Generations of Maryland politicians celebrated Tuesday former Gov. Marvin Mandel's recent 90th birthday at a dinner in College Park that featured countless age jokes and heartfelt tributes, as well as a handful of awkward moments and surprise reunions.
Mandel, a conservative Democrat who has maintained friendships with elected officials on both sides of the aisle, attracted such notable guests as Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the House majority leader. State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Democrat, served as emcee.
Mandel sat on the stage like a king, soaking in laudatory speeches by, among others, Hoyer, Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and often-rumored gubernatorial candidate Wayne K. Curry, a Democrat who credits Mandel as an early mentor.
"He didn't do things just because it was politically mandated," Curry said of Mandel. "This guy has a heart."
Ehrlich, who is seeking to reclaim his former job this fall, said he cherishes his chats with Mandel, where "he talks, and I listen."
Mandel had the last word, brushing off the kind words by saying he had warned his friends ahead of time: "If you tell any lies about me, I'm going to tell the truth about you."
Bruce Bereano, a longtime Annapolis lobbyist known for his birthday phone calls to politicians, hosted the event at the alumni center of the University of Maryland, College Park. Bereano said 320 people had RSVP'd.
Just before the dinner began, Steele, Ehrlich's former lieutenant governor who has been embroiled in spending controversies as RNC chairman, circled his arms around his former boss' neck. The two quickly hugged and talked before sitting at separate tables.
The event coincided with the recent release of Mandel's memoir, "I'll Never Forget It." He dictated the book to writer Jeremy Lott, and it was published by the Maryland Public Policy Institute, where Mandel is a board member.
When Gov. Spiro T. Agnew left in 1969 to become Richard Nixon's vice president, the General Assembly elected Mandel, speaker of the House of Delegates, to serve as governor. He was elected in his own right in 1970 and four years later.
One of his most lasting marks on state government was to create the position of lieutenant governor.
But Mandel was convicted of federal mail fraud charges in 1977 and served 19 months in prison before having his sentence commuted by President Ronald Reagan. Courts later overturned his conviction.