He didn't reveal how much he's lost over the last few years. But, he said, "I know exactly what it is, and it just sickens me to think about it."

Even at the height of Hale's success, he saw himself on the outside looking in — an uninvited guest in Baltimore's power circles, thanks to his school-of-hard-knocks background. The last few years haven't helped.

But last week, he said his plans for a new chapter post-Mariner aren't about proving himself to anyone.

"I don't know what else I have to prove," he said. "I just like being challenged."

The immediate challenge is raising the $123.6 million First Mariner needs to consummate the deal with Priam Capital, an investment fund run by a Baltimore native that wants to own nearly a quarter of the company. Hale said Securities and Exchange Commission rules prohibit him from talking about that deal directly, but there's little question he's hopeful it will all work out.

"When the capital comes into the bank, now everybody's off defense, immediately put back on offense," he said. "We will be a force to be reckoned with."

Then he corrects himself. "First Mariner will be a force to be reckoned with."

After so many years with man and bank nearly one and the same, the idea of a mostly separate future takes time to sink in.

Hale can more easily imagine himself at First Mariner — somehow — than gone.

"I'm not going to stay in the position I have now, but if there could be something else out there for me, if they want me, I'd be happy to look at it," he volunteered. "One big thing is, I've told everyone I will not be an impediment. If it means I have to leave to facilitate this deal, I will do so."

Baltimore Sun reporters Julie Scharper and Hanah Cho as well as researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.



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