Maryland's House of Delegates did not lose one of its more powerful, conspicuous members when Patrick Scannello died at 56 last week. It did, however, lose a good man of strong convictions and modest ambition who served his people well.
Politics often changes people. But throughout 14 years as a District 32 lawmaker Mr. Scannello remained pretty much as he was before his election -- a quiet Glen Burnie grocer who believed in doing good things for the people in his community. He had little interest in House leadership, or in making a name for himself. Pro-choice and anti-abortion activists across Maryland may be familiar with Mr. Scannello's name; he opposed abortion so strongly that he voted against the state budget 12 times to protest the inclusion of abortion financing. Other than that, it's doubtful anyone outside his district ever heard of him.
Inside his district, Mr. Scannello was enormously popular. Everyone knew him from his grocery store and Holy Trinity Church, where he was a devout member. After he entered politics, he won more votes in each of the last four elections than any other politician, including Tyras S. "Bunk" Athey, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Just two months ago, the delegate confessed he was baffled by his own popularity. "I don't do anything exceptional," he said modestly.
Perhaps not, if "exceptional" means drafting landmark tax reform or far-reaching environmental legislation. But if Mr. Scannello taught Annapolis one thing, it's that voters back home value representatives who help them fix their roads or improve their mobile home communities as much as, if not more than, flashier, more influential pols. Sen. Michael J. Wagner, D-Ferndale, who recruited Mr. Scannello for his ticket in 1978, said it didn't matter to his colleague how unglamorous constituents' concerns, "their problems became his problems." On Election Day, the voters always returned the favor.
After cancer and other illnesses forced Mr. Scannello to miss portions of three of the last four General Assembly sessions, many political observers began speculating whether he would return. "They're lining up like buzzards," he said recently, "but I've got big things planned for next year."
In the end, of course, it's the little things Pat Scannello did that people will remember most.