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Ballot Stuffing

No Show

Posted 8/21/2002

On Aug. 15, Baltimore's first Rockin' the Vote concert--touted as an effort to drum up young people's interest in the political process--was held at downtown's Power Plant Live! entertainment complex. Concertgoers took in free music, refreshments, and voter-registration materials available at tables set up around the outdoor stage. Two local bands--Cloudbreak and Laughing Colors--performed for the crowd of about 60.

But there was supposed to be one more act performing that never quite made it that night: According to Warschawski Public Relations, the firm publicizing the event, Mayor Martin O'Malley and state Del. Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore County) were going to kick-start the concert with an 8:15 p.m. musical performance. In press materials, the duo were quoted on the importance of energizing young voters and quashing the apathy that keeps many people--especially young adults--away from the polls.

"We need to get more young people involved in politics," Zirkin was quoted in the promotional materials distributed by Warschawski. "Mayor O'Malley and I share a common goal of attracting young people to vote. . . . It is our hope that through initiatives like this, the November elections will see an increased turnout of young voters."

But by 8:30, neither politician had shown--which didn't seem to bother many in the crowd, some of whom weren't aware of the political nature of the concert. "I didn't even know what was going on," said Marni Kanowit, a city resident who attended the show. "I don't even know what [voter registration] is for."

Lauren Benzing, a 19-year-old student, said she had never heard of Zirkin and that "seeing [O'Malley's March] is my only connection to politics."

At 9:30, O'Malley and Zirkin finally arrived. The concert was well underway but voter-registration tables had been abandoned. At 10, publicists from Warschawski promised reporters there would still be an O'Malley-Zirkin performance, but "it's all very hush-hush right now."

After two songs by Laughing Colors, Del. Zirkin finally took the stage--but not to perform. After exhorting the crowd to vote, he turned the mic over to O'Malley, who offered his perspective on why every vote counts. Then, the pair left the stage without so much as humming a tune.

Warschawski representatives eventually acknowledged that O'Malley would not be performing--but they still promised that Zirkin would most definitely sing with Laughing Colors in time to make the 11 o'clock news.

By 11, however, O'Malley was quietly conferring at an outdoor table, and Zirkin was chatting with young would-be voters.

By the time Laughing Colors offered their rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner," the delegate and the mayor were nowhere to be seen and all the voter-registration tables had been removed.

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