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Harford friends remember former Gov. Mandel's contributions to county

Harford friends remember former Gov. Mandel's contributions to county
William Cox, left, who represented Harford County in the House of Delegates for 20 years, and former governor Marvin Mandel are shown during a boating trip in 2004. Gov. Mandel died Sunday at age 95. (Courtesy of William Cox / Baltimore Sun)

Former Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel, who died Sunday at the age of 95, was remembered by local politicians and business people as a leader who supported a number of local projects that still benefit Harford County.

Former state Del. William H. "Bill" Cox Jr., of Bel Air, said he and the other members of Harford's legislative delegation in Annapolis in the 1970s worked with Gov. Mandel and his administration on a variety of major school and highway construction projects, such the construction of Joppatowne, Fallston and C. Milton Wright high schools and planning for the future Route 24 between Bel Air and I-95 in Abingdon.

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"We worked on projects that were needed in Harford County," Cox said Tuesday, as he was preparing to attend the former governor's funeral in Baltimore and a reception later in Annapolis.

"You can only get things done as a team, and Mandel believed in the team effort," Cox said.

Others who were part of that local team in the Mandel era included fellow legislators Catherine Riley, William H. Amoss and William S. James, Cox said, as well as Harford's first county executive Charles Anderson, the first two county councils and then-school superintendent A.A. Roberty.

Cox served in the House of Delegates from 1971 to 1991, with Mandel as the state's chief executive during the first eight years. Though they would forge a friendship that lasted long beyond their days in Annapolis, they had a somewhat rocky beginning, Cox recalled.

Cox said he initially voted against legislation supported by Mandel to create the state interagency committee to oversee state funding of local school construction projects. Afterward, the governor invited Cox to his office to explain the delegate had voted against a way to get more state dollars to his own county. Cox then voted for the initiative.

"We worked on a lot of school construction programs, and in Harford County we needed them very badly at that point," he said.

The late Sen. James, who served in the legislature with Mandel, was Senate President during the governor's first six years in office and then, as state treasurer, served on the state Board of Public Works with Mandel and Comptroller Louis Goldstein during the final Mandel term.

"What he did, along with my father and several other leaders in the state, was really reform Maryland government," James' daughter, former Harford delegate Mary-Dulany James said.

"In my 16 years in Annapolis, I think almost every modern improvement that occurred under Gov. Mandel, with just a few exceptions, were still essentially in place and working well," James, who served in the House from 1991 until December, said. "That's a pretty big tribute to his time in office, thoroughly modernizing Maryland government."

James said she had known Mandel since childhood and he was a regular visitor to her family's Old Bay Farm near Havre de Grace. She said Mandel, her father and other state leaders of their generation had worked hard to "professionalize" the state government.

James said Gov. Mandel attended a party at her home last year, and she attended his birthday celebration in the spring. She brought her son to the birthday celebration, too, so he could meet the former governor.

"I thought he would like to see Billy James' grandchild," she said.

Anderson, who served as county executive from 1972 to 1978, remembered securing $11 million from the state to build North Harford Middle School, which opened in 1976, and then asking Mandel a short time later for more money to build a swimming pool at the school.

"They bus kids from northern Harford to Bel Air for swimming lessons," Anderson recalled thinking. "We need a swimming pool in this new school."

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Anderson said Mandel spent about five minutes telling him how lucky Harford County was to get $11 million for the school, but the governor called back three days later, and he told Anderson the money would be available for the pool.

"It was the most money ever spent on a school in the state of Maryland at the time," Anderson said. "He was great for Harford County. There were very few things that we ever asked him for that we didn't get."

Cox said Mandel "helped Maryland, as far as moving forward in the 20th Century."

He said Mandel was a mentor who showed him, as a young legislator, how to work with people to get things done.

Cox attended Mandel's 95th birthday celebration in Baltimore in May, at which about 400 people, including many from Harford County, were present, he said.

"He was all about working with people and making things happen, and making government efficient and workable so the ordinary citizen could understand," Cox said.

Andy Klein, president of the Klein's ShopRite of Maryland chain of supermarkets, said his late father, Ralph, was in the same fraternity, Tau Epsilon Phi, as Gov. Mandel when they attended the University of Maryland at College Park.

Ralph Klein, who died last November, founded the supermarket chain, starting with one store in Forest Hill. Andy Klein said Gov. Mandel sought his father's support when he was running for governor in 1970, after being appointed by the legislature when Gov. Spiro Agnew became vice president.

"They always got along, and the governor was always really nice and really gracious to my dad and my family," Klein said.

He said Gov. Mandel, whom he described as a "people person," and the late comptroller Goldstein made occasional visits to his family's Forest Hill store.

"We thought it was kind of a neat thing that [Gov. Mandel] would come up and spend a few minutes walking through," he said.

Klein said Gov. Mandel was a "visionary," as many services Marylanders depend on today, such as the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, started under his administration.

"He loved the state of Maryland, he really did, and only wanted the best for it," he said.

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