Marvin Mandel, 95, feted as ‘architect of modern Maryland’

Gov. Larry Hogan presents former Gov. Marvin Mandel with a proclamation, as M.C. Tim Maloney lends a hand.

By Len Lazarick

If you live long enough in politics, all may not be forgiven, but most is forgotten, and if you’re lucky, only the good stuff is remembered.

That’s certainly true of former Gov. Marvin Mandel, who turned 95 last month and was feted Wednesday at a birthday celebration organized by his old friend and sometimes unofficial ‘chauffeur,’ lobbyist Bruce Bereano.

About 400 people came to the dinner at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront. It was an old-timers reunion for a governor who left office 36 years ago. Many of them used to be important and some still are, including Gov. Larry Hogan, Senate President Mike Miller, House Speaker Mike Busch, and U.S. House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer. has memorialized Mandel’s remarkable career several times, including the run up to his 90th birthday, marked by the publishing of his memoir.

A bipartisan affair

The birthday celebration was a bipartisan affair. The aging Mandel, a product of Baltimore Democratic machine politics, has stayed relatively conservative as the Democratic Party has moved to the left.

He supported both Hogan and former Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich, who marveled at the remarkable occurrence to have “every living Republican governor in the same room.”

Mandel became Maryland’s chief executive when the last GOP governor before Ehrlich, Gov. Spiro “Ted” Agnew, was elected vice president with President Richard Nixon. The legislature chose the speaker of the House of Delegates, Mandel, since there was no lieutenant governor.

Agnew was also the last governor to call out the National Guard to quell a Baltimore City uprising — in 1968 after the assassination of Martin Luther King.

Mandel Hogan
Marvin Mandel and Larry Hogan

“No other governor has had such a lasting impact on Maryland,” said Hogan. “Of course I’ve only been governor 110 days. Give me eight years and we’ll see how I stack up.”

Mandel had almost 10 years as governor, though 19 months of that was spent in a federal prison camp in Florida on a mail fraud conviction that was later overturned on appeal.

But there was only vague allusion to Mandel’s legal problems that left Lt. Gov. Blair Lee III as acting governor. There was no mention of the marital drama that had him living on the governor’s yacht while his first wife refused to leave Government House after she found out about the affair with the woman who would be become his second first lady.

Government reform

As master of ceremonies Tim Maloney, the former Democratic delegate and well-connected super lawyer who is a long-time friend of Hogan, put it, Mandel was “the architect of modern Maryland… It wasn’t always easy, and it wasn’t always pretty.”

Mandel over several years created the current structure of the Maryland judiciary, including the district courts and judicial nominating commissions. He took hundreds of disparate state agencies, and put them together under a modern cabinet system. Maryland became the first state to have a transportation department overseeing roads, mass transit, port and airports that he purchased for the state to run.

He instituted state funding for school construction as Maryland’s suburbs grew.

Mandel is also remembered as one of the greatest friends of the black community, and appointed many of the first African American judges to serve in Prince George’s and other counties.

Hoyer was a young state senator who voted against Mandel’s election but later become Senate president with his help. He called Mandel, “the best governor I’ve served with for almost half a century,” praising “the generosity of his spirit.”

Mandel, a short man who has grown even smaller with age, still has his wits about him, though his voice is not as strong as it used to be.

“I can’t thank you all for all the kindnesses you’ve shown tonight,” said Mandel in a brief speech.

Maloney said the famous epitaph for renowned English architect Christopher Wren found in the crypt of London’s St. Paul Cathedral could also apply to Mandel’s tenure as governor.

“If you seek his monument, just look around you.”

A story five years ago found that Mandel had some of the biggest spending increases of the last six governors.