With a mixture of bitterness and melancholy, Marvin Mandel defended his years as Maryland's governor last night, telling television audiences here that he has never abused on political corruption charges last summer.
"I just don't think it's a question of having a contrite heart or feeling that you regret," the suspended governor said. "I tried to do the best I could in that job and I think that to a certain extent a lot of beneficial things were done for the state of Maryland (during his nine years in office.)"
During an hour long live interview on Baltimore's WJZ-TV, his first television appearance since his conviction, Mandel portrayed himself as the victim of a narrow-minded press corp; and unscrupulous U.S. prosecutors, saying that law professors and lawyers still cannot figure out the charges against him.
Mandel was convicted by a jury in August of accepting thousands of dollars in favors from close friends in exchange for using his office to help their business interests. Under Maryland law, he was suspended from office upon sentencing and will remain ousted should his appeal fail.
Several times during the interview, he nostalgically flashed back to his origins as a "poor" Baltimore boy and later a struggling lawyer who worked his way to the State House where he had "the opportunity to dine with presidents, kings, rulers."
It was his ability to pull himself up by his proverbial boot straps, Mandel said, that gives him the confidence to overcome his present adversities, which include the prospects of a four-year prison term and automatic disbarment as well as crushing debts and financial insolvency.
When asked about his going to jail if his conviction is not overturned on appeal, he said "no one likes that. I hope it doesn't happen. If it does happen, I'm going to go through it and come out and go on and live a life that I want to live. I've had some tough times before and I think I'll survive."
When Mandel was asked how a man who deserves himself as financially insolvent can afford to pay $675 a month to rent a five-acre home near Annapolis as well as meet demands of a costly divorce settlement, he said he was "existing on" savings of his second wife, Jeanne Mandel. During his trial, he testified that neither he nor his wife had any savings.
"It's tough right now," observed Mandel. "I haven't asked my friends for any help at this point. I can make my own way. I have before and I will again." He did not say whether his friends currently are assisting him without having been asked.
Earlier, he gave a long rambling history of his finances, recalling that he was "born insolvent," worked his way through law school at 40 cents an hour and held several low-paying jobs. "Financially, I am, I wouldn't say financially embarrassed," he said. "It's worse than that."
Since his conviction, he said members of the public have rallied with an "overwhelming" showing of support. As an example of public sympathy, he said, he has received Maryland lottery tickets in the mail with a note saying "I hope you win so it can contribute to your defense fund."
Whenever discussion turned to the trial, the suspended governor assumed a lawyer's manner, asking his interviewers rhetorical questions. At one point, he said "let me be the interrogator," and asked one on the television interviewers, George Bauman, who covered the trial, whether he remember any witness say, "I did anything or asked them to do anything improper or asked them to do anything wrong?" When the reply was "No," Mandel said, "That's right. There wasn't any witness that said that I at any time did anything to abuse the power of that office or to hurt the people of the state of Maryland."
Asked whether he thought his divorce from Barbara Mandel and her heavy financial demands led to his legal problems, Mandel said he did not believe it was "the moving reason for the trial at all. I don't think it had anything to do with it."