When Louise Keelty, the former nun who is Harry Hughes' appointments secretary and "princess of patronage" delivered the green bag to the legislature today containing the names of 256 appointments for boards and commissions, some things were not in keeping with tradition.
Never before had the green felt bag that is the symbol of the state's patronage system been delivered by a woman. And certainly, until today, never had the green bag been graced with a bright pink ribbon.
These firsts in the tradition of the green bag were duly noted by the state senators who watched Keelty nervously enter their chamber and present the package to Senate President James Clark Jr. One senator complained that the press was given the list before they were. Another, upon spotting the pink ribbon, rose to his feet and charged that it represented "female chauvinism." But the only thing the senators really cared about was the list inside. Most found it to their liking; others did not.
Keelty, at an hour-long press briefing before the bag "came down," said the list was a compromise between the Hughes administration's commitment to appoint the most qualified person to every post and the political necessity of following the recommendations of the senators who must confirm the appointments. She said the administration used independent judgment in making nominations for major posts -- such as the choice of Judge Kenneth C. Proctor for the state Racing Commission -- but allowed the senators to dictate the choices for local boards.
"I thought it was a great green bag," said Sen. Harry J. McGuirk, the powerful south Baltimore Democrat, after learning that the list included a sufficient number of liquor and election board members from his turf. "It wasn't much different from past years, I'd say."
Another Baltimore senator, Verda Welcome, was equally delighted after learning that one of her constituents, who serves as the Senate doorkeeper, was tabbed for a city liquor board post. "It was a fine selection," she said. "i'm so pleased."
The rearrangement of Baltimore's liquor board may represent the most profound change in Hughes' bag of appointments. For the first time in years the politically influential jobs were taken away from two of the city's most powerful machines and given to their long-time opponents. Among the outgoing commissioners who were not reappointed was Keelty's brother-in-law, Michael Wyatt.
The Hughes green bag also represented a change for some senators from other parts of the state. Montgomery County Sen. Victor Crawford, for example, said he was "dumbfounded" to discover that the woman he recommended for a post on the state Board of Education -- Verna Fletcher -- was actually nominated by Hughes.
"You bet it's a change," said Crawford. "Before, I could have recommended that Jesus Christ be the one to strike the rock and bring out the loaves and fishes to the multitudes and Marvin Mandel would have turned it down. This is the first time anyone up there's listened to me."
Another Montgomery senator, Republican Howard A. Denis, said this green bag marked the first time in recent years that a governor had accepted the recommendations of GOP leaders. "Even when the law required that a Republican be appointed to something like the Board of Elections, said Denis, "the Mandel people would have the local Democrats recommend a Republican.This time, a group of us met with Hughes a few weeks ago, and he promised to consider our recommendations.
The Democratic senators from Prince George's County who were afraid that the patronage system they manipulated so efficiently during the Mandel era would be abandoned by the new governor, discovered to their pleasure that Hughes went along with all of their recommendations. "We got it all," said Sen. Peter A. Bozick, chairman of the county's Senate caucus. "We didn't ask for much (only 10 of the hundreds of nominees came from Prince George's), but we got what we asked for."
The green bag has long held special significance in Maryland politics -- "you can call it payday," said one Baltimore politician. Inside are the governor's nominations for local liquor boards, election supervisors and sensitive state regulatory commissions -- names traditionally recommended by his closest political allies.
For the governor, these jobs serve as a reward for fealty in the General Assembly and hard work on election day. For the legislators, the green bag is a measure of clout, a signal to supporters back home that they can "deliver" important positions and shape the boards that hand out liquor licenses and supervise elections.
While Mandel was governor during the past decade, the green bag was compiled with utmost secrecy. The governor's operatives even refused to reveal the list of job vacancies, suggesting to inquiring legislators that they examine the voluminous Maryland Manual to determine the jobs that were becoming vacant.
Secrecy gave Mandel the leverage he needed to accommodate his allies. His patronage chief, Maurice Wyatt, parceled out the plums, delicately fitting each piece into the political jigsaw puzzle. Important regulatory posts, like racing commissioners, were often cleared first by Mandel contributors who worked in the regulated industry.
Many of the legislators who flourished in the old spoils system nervously awaited Hughes' first green bag. Instead of casually reminding Wyatt of their choices for various positions, they were told this year to submit resumes to Keelty. Anticipating the worst, some senators sought seats on the Senate's Executive Nominations Committee, giving them the power to reject Hughes' appointments if he did not appoint their choices for local jobs.
Sen. Joseph Bonvegna, a Baltimore Democrat whose political organization captured every patronage post in his district during the Mandel years, was relieved today when he learned that the new governor had decided to accept one of his suggestions, the reappointment of one of his organization lieutenants to the State Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers.
The reappointment helped appease Bonvegna after Hughes appointed one of his political enemies to a seat on the Baltimore liquor board long held by a member of Bonvegna's organization. "This guy (Hughes) knows this game," he said. "You just don't slough off a senator in his own district. He would have had war."
Not every senator found something good in the list of appointments. Sen. Victor Cushwa, a Western Maryland Democrat, was disappointed to discover that Keelty ignored his advice and reappointed an Allegany County liquor board member who, he said, is part of that county's "old guard" Democrats who normally back Republicans in statewide elections.