Acting Maryland Gov. Blair Lee III, 10 days away from assuming full control of the governor's office, has dropped from his staff one of Mandel's closest aides, lobbyist Frank H. Harris.
The decision to let Harris go by accepting his routinely proftered resignation was in part related to the aide's billing the state for a $130 dinner tab he and his friends ran up in Ocean City last month, Lee indicated. "It didn't help his case any," Lee said.
Harris was probably closer to Mandel than any member of the gubernatorial staff, functioning at times almost as a personal retainer for Mandel and his second wife, Jeanne. He also came under criticism for helping various private interests obtain favorable treatment from the state and defended the practice as part of the job of "an old-line ward-heeling politician," as he described himself.
With Mandel scheduled to be removed from office upon sentencing Oct. 7 on 18 felony convictions, Lee is moving to put his own stamp on the administration he will inherit.
Harris, officially listed as Mandel's $34,000-a-year legislative liaison officer, who told during a "long and friendly talk" with Lee last Thursday that he was being let go. Lee said it would be "wrong" to say Harris was fired, but "he wasn't dying to pack up and leave, either."
Lee said that before Harris leaves the state payroll he is being forced to repay the dinner tab that he billed to the state during a meeting of the Maryland Association of Counties last month in Ocean City.
"That ought not to happen," said Lee, who indicated that Harris' dinner guests were personal friends, Lee said that the incident was not decisive in his decision not to keep Harris but was a factor.
Harris said that "always before the state picked up my expenses at the convention." He said that "Mandel told me I should go again this year - they are my friends" in the association. Harris said.
When Hans Mayer, Lee's administrative officer, questioned Harris about the bill, Harris said he voluntured to pay for it. Although he has not yet reimbursed the $130, which is owed to the Sheraton Fountainbleu Hotel, Harris said. "I will. I'm not broke and I don't want to embarass anyone."
While not denying suggestions that he is anxious to have his own loyalists on the staff, Lee said the resignation of Harris was accepted in part because there are "a finite number of positions that I can fill." Lee said that when he began to plot reorganization of the governor's office a few weeks ago, he found only one vacancy among the 78 positions.
Lee said he has not decided the fate of another one of Mandel's closest aides, deputy legislative officer Ronald Schreiber. "I'm taking them one at a time," Lee said.
Schreiber, who is paid $32,112, said today that he and Lee "talked casually a couple weeks ago," and that he told Lee "I would like to stay through the legislative session" if he thought I could make a contribution.
Schreiber said Lee was noncommittal, saying only "we'll see."
Schreiber and Harris were the focus of a recent article in The Washington Post describing efforts they had made for personal friends and businessmen to obtain favorable and sometimes favored treatment from various state agencies.
The third member of Mandel's team lobbyists Maurice R. Wyatt, will remain as a Lee aide. "He's a very valuable young man," Lee said of Wyatt, whose close ties to the Democratic organization in Baltimore are expected to help Lee in his bid to be elected governor in his own right next year.
Harris, 56, siad he may "look for a job lobbying" in Annapolis or return to his union protected job as a railroad conductor. Harris had been a conductor on the Penn Central's Congressional Ltd. passenger train between New York and Washington when he took a leave of absence in 1967 to work in the presidential campaign of Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey.
The gruff-talking, back-slapping Harris said, "I know Blair wants his own guys. After the conviction I decided that if he didn't want me or need me, I was ready to go. Last Thursday, he indicated he didn't want me to stay on - I just don't fit into Blair Lee's scheme. I came with Mandel and I'm leaving with him. I'm not happy but I'm not bitter. I would have stayed if he had asked me but I couldn't have the same loyalty to anyone that I had to Mandel."
Harris said that if he does not go back to the railroad, he might run for the State Senate or commissioner of his native Cecil County. "I'm a grassroots guy. There's a lot more little guys out there like me than Princeton grads," he said allowing himself a little sarcasm towards Lee, a Princetonian.
Meanwhile, Mandel has begun to remove his personal possessions from Government House, the 54-room mansion he has occupied since becoming governor in 1969. The first truckload of Mandel good s moved out under cover of darkness Monday night in an unmarked truck and another left tonight.
The truck, reportedly lent to the financially troubled Mandel, delivered the goods to the rented house a few miles north of the mansion, where Mandel and his wife, Jeanne, and her children will live.