Nothing makes the blood rush more than the name of Marvin Mandel.
The suspended governor is politically dead. He lives in exile a few miles from here, awaiting the appeal of his conviction on political corruption ch arges.
Yet his name and occasional presence at the State House cast a magic spell over the General Assembly. He was so much a part of it for 25 years and the memory won't go away.
Ask the oldtimers and they'll get misty-eyed and tell you he knew Maryland, made it run smoothly for eight years. What did he do wrong anyway? they ask. Help out his friends?
The Young Turks wish he'd quietly disappear. Mandel, they say, is an example of the "system" gone awry. When Common Cause lobbies fo an ethics bill, it invokes his name, too.
Acting Gov. Blair Lee III was droning on about the pension bill at last week's press conference when he dropped Mandel's name and ignited the following repartee:
Lee: "I got a phone call from Gov. Mandel . . . and he said that in his judgement the pension bill was the most important single bill before this session and that the General Assembly ought to pass it if they don't pass anything else."
Reporter: "Governor, it seems as if you are trotting out a convicted governor's name to give you added political push on a bill which you are trying to get through the session. Is that what just happened here?"
"I don't think his conviction has anything to do with it."
"Why did you bring Gov. Mandel's endorsement of the pension bill?"
"Well, why not? he's a man who has had vast experience in the fiscal end of state government and is highly regarded in that area."
"But doesn't this have a certain ring of, well, let's win one for the Gipper?"
"If you can scare up two or three votes on that premise, I'll go along with it."
Lee lived in Mandel's shadow for seven years as lieutenant governor before inheriting the governor's job in the last year of Mandel's second four-year term. Now that he is governor, he still lives in the Mandel shadow.
Over and over again, legislators scratch their heads and mutter, "Marvin would have never done it that way."
They said it when Lee kept changing his mind on the best location for a state prison, alienating a different legislative district with each announcement and opening himself up to charges of vacillation and political opportunism. Mandel would have reviewed the possiblities behind closed doors, worked out the necessary compromises, defused opposition with patronage plums and, above all, acted with finality and authority, Lee's critics say.
They say it when they talk about Lee's staff and lobbying team, which is much lower key and less omnipresent than Mandel's legendary crew, which was known as "The Roadrunners" because of famous vote-trading and arm-twisting tactics. The professional staff serving Lee is made up of newcomers who lack the political savvy of Mandel's aides, it is widely held.
They said it when Lee put forth a property tax package with little hope of passing because it conflicted with proposals prepared and supported by legislative leaders. Mandel would have worked out a compromise with the leadership and put his imprimatur on a bill with a good chance of winning, observers note.
Mandel made the legislature his winter home for a quarter of a century. As a member of the House of Delegates from Northwest Baltimore and later as House speaker, he befriended most of the lawmakers and helped them with bills. As governor, he helped them with projects for their districts and appointments for their friends and political allies.
When he comes back to the State House now, he returns a defeated man. He has lost his job, his home in the Governor's Mansion, the trappings of office and his power. "All he has left," one State House wag said, "are his friends."
And his friends treat him well. When he sits down for shoeshine in the basement of the State House, he draws a crowd of well-wishers. When he visits the offices of his former aides, he is addressed as "governor." When he takes a table at an Annapolis nightspot, legislators stop and accord him the respect of a foreign dignitary. When he calls his former cabinet secretaries, they patiently listen to his advice on state problems.
Twelve jurors stripped Mandel of his office, but his influence eerily lingers in this state capital.