’t really listen to many politicians. They lie to you,” Holloway said. “They tell you what you want to hear.”

But Holloway seems to be the minority. Robert McGlotten from Ellicott City says the politicians are part of the draw. He does government relations work for University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

“There’s a lot of good food, a lot of good fun, and one hell of an opportunity to network with people,” McGlotten said. “And people from all over Maryland and all over the Delmarva peninsula.”

The day was dry but overcast, a beautiful 80 degrees with a breeze blowing off Tangier Sound. Perfect, in other words – at least compared to last year, according to state Sen. Brian Frosh, who’s running for Maryland attorney general.

“The soles of my feet aren’t being seared off,” Frosh said. “Last year it was 15 degrees standing on the asphalt. Today is fantastic.”

Frosh’s colleague in the Senate, Allan Kittleman, is running for Howard County executive. He says Tawes is always more fun in election years, so he made the trip down. He says it’s a chance for people who are sometimes at odds in Annapolis to catch up.

“I enjoy seeing my friends from the Senate and other parts of government, and friends from the other side of the aisle,” Kittleman said. “We all get along really well. I think some people don’t realize how well we do get along.”

With all these politicians, someone’s got to be making deals. And your best bet for where that’s happening is in the biggest tent, smack dab in the center of everything  and packed to the brim with people. It belongs to Bruce Bereano, a powerful Annapolis lobbyist.

“I love entertaining. I love making people happy, I know that sounds corny but I really get a lot of pleasure out of it,” Bereano said.

With hundreds of crabs, a giant tub of beer and Smith Island cake ferried in earlier in the day, Bereano probably succeeded on that note. It seemed like every politician wandering around made a point to stop by. Bereano greeted each by name.

“You pick crabs together, eat oysters, eat all the good Eastern Shore food and you bond,” Bereano said of the value of the networking that happens at Tawes. “You understand each other. And better government happens when people understand each other.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan talks with a voter at the Tawes Crab and Clam Bake on Wednesday.
Credit Christopher Connelly/WYPR

  Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan had a tent of his own. He spent the day shaking hands. Hogan says Tawes is always a good party, but the backdrop to the event is a county that’s struggling – one that doesn’t always get the political attention it needs.

“It’s kind of at the end of the road. This is a very depressed county, Somerset County,” Hogan said. “They really are in trouble. These folks really need our help. We’ve got to find some ways to bring some jobs and industry here.”

This is likely Hogan territory; the Eastern Shore skews strongly Republican. Hogan’s Democratic opponent, Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown was not at the festival. His campaign staff said he’d planned to attend, but was held up at a funeral.

At the end of the day, Gracie Schmidt was cutting off armbands at the exit. She came here from Texas 25 years ago and she says she’s been a volunteer every year since.

“Everybody has a good time. And if they don’t, it’s their own fault. And if they don’t get enough food, shame on them,” Schmidt said.

When all was said and done, Schmidt said guests ate almost 200 bushels of crabs and 57,000 clams. Not a bad time, she says, even with all the politicians.

Last year, WYPR's Karen Hosler and photographer Antonio Barbera put together this slideshow that looks at the history of the J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake.