Paul E. Weisengoff, a former noted Baltimore legislator who served in the General Assembly for 27 years and later became a registered lobbyist for the Maryland Jockey Club and Laurel Racing Association, died of complications from a stroke May 30 at Atlantic General Hospital in Berlin, Worcester County. The former Beechfield resident who lived in Ocean Pines was 89.
“Paul was one of my closest allies when we were in the House of Delegates. He was my lip and always knew where the votes were to get legislation passed. He was a good friend who I often called upon,” said U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin.
“He understood politics and was devoted to Baltimore. He was from Southwest Baltimore, and his roots were always there,” Mr. Cardin said.
Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said: “Paul was a major voice in Baltimore and Maryland politics for decades. He was highly intelligent, knew how to cut a deal, and as a Republican governor, I really appreciated that.”
“We were friends, and he was part of a senior group from the old Democratic Party who adopted me and took me under his wing as a young 20-something suburban Republican. He came out of the old-fashioned political clubs and was very Mayor William Donald Schaefer-esque when it came to getting things done,” Gov. Ehrlich said.
Paul Edmund Weisengoff, the son of Joseph Weisengoff, a grocer who also owned and operated the Idle Hour Tavern in the 1400 block of West Baltimore Street, and Julia Mazeika Weisengoff, a homemaker, was born and raised in Southwest Baltimore, the youngest of nine children.
When he was 14, he left Baltimore to study for the priesthood for a year, but a case of homesickness caused him to end his pursuit of a religious career as a Benedictine monk. He returned to the city and graduated in 1949 from Mount St. Joseph High School in Irvington.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1953 from the University of Maryland, College Park and served in the Army from 1954 to 1956. He later obtained a master’s degree from what is now Morgan State University.
After serving in the Army, Mr. Weisengoff worked calling bingo games, driving trucks and assisting in carnivals before beginning his career in 1957 teaching biology at Southern High School.
Mr. Weisengoff’s political awakening began in Southwest Baltimore, where “politics was part of the culture,” observed The Evening Sun in a 1988 article. “Bosses and would-be bosses abounded. Irvin Kovens’ furniture store was a block away. Mary Avara’s club was a fixture. And there were other distractions for the young Weisengoff in a community where H.L. Mencken lived but blocks away.”
Mr. Weisengoff began working in local politics and got to know such characters as political boss Jack Pollock, Mayor Thomas J. Alesandro III and Harry J. ”Soft Shoes” McGuirk, a longtime ward healer and leader of South Baltimore’s Stonewall Democratic Club.
In 1966, Mr. McGuirk and Mr. Weisengoff ran together on a Democratic ticket and won — Mr. McGuirk went to the state Senate and Mr. Weisengoff to the House of Delegates representing the 37th District, which later became the 47th District.
“I didn’t know where Annapolis was when I was first elected,” Mr. Wesiengoff told The Evening Sun. “I was surprised how it ran. Leadership has control of the legislature. Mavericks can’t win. You have to be part of the system. You have to know how to compromise. You have to know the other guy’s position. When you do, you find that nothing is ever all right or all wrong. But some things are more right than other things are.”
When Sen. Cardin was speaker in the House of Delegates, Mr. Weisengoff was called his “unofficial majority leader” but resented another title that of “chief wheeler-dealer.”
When it came to getting tough votes, he told the newspaper: “I don’t trade as such. I don’t think trading helps you. I never go in and say, ’Vote for this and I’ll vote for that.’ Never.”
Because he was willing to compromise and work with others, he piled up a larder filled with favors that he was able to call when there was something he wanted.
Through his astute cigar-chomping political maneuvering and outsized personality, Mr. Weisengoff was able to bring major institutions to Baltimore, including the Convention Center, the aquarium, the toll facilities at the Fort McHenry Tunnel, a renovated City Hall, the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and funding for the subway.
Much of this was accomplished when he was head of the city delegation during the 1970s.
“It is said in this political town that if God wanted to get the Ten Commandments through the Maryland General Assembly, he would first have to take his case to a Baltimore pol named Paul Weisengoff,” observed The Washington Post in a 1981 news story.
“Weisengoff would listen reverently to God’s spiel, then take a long, pregnant puff on his cigar, and ask, as he blew the smelly smoke in God’s face: ‘Okay, God. How bad do you want these?’”
Annapolis lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano, a longtime friend, said, “Paul had an enormous talent when it came to strategizing and working deals, and he was an exceedingly loyal person.”
Mr. Weisengoff chaired a legislative committee on horse racing for 17 years.
In the mid-1970s, Mr. Weisengoff was “a figure in the public corruption trial that was the outgrowth of a racetrack scandal that led to the conviction of then-Gov. Marvin Mandel,” reported The Sun in 2004.
”Weisengoff served as point man for the Mandel forces in restoring favorable amendments to a 1972 racetrack bill that illegally enriched Mandel’s close friends, according to news accounts of his role. Weisengoff was not accused of wrongdoing in the case.”
Gov. Mandel was convicted of mail fraud and racketeering in 1977, and his conviction was overturned on a technicality in 1987.
“But I can’t even remember when I’ve done anything immoral, illegal or unethical,” Mr. Weisengoff told The Sun in 2004.
The Morning Sun
He retired from the legislature in 1994, and three years later, Mr. Weisengoff became a lobbyist for the Maryland Jockey Club and the Laurel Racing Association, a position he held until 2003.
A decade after he retired from the legislature, Gov. Ehrlich hired him as a member of his legislative team.
When Gov. Ehrlich was pushing for the legalization of slot machines as a “a long-term solution for the state’s rolling deficit,” reported The Baltimore Sun, Mr. Weisengoff told the newspaper, “If the governor is for them, I’m for them. If the governor is against them, I’m a hired gun.”
Mr. Weisengoff, who was a Baltimore Colts, Orioles and Ravens fan, moved to Ocean Pines in his retirement, where he also enjoyed fishing and crabbing.
When living in Beechfield, he had been a member of Our Lady of Victory Roman Catholic Church, Knights of Columbus and the Holy Name Society. He had also been founder of the Constellation Democratic Club.
He was a communicant of St. John Neumann Roman Catholic Church in Berlin, where a Mass of Christian Burial was offered Friday.
Mr. Weisengoff is survived by his wife of 68 years, the former Lorraine Mattox, a former educator who had been her husband’s secretary; three sons, Paul F. Weisengoff of Berlin, Robert S. Weisengoff of Bel Air and John D. Weisengoff of Nebraska; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.