Posted: Sept. 17, 2007


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr. was defaced at his own fund-raiser for governor.

That was the deal. If the contributions reached $10,000, he would shave off his mustache.

They did, so there he was -- poolside Saturday evening at the Felton home of Lydia Prigg, an aide to Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, with a basin of hot water, a mirror and a razor. To add to the merriment, a lot of people wore fake mustaches as Carney removed his.

Shave and a haircut, two bits. Mustache, $10,000. Politics drives up the cost of everything.

Carney had to reacquaint himself with his lip. "It seems to work without its clothes on," he said.

The fund-raiser was not originally conceived as a way for Carney to do violence to his own image. Prigg, the governor's director in charge of appointments to boards and commissions, wanted to host an event, and she also wanted to get more young people involved in the effort to have Carney, a two-term Democratic lieutenant governor who is 51, move up to governor.

Prigg approached Samantha Joseph, her assistant, and Kate Gilligan, a communications assistant to the governor, for help. Both of them knew Carney, so Prigg was surprised by their lukewarm response and asked why.

It was Carney's bushy look that was leaving a younger generation cold. "Mustaches are so out," Prigg was told.

Prigg went to Carney and suggested a death-to-the-mustache theme for the fund-raiser. Carney hesitated. Except for a short time in the mid-1980s when he experimented with a different appearance, the mustache had been part of him since his student days at Dartmouth College in the 1970s.

Prigg kept pressing. Carney said he would do what all politicians do -- which is take a poll -- although this was a poll of one. He checked with his wife Tracey. She was fine with it, so the challenge was on, $10,000 and the mustache goes.

To tell the truth, Carney secretly had some designs on shaving it off, anyway, as his age crept up. "I certainly have been thinking of this the last couple years while my mustache has gotten lighter," he said.

The fund-raiser featured two ballot boxes, one marked "Shave it" and the other "Save it." The contributors, more than 80 of them, voted by depositing their checks in the box of their choice, but the commissioner of this election was Kate Gilligan, so it may not have been exactly on the up-and-up.

"I'm not sure she would pass a polling-place inspector test of not influencing an election," Carney quipped.

The event eventually pulled in about $16,000, but at the time of the tally, the vote was $13,900 for "Shave it" and $500 for "Save it." Off it went, as seen in photographs by clicking here.

The new Carney got a rave review from his host. "As it was coming off, you started seeing a different person. He is one handsome man. He just had this glow that he did not have before," Prigg said.

There was one serious "nay" vote -- from Carney's 10-year-old son, who refused to look at his father for the next 24 hours. Still, Carney thinks he will keep his lip as a mustache-free zone.

Besides, the shave probably was smart politics. No one with a mustache has been the governor here since Richard C. McMullen, a Democrat elected in 1936. C. Douglass Buck, the Republican before him, had a mustache too, one very much like Carney's was. Mustaches are not just out, they are so last century.

Carney also used this shaving-for-dollars to take a political shot at his clean-shaven and moneyed rivals for the governorship -- Treasurer Jack A. Markell, who is contesting Carney for the Democratic nomination, and Alan B. Levin, the former Happy Harry's executive whom Republicans are urging to run.

"It was worth it, when you're running against a couple of rich guys and you're just a struggling public servant," Carney said.

Markell and Levin are not pushovers. Carney needs every edge he can get -- including the one on a razor.