Edwin Frank Hale will be 47 years old in a few weeks, so naturally he wants to accomplish something important with his life. So far, he hasn't done much, unless you consider jumping from a working-class childhood in Dundalk to ownership of a $50 million-a-year trucking and container-shipping business, ownership of the Baltimore Blast indoor soccer team, and chairmanship of Baltimore Bancorp and the Bank of Baltimore.
Now, he thinks he wants to run for governor of Maryland.
"I've always gotta make my own way," he was saying the other night, relaxing in a family room of his Timonium home, which might otherwise pass for a lodge, or Swiss chalet. "I'm like a coup waiting to happen."
He has no previous political experience, except for financially supporting other people's campaigns in large ways, but says he's been approached repeatedly since last spring by "higher-ups" in both parties to run for governor.
He's a registered Democrat, and knows that some would see him as an unregistered Don Quixote figure, or a Maryland version of Ross Perot, a businessman buying his way into the game. Plus, there's a spotty personal life that's already been run through the media.
No matter. He says he looks at those in the race and sees an echo of his own history, in which stodgy, established people write him off until he replaces them.
"My whole life," he was saying the other night, peering through enormous picture windows to a wooded expanse behind his home, "people have looked at me and said, 'Wrong side of the tracks.' And the more they said it, the more it got my adrenalin going."
Who could figure such a history? Grew up in a family of seven in a two-bedroom house in the Edgemere-Dundalk area. Dad was a splicer for the gas and electric company, mother a housewife. They still live there, refusing their son's offers of fancier digs.
Ed went to Sparrows Point High, "a little weasel kid, innocuous. A dork. I was 5-5, 135 pounds. Not much of a student." Went to Essex Community College, then joined the Air Force. Played some tennis in the service, got to see a few country clubs, his first taste of the good life.
Got out, went to work for a trailer-rental firm in Jersey. Boss liked him, gave him a small piece of the business. Tripled his salary to $18,000. Pretty good money for 1969. Boss sold the business. In '74, Hale started his own company here, renting trailers.
"Just dumb luck," he says now. For $170,000 of borrowed money, bought run-down property at Boston and Clinton streets in '76, back when nobody was developing anything on the Canton waterfront. Says he liked the view of Fort McHenry across the water. Sold the property six years later. For $2.3 million. He was 30.
Walked out of the bank thinking, "How could this be happening?" Took the money and flew to Louisiana, started a barge services business, transporting huge machinery by water. Barge business took off, merged it with the trucking, now has Hale Intermodal Transport Co. offices in 11 cities. Meanwhile, bought the Blast indoor soccer team before league troubles ended the association.
Two years ago, led a successful shareholders revolt at the staggering Baltimore Bancorp, took the place over and, professionals say, has brought strength and stability back to the company and its subsidiary, the Bank of Baltimore.
"Simple," he says. "I brought in very smart people. The feds were ready to close it down, which would have cost 1,200 jobs. Their attitude to me was, 'What makes you qualified to take over? You're a trucker.' I felt I was being insulted. I said, 'I'd like to know where you people were when this place was falling apart.' All we've done since then is one of the greatest turnarounds in banking history."
Along the way, he's had some personal troubles which found their way into print: a messy divorce, in which he was hit with the largest settlement ($6.8 million) in Maryland history. Lived with a woman, had two children. Hale and the woman went their separate ways, though the girls stay with Hale regularly, and he supports them financially. Son from his first marriage helps run the transport business. Five months ago, Hale married a second time.
Last April, started getting overtures from political pros who didn't like any of the current candidates for governor. Talks about approaching government in businesslike way, downsizing, privatizing, stop hoping for dried-up federal help. Sound like Perot?
"I'm no Perot," he says, "but you need somebody with business sense. Who wants another career politician in there? To say you're a career politician today is an indictment. This is just an effort to help the state. Mid-life crisis? Nah, I had that when I took over the Blast, and the bank."
He says he needs a few months to think things over, but sounds as if he's leaning toward running. In a week in which other contenders held major fund-raisers, he shrugs his shoulders. Money's no problem, he says. He could pay for the whole campaign himself, if necessary.
That's quite a mouthful from a working-class kid from Dundalk.