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The Bullets officially died last week with the unveiling of that bizarre Wizards logo (shift the caped cartoon character’s leg a wee bit and you’ve got a skewed swastika). But the nickname’s demise wasn’t the only recent dark development surrounding the historically hapless franchise. Robin Ficker, easily the most celebrated and despised rooter in Bullets’ history, came out with the news that he’ll be cutting back his unofficial sixth-man duties beginning next season. Ficker still plans to make plenty of noise in a new arena, but it won’t be the MCI Center. It’s the political arena where he’ll be focusing his boundless energies.
Ficker is running for the opportunity to represent Maryland in the U.S. Senate.
He’s actually been running for about two months now, though few have noticed. The Takoma Park-born, Silver Spring-reared attorney announced his candidacy in atypically muted fashion, but he’s the first man on the floor: No other aspirant has yet declared, nor is any such declaration likely anytime soon. Turns out the Senate seat Ficker intends to make a major play for won’t even be up for grabs until the year 2000, when Paul Sarbanes finishes his fourth term.
But Ficker’s antic pace belies the amount of time that must pass before the first ballots are cast. He’s already appearing at Metro stops, Baltimore Orioles games, lacrosse tournamentsanywhere there’s peopleand explaining his mission. Over the weekend, Ficker glad-handed attendees at the Preakness.
“There are only so many days left ’til the election,” he says.
At all those public appearances, Ficker hands out campaign cards, each numbered so the candidate can keep track of how many Free Staters he has encountered while on the campaign trail. He just placed his second order of 100,000 cards, and expects to hand out several hundred thousand more before he’s finished.
“I’m going to give this all my effort,” he says.
That means Ficker won’t be showing up at the MCI Center for all the Wizards’ home games during their inaugural season downtown, though he’s already purchased two season tickets right behind the visitors’ bench (at $200 per ticket per game).
While the thought of the Bullets playing without Ficker seemed absolutely unthinkable not so long ago, clear signs that his fanship might be on the wane came last season. First, in December, Ficker took a trip to Costa Rica and missed a home game for the first time in 12 years. Then in March he passed up the opportunity to heckle Michael Jordan during the Bulls’ first visit to town, opting instead to sell his prime seats to a kid from Virginia at a markup of several hundred dollars.
“Listen, I have gotten bigger offers all the time for my seats over the years,” Ficker says of that scalping. “I didn’t do it for the money. The fact is my son had a wrestling match that same night, and I decided I’d rather see that.”
Because of campaign obligations, he expects to unload seats to “a lot of games” next year at a similar markup. No word on whether he’ll award the seats to the highest bidder or the one with the largest vocal cords.
Ficker’s stated political platform holds absolutely nothing noteworthy: “I want to lead Maryland to the forefront of technology,” he prattles, “to protect the tax dollar, to improve education and opportunities for all children, to safeguard the environment and the bay, to make Maryland drug-free, and to bring Maryland together.”
Boring? You bet. But don’t expect boredom come the 2000 election season. Because whether chasing ambulances or yelling at Charles Barkley, Ficker is never boring. Never.
Content has never been Ficker’s strong suit; repetition and volume are the heart of his game. One former NBA player and longtime Ficker target once told his tormentor he hopes to live long enough to come to Ficker’s funeral and heckle the coffin, not for what he said so much as for the way he said it. And Larry Bird wrote of Ficker in his 1989 autobio, Drive, right after declaring that he truly wanted to kick his harasser’s ass, “He never lets up. He doesn’t even watch what’s going on. He just hollers all the time.”
Sarbanes, a good, quiet Democrat and the ranking minority member of the Senate Banking Committee, has been around the political block enough times to have suffered a few slings and arrows, and in his years has even lobbed a barb or two (Alan Greenspan, the Fed, and anybody who doesn’t love Greece are his most frequent targets). But he has never performed publicly under the kind of intense oral pressure Ficker applied in his dozen years behind the visitors’ bench.
If Ficker stays true to his formidable form, an otherwise forgettable Senate race could be memorable.
Fancy this hypothetical sequence from a debate between the candidates:
Moderator: Sen. Sarbanes, you have a reputation as an old-school liberal, in a time when liberal politics are no longer in vogue. So what do you have to say to those Marylanders who fear that so-called tax-and-spend policies will be a major part of your platform in your next term as U.S. senator?
Sarbanes: That’s a very fair question, Ms. Moderator, but…
Ficker: Hey, Paul Sarbanes! Paul Sarbanes! Hey, Paul Sarbanes!
Sarbanes: As I was saying, I think I can ease Marylanders’ fears about the liberal tax-and-spend policies…
Ficker: Phone call for Paul Sarbanes! Hey, Paul Sarbanes! Phone call!
Sarbanes: …in my next term as U.S. senator by showing them I will…
Ficker: Hey, Paul Sarbanes! Paul Sarbanes! Hey, Paul Sarbanes! Phone call for Paul Sarbanes!…
While Ficker’s debating style may lack nuance, it’s a crudely effective approach regardless of the arena. Look for Sarbanes to walk offstage mid-debate and drop out of the race shortly thereafter.
So maybe it’s worth contemplating Sen. Ficker’s comportment as he takes in his first State of the Union address from the House chamberhe’ll no doubt weasel his way to a seat within spitting distance of the also-new Commander in Chief:
President C. Powell: Members of Congress, my fellow Americans, I’m very honored to be here to tell you that the state of our union is…
Ficker: Phone call for the general! Hey, General! Phone call for the general! Hey, General! Phone call for the general!…
Think about it, Maryland. Think about it, America. Now. Isn’t there room in politics for a lonely voice screaming bloody murder? A voice that asks, no, demands to be heard? There are only so many days left ’til the election. So many, many days.Dave McKenna