He came down from here to Washington when he was still speaker of the House seeking to become governor and he came because the Democratic leaders of the clean suburbs had some questions for him.
They, too had heard the stories - the stories of the bankrolls he carried in his pocket and his life as a lawyer for strippers and those recurring rumors that were a bit more serious than all that. So Marvin Mandel asked to come down to be seen personally to answer the questions put to him - to be looked in the eye and show that he was hiding nothing.
He went to a Washington law office and he laid his cards on the table. He didn't need more support to become governor. He had enough. He was looking forward to the election in 1970, he said, and he understood that Jews, especially those in the suburbs, expected the first Jewish governor to be so clean he squeaked. So he said fire away and he took the questions.
I was not there but I can imagine him smoking his pipe, answering the questions perfectly, smiling inside where you couldn't see it and maybe making some private, little vow to get even. The suburban politician asked his questions. He was polite but he asked anyway and the questions were about the infamous Baltimore Block and the Maryland savings and loan scandal and maybe some other matters that have since been forgotten. Then he finished and he was satisfied and then Marvin Mandel said the strangest thing. He said, "I'm never going to be a disgrace to my people."
I have thought of that story many times because it meant so much to the suburban politician and also because it was so unlike Mandel to say something like that. He is not your basic ethnic, not the kind of person who gives you the wink, the secret handshake, the inside word. Nothing like that from Mandel. Only there that day. Strange.
It is raining now in Baltimore and this morning I saw Marvin Mandel with his wife and his son, Gary, and his stepson, Paul, and others, and I saw him walk up to the courthouse and hear the news from his lawyer that the jury had informed the judge that it was deadlocked. Then Mandel came out and faced the microphones and told how it had been a tough week for him and how he wanted vindication - no hung jury for him, thank you.
There was a reporter there who had known Mandel for years and he grabbed Jeanne Mandel and he said, "God bless you" and then he turned to the governor and he said, "Go with God." It was not the journalistically proper thing to do, but I understand. I like the man myself.
Anyway the deliberations have gone a week here in Baltimore and lawyers, some of them are getting nasty, and the press is taken to interviewing itself.Sometimes you see the defendants and sometimes you don't and when they are around they have run out of things to tell you. They always say they are confident and they are innocent and you would not expect them to say anything else.
So now I thought of Puerto Rico and the governor's conference there. it was not too long after his selection and Mandel had been named head of the Democratic governor's caucus, a nice honor. There were some guys there named Dale Hess and Harry Rodgers - new names to me. They were going to have a party for Mandel, but it was canceled.
But I remember Hess at the casino, wearing white shoes and losing badly. He never stopped smiling. Later we all went out to dinner. We went to one of those hotel restaurants in the sky from where you could see all of San Juan and we all ate well - Mandel, his family, his aides and the reporters covering him. Rodgers and Hess were there that night, too. God knows who picked up the check. I didn't ask.
That was the beginning. They were around a lot after that and after a while you sort of expected them to be there. It seemed natural. They were his friends and this you were told was the way things were done in Maryland. I'm sure Mandel saw it the same way. You learned little things in conversations - things about suits being bought by yet another friend and the meal tabs that were later picked up by other friends and even that land deal on the Eastern Shore.
But these things happened over time and they did not come up on you overnight and you were dealing after all with the likes of Marvin Mandel. This is the governor who once offered me a ride back to Washington on a corporate plane that later he caught hell for using. Marvin Mandel wouldn't know a conflict of interest if he stepped in it.
So what I am saying, I guess, is that I understand. I think of where Marvin Mandel is coming from and how he thought he really needed those suits and he was the governor, after all, and had to travel first class. These were his friends, anyway, and not strangers and nowhere in all this testimony has anyone said anything about white envelopes and cash. By Maryland standards, Marvin Mandel is a reformer.
But the other day Marvin Mandel was on the witness stand and he said time and time again that he did not know when one of the few race tracks in the state where he is governor was bought by his closest friends. He said he did not know anything about it, just like he did not know that he had interest in a real estate venture - not just some income from it. He said all that, But the one that makes your ears do a double take is that business about the race track. Marvin Mandel could hear a postage stamp being licked in Towson. He knew, he knew.
Now the rain has stopped and the sun has come out and the jury has gone home for the day. Maybe soon they will reach a verdict. The thing has gone on too long already, and Mandel is not looking good. So I wish him the best, but I have to think of what he said that day in Washington and what he said recently on the witness stand and how, in short, he will say anything he thinks he has to say. No more. No less.
And not necessarily the truth.