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Weighing the good and bad of Marvin Mandel

I have always had mixed feelings about Marvin Mandel. How do you measure an important state leader who has a record of great accomplishment against personal flaws that resulted in a jail sentence, a national family scandal, and finally, a published book describing the intricacies of the payoff scheme that sent not only our governor but also many of his friends to jail? I was the state's youngest legislator when all of this happened. I was in remarkably over my head and was too inexperienced to understand all that was going on around me. It was not until years later that I was able to put into perspective all that I had seen and heard during this time.

In 1967, Maryland convened its most recent Constitutional Convention. I was a 21-year-old delegate elected to represent Essex-Middle River and Perry Hall. The resultant document called for massive changes in the structure of all three branches of the state government. The court system was restructured. The legislature was restructured. Finally, sweeping changes were made to the executive branch, which then had over 200 agencies and leaders appointed directly by, and answering to, the governor. The convention called for a cabinet system that would reduce direct reports to the governor to 17 or 18 with department secretaries responsible for appointing and overseeing the remaining agency heads.

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The Constitutional Convention's final document, an intended new state constitution, was rejected by the voters in a May 1968 referendum because it also would have brought massive changes to the way local governments across the state did their business. The voters did not support most of those changes as well as others that were recommended. Then, Marvin Mandel became governor. He wisely understood that the convention addressed the state government's restructuring correctly. He also recognized the remaining flaws. He astutely separated the wheat from the chaff and he crafted constitutional amendments that followed the convention model. He had the legislature pass the amendments and then convinced the voters to support them. The structure created over 40 years ago is still largely in place today.

During the governor's time in office, he led many other initiatives that moved Maryland forward. Old Friendship Airport was transferred from Baltimore City to the state and is now Thurgood Marshall BWI Airport. Martin Airport went from private hands to state ownership. The first subway line was funded. Property tax reform was enacted. Usury laws were changed. An insurance company that provides car insurance of last resort was conceived and became law. Formulas for school construction removed the burden from local governments to the state. I could go on and on. Mr. Mandel was so successful in moving the legislature to do what he wanted it to do that on one day, when he was to address the House of Delegates, Speaker Thomas Hunter Lowe had all of us wear arm slings to demonstrate to the governor how much we recognized his arm twisting. He was a master.

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How do we measure the man? Do we respect his vision and persuasive powers, or do we feel that we were let down by his indiscretions? Until now, I have known every Maryland governor since Spiro Agnew. Over the years I have tried to measure them in my own mind. I certainly have my favorite and my least favorite. With Governor Mandel, my view has always been a little shaded. His effectiveness in getting what he wanted has been unmatched. His understanding of what the state needed, and how to provide it, was so very insightful.

In the end, I guess the state is better off because of his leadership. At the time however, the state's governmental trauma was felt across the country, and Maryland lost respect nationwide. Today, what is most important? I think most of us recognize that we are all flawed. Only a few can lead. Governor Mandel could lead.

Donald P. Hutchinson is a former state delegate, state senator, and Baltimore County executive, as well as former President of the Greater Baltimore Committee and President/CEO of SunTrust Bank. He is currently the President/CEO of The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. His email is Don.Hutchinson@marylandzoo.org.

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