A Baltimore Original: The Late Theodore R. ‘Teddy’ McKeldin

It was during WWII, (1941-45). There was a lively parade, with marching bands and soldiers alike, in South Baltimore’s Locust Point. It was headed straight down Fort Avenue towards the fort itself, with flags flying high.

I was with my father, Richard “Dick” Hughes, and my twin brother Jim. We were about seven years old at the time. My father worked on the docks and was a member of the ILA union. We were standing near Hull Street on the Latrobe Park side of the avenue taking in all of the festivities. The large crowd was really enjoying itself, too.

At the very end of the colorful parade, there was a man, dressed in a suit, sitting in the back seat of an army jeep, waving to the folks who were watching and enjoying the parade. I later found out his name was Theodore R. “Teddy” McKeldin. He was the then-mayor of Baltimore, and a member of the Republican Party.

Someone standing near us shouted out loudly: “McKeldin’s a bum!” My father, a democrat to the core, quickly responded: “McKeldin’s a good man!” I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was witnessing my first, sharp political exchange of opinions. That disagreement didn’t go any further. Later, when I was old enough to go into some of the bars in Locust Point, that wasn’t always the case. Things could get out of hand, and quickly, too.

Getting back to McKeldin. In the post-WWII era up until today, in my view, he was the state of Maryland’s finest political leader. McKeldin was twice mayor of Baltimore (1943-1947) – (1963-1967), and twice distinguished governor of Maryland (1951-1958). He was the 53rd man to hold that high office in Annapolis

Now, in itself that is quite an accomplishment. But, when you consider that the Democrats have controlled city and state’s politics for years in both jurisdictions, it really jumps out at you. In fact, the Maryland General Assembly, itself, has been under the control of Democrats – continuously – since 1920.

Despite, the Democrats’ tight control, McKeldin broke through, winning the office of mayor twice and governor twice. He was a grassroots, do-it-yourself kind of campaigner and the voters liked him for it, too.

McKeldin was also very popular in the black community and for good reasons. He championed the African-American community in many of their causes when other politicos were looking the other way. There was many a Sunday in black churches in Baltimore where you could find McKeldin as a guest speaker. And, he was darn good at it, too.

It is fair to say that absent McKeldin’s incredible electoral success, Larry Hogan wouldn’t be the Republican governor of Maryland today.

(As a side note, one of McKeldin’s ten siblings, William “Podge” McKeldin, like his father, became a cop. He was a traffic cop who took care of the busy intersection of Pratt and Light Streets. In the process, “Podge” became a legend in his own right.

McKeldin’s earliest ambition was to study for the ministry. He claimed he was always “a frustrated evangelist.” Over the years, McKeldin evolved into a terrific public speaker. More on that special talent later.

Grandson of a Belfast, Ireland immigrant, who had escaped from that famine-wracked country, McKeldin, (1900-1974), grew up in South Baltimore at the corners of Ostend (then Stockholm) and Eutaw Streets. This is about four or five blocks due south of where “Oriole Park at Camden Yards” and “M&T Bank Stadium” sit today.

One of eleven children, McKeldin turned towards the law and also developed skills as a professional orator. He gained wide attention, in the Republican Party, as the “Boy Orator of the GOP.”

Trust me, back in that political era, the Republican Party was nothing like the arch-conservative Donald Trump-dominated institution of our present day. In fact, fervent liberals, such as ex-U.S. Senator Charles “Mac” Mathias, were regularly elected to high public office.

“Gov. Theodore R. McKeldin” Courtesy State of Maryland
Gov. Theodore R. McKeldin (Courtesy State of Maryland)

A courageous fighter for “Civil Rights,” McKeldin was also a staunch defender of the young State of Israel. It was McKeldin, and not Mayor William Donald Schaefer, who first launched the Inner Harbor Redevelopment Program. This was the plan of action that initially encouraged the development of Harborplace.

Friendship Airport, (later BWI), Liberty Dam and the Baltimore Civic Center were just some of the projects completed under McKeldin’s dynamic leadership. In doing so, he always respected the democratic process and the right of dissent, something that the “touchy” Schaefer perpetually had a problem with during his turbulent times in public office.

(Also please note: The idea of McKeldin tossing a public hissy fit if things didn’t go his way, like Schaefer sometimes did, was totally alien to his character.)

In 1952, at the Republican National Convention in Chicago. McKeldin was granted the high honor to nominate General Dwight D. Eisenhower for President.

For over 40 years, during his political salad days, McKeldin was closely associated with the political kingmaker, the late M. William Adelson of Baltimore. That close partnership payed off for all the parties involved, but especially for McKeldin and the citizens of Maryland.

McKeldin, a sharp dresser, could always be seen wearing a plastic, “Black-eyed Susan,” in his coat lapel. He was the fashion plate of his day.

Honoring the Legend: “McKeldin Square” Inner Harbor area, at the corners of Pratt and Light Streets has undergone some changes since it was first launched. A private/city partnership, however, has recently taken it over and has plans to honor McKeldin’s memory with an appropriate development worthy of such an outstanding citizen and politician, according to Baltimore Magazine.

Finally, let me just say this: They don’t make them like “Teddy” McKeldin anymore.

2 thoughts on “A Baltimore Original: The Late Theodore R. ‘Teddy’ McKeldin

  • February 11, 2023 at 12:35 PM

    There was a bus trip to Washington involved;

  • February 11, 2023 at 12:33 PM

    Was Mayor Mckeldin active in the RAM pertaining to the relocation of the people who lived in the Rosemont area in the late 60s.?

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