Marvin Mandel has always been regarded as a governor's governor, a rare breed of politician who could turns the wheels of government with ease, settle disputes with aplomb, and recite the state budget line for line.
Even after his conviction on political corruption charges and embarrassing testimony at his trial, Mandel's friends and foes alike spoke of him as the most technically skillfull Maryland governor in recent generations.
As he is forced from office by scandal, however, mandel's criminal problems overshadow his governmental feats. Even his llies carefully distinguished now between Mandel's prowess as an administrator and his role as statesman.
The conviction has so stripped Mandel of his aura of power, moreover, that it has drawn attention to the shortcomings of his administration and given rise to the question, "Was Marvin Mandel really a good governor?"
"If he doesn't get this (conviction) overturned, people will forget about his accomplishments," said State Sen. Meyer M. Emanuel Jr., an independent Democrat from Prince George's County. "He'll go down as the guy who went to jail."
"Fron the technicalstandpoint, he accomplished what he set out to do," observed State Sen. John J. Bishop, Jr., (R-Baltimore County). "The question is: What good did he do for the people of the state and what good did he do for his friends?"
If it weren't for his conviction, Mandel probably would have been remembered as the governor who streamlined state government, set up a uniform lower system court, imposed strict handgun controls, created the nation's first state-run auto insurance agency, began regulating runaway hospital cost, and shifted school construction cost from local subdivisions to the state.
At his inauguration in January, 1969, he vowed, "I shall govern." He quickly set out to fulfill that pledge.
Mandel devised innovative programs without asking for a tax increase for seven years and almost always got his way in the General Assembly by drawing up upon the deep loyalties of his forner colleagues and wielding the ample patronage available to a Maryland governor.
Even in the darkest hours of his administration, when his press conferences were dominated by questions about the propriety of his actions, Mandel fell back on the familiar defense that whatever might be said about him, people couldn't say that he hadn't been a good governor.
In recent years, however, events have gradually chipped away at that defense. As he leaves office, it has become clear that Mandel ignored certain problems over the years that will haunt future administrations.
Maryland correctional system is so overcrowded - there are eight state inmates for every five spaces - that prison officials have farmed out 1,200 inmates to local jails and crammed hundreds more into double bunks placed in single cells.
State institutions for the mentally ill and mentally retarded are in deploratable and sometimes inhumane condition, a state oversight panel reported this summer, concluding that the facilities were no better than when the panel last visited them two years ago.
Maryland's economy, once the envy of other states, is now lagging in its recovery from the recent recession, and the prospects for economic growth are bleak, according to a state report issued last spring.
The state lost ground during the Mandel years in growth of population, per capita income, and jobs in the manufacturing and service sectors, the report disclosed. Maryland's only laurel was attaining the nation's fastest rate of growth for state governmnet employment.
One of Mandel's proudest legislative products, the state school construction agency, was spending so much money the governor had to order a cutback. Its director, a former Mandel campaign worker, was convicted of political corruption charges.
The state employee pension program is so underfinanced that tens of millions of dollars will be needed to meet obligation unless the Legislature makes corrections, state officials recently concluded.
Maryland's income tax is in bad need of reform, and a recent study showed that the per capita state and local tax burden in Maryland was the ninth highest in the nation.
One of Mandel's aides rrported that Maryland's health department was in a state of choas because of incompetent leadership. Mandel refused to fire the state health secretary, Dr. Neil Solomon, despite widespread criticism of him and a vote of no confidence by the group representing health officers throughout Maryland.
After nearly nine years in office, Mandel leaves behind a state court system generously stocked with his friends and political cronies and a cabinet generally composed of unaggressive career bureaucrats. The state's occupational and professional regulatory boards are also larded with Mandel campaign contributors and supporters.
It is impossible to say how historians will treat the 57-year-old Mandel, whether he will be remembered as the governor who bought Baltimore Washington International Airport for the state or the governor who went to jail for enriching his friends in exchange for valuable gifts.
There are loyal Mandel allies who believe the passing of time will diminish the significance of his criminal offense and restore his reputation as a skillfull manager of government and a master of state legislative affairs.
"I think he'll be known more as a good governor than as a corrupt governor," predicted House of Delegates Speaker John Hanson Briscoe. "People don't see what he did as being a heinous crime as far as stealing public money."
There are maverick Democrats and querulous Republicans who have long opposed Mandel's politics and appointments and who view his legal difficulty as confirmation of their belief that he sowed more evil than good as governor.
Finally, there are those who see Mandel as a composite of many parts, an ambitious and sometimes guileful politician who labored for the public good as well as for the private benefit of his friends, a man who deserves the qualified respect of his peers.
"It's like a Shakespearean tragedy." said State Sen. Victor L. Crawford (D. Montgomery County). "Here's a poor boy from the wrong side of the tracks who gets a break and becomes governor. He has a superior knowledge of government and gets many things accomplished. Then what he does is get his fingers caught in the till."