In olden times, before unlimited numbers of free-range office-seekers were allowed to be-fowl — er, befoul — the airwaves with messages less clever than that poultry — er, paltry — pun, the general rule of politics was that one dumb cluck per election season was plenty.
In that bygone era of limited birdbrains, the electorate had the luxury of savoring the wackiness an occasional fringe candidate brought to debates, without getting their feathers ruffled. Today, with any of the 20 or so declared and undeclared candidates for governor capable of getting egg on their faces, the voters' patience can be shattered like an eggshell. Not to mention the damage that can be inflicted on a columnist's overwrought metaphor.
Return with me now to a time when it was still possible to finance an entertaining — if not terribly enlightening — campaign on little more than chicken feed. Even if none of these non-contenders ended up as the cock of the walk, they still made suitable subjects for frying, roasting or grilling.
The first time I encountered Walter Kozineski, I was a rookie reporter covering my first meeting of the Portland City Council. It was in the early 1970s, and the councilors were holding a public hearing on a proposed development project of some sort. An agitated man with a hairdo that seemed to be modeled after a chicken's roost was the first citizen at the microphone.
"This proposal," Kozineski proclaimed, with contempt dripping from his every word, "is just like the Panama Canal!"
Then, he sat down.
There was a moment of confused silence, while both proponents and opponents tried to figure out the connection between the canal and the local project, which involved neither ships nor water. The only person in the room who seemed to grasp Kozineski's meaning was a woman who was vigorously nodding her head. She turned out to be his sister.
Kozineski went on to run for local and legislative offices about 30 times over 25 years, finishing nearly every campaign firmly in last place. His platform made up in consistency what it lacked in coherence: Whatever was on the agenda, he was against it.
In retrospect, he turned out to be right more often than many of his successful opponents. I sort of wish that at least once, I'd voted for him.
Elwin "Al" Martin used to run a lock shop and "health club" on Congress Street in Portland. One day, a friend of mine went in to get a key copied. There was nobody in the shop, but when my friend called out, a woman, naked from the waist up emerged from the "club" and made his key, seemingly unconcerned about the sparks from the cutting machine bouncing off her ample chest.
Martin ran for Cumberland County sheriff in 1994, but his campaign was somewhat hampered by his arrest in Biddeford for selling drugs and making nude videos of underage girls. He eventually pleaded guilty to lesser charges and served a short jail sentence, all the while claiming his legal problems were politically motivated. In 1996, he was again arrested, this time for illegal possession of a gun and explosives. He jumped bail and was nabbed in Colorado two years later. On the day he was sentenced to serve two and a half years in prison, he announced he was running for governor in 2002.