When Maryland Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs sits down in his spacious office overlooking Calvert Street in Baltimore, he is surrounded by reminders of his political and professional lineage.
Dominating one wall is a large picture of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Competing for space on another are some of Roosevelt's Democratic descendants: Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale. Sprinkled throughout are photos of attorneys and prosecutors whose careers have intersected with Sachs': former U.S. attorneys general Robert F. Kennedy, Ramsey Clark and Benjamin Civiletti, and former U.S. attorney and U.S. senator Joseph D. Tydings.
In a kind of visual shorthand, the gallery of photographs describes the political genealogy of the 52-year-old Sachs, a man who was nurtured on the politics of the New Deal, who cut his teeth as a young federal prosecutor in the heady days of John F. Kennedy's New Frontier and who now views his gubernatorial candidacy as an attempt by the reformist wing of the Maryland Democratic Party to retain its hold on the State House.
To some, including the state attorney general himself, the contest between Sachs and Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer for the Democratic nomination Sept. 9 is the latest showdown in a struggle that has occupied the party and dominated state politics for more than 20 years.
The primary is "a great contrast but a hard choice," said Civiletti, a Sachs supporter who is also a great admirer of Schaefer. While cautioning that the groups "have tended to meld somewhat," and that Sachs and Schaefer both tend to draw support from the two wings of the party, Civiletti portrays Sachs as a product of "the reform side, the nontraditionalist side . . . the volunteer side of the party," and Schaefer as a reflection of the "regular" wing of the Democratic Party that has included Maryland governors J. Millard Tawes and Marvin Mandel.
George H. Callcott, a University of Maryland history professor and author of a book on postwar Maryland, said, "Sachs people consider themselves to be outsiders, spokesmen for principles as opposed to special interests. Schaefer people view themselves as insiders trying to reconcile the special interests."
Perhaps no event in the Democratic primary campaign better underscores Sachs' political tradition than the attorney general's preference for a running mate. Tomorrow, Rep. Parren J. Mitchell of Baltimore is expected to announce that he has accepted Sachs' offer to run with him as a candidate for lieutenant governor.
Mitchell, retiring in January after 16 years in Congress, is the undisputed political leader of Maryland's black community, which makes up nearly one-third of the Democratic primary electorate. In his long public career, Mitchell has been an outspoken champion of civil rights and other liberal causes. Mitchell has also been a frequent critic of Schaefer. In practical terms, he would substantially increase Sachs' appeal to black voters. On a symbolic level, he would add definition to the contrasts between Sachs and Schaefer.
Though Schaefer, after 30 years in municipal government, defies easy categorizing, his roots are in the traditional organizational politics of Baltimore. His early ties were to the Democratic organization founded by Baltimore legislator Philip Goodman and party fund-raiser and power broker Irvin Kovens. It was this organization that in the 1950s began competing for power with the dominant West Baltimore organization of James H. (Jack) Pollack, the legendary boss of the city's Jewish community.
Over his lengthy public career, including the past 15 years as mayor, Schaefer has expanded his network to include neighborhood activists, prominent business persons and voters of every conceivable political stripe. And in his campaign for governor, Schaefer is drawing support from all sectors of Maryland's diverse electorate.
But many Sachs supporters still see Schaefer's political family tree firmly rooted in the kind of big-city, Democratic club politics personified by Kovens and Mandel. Schaefer's continued -- and unapologetic -- associations with the former governor and his chief fund-raiser, who were convicted of corruption in the late 1970s, is to some Sachs partisans a telling symbol of the mayor's school of politics, even though none question Schaefer's integrity.
Schaefer's defense of those associations is that Mandel and Kovens are longtime friends who have never sought special favors from him and who, particularly in the case of Mandel, have been staunch allies of the city he loves.
For a generation, beginning with the election of President Kennedy, the two wings of the Maryland Democratic Party that helped mold Sachs and Schaefer have been competing for political control of the state.
In the mid-1960s the reformist wing won significant victories, including the election of Tydings to the U.S. Senate in 1964. But Mandel and the party regulars dominated state politics in the 1970s, until a federal investigation conducted by Sachs protege Barnet D. Skolnik sent the governor and several of his associates to prison. The wave of public revulsion over the political corruption trials of Mandel and others propelled outsiders Harry Hughes and Sachs to statewide office in 1978.
To Sachs, the 1986 gubernatorial election represents "a renewal yet again of some of these earlier struggles." Though he never accuses Schaefer of any improprieties, Sachs nonetheless rarely misses an opportunity to characterize the mayor as the darling of those he believes inhabit the darker side of Maryland politics.
"I feel part of a tradition that sees public office as an opportunity to serve," he said, "and I am very critical of . . . the other tradition that sees public office as an opportunity for private profit. The mayor's always been very close to those people."
Sachs' earliest, and arguably most important, political influence was his father, Leon Sachs. Leon Sachs has been a professor of political science, a labor arbitrator, and for 35 years the head of the Baltimore Jewish Council. He hung a picture of FDR in his home and publicly discussed the merits of Roosevelt's plan to pack the Supreme Court when most of his colleagues in the Baltimore legal community opposed it.
At 79, Leon Sachs still proudly describes himself as a "good red-hot liberal." In summing up the differences between his son and Schaefer, Leon Sachs says, with a touch of disdain, "I doubt Mayor Schaefer ever read [newspaper columnist] Walter Lippmann."
Under his father's guidance, the younger Sachs not only read Lippmann, but also learned around the dinner table about constitutional law, due process and the legal tradition of Supreme Court justices Cardozo, Brandeis, Holmes and Frankfurter.
And in 1948, when Sachs played Harry Truman to another student's Thomas E. Dewey during a high school debate at the Baltimore Friends School, he appropriated a line from his father and talked about the Dixiecrats' theory of states' rights as a "smoke screen" for racism.
Four years later, as a Haverford College sophomore, Sachs led a drive to nominate Adlai Stevenson at a mock convention staged by Pennsylvania college students. That summer his father secured him an appointment as a page to the Democratic convention in Chicago, and Sachs watched his hero Stevenson win the real thing. Sachs can still recite part of Stevenson's concession speech on election night 34 years ago, an evening he describes as "teary-eyed."
If Sachs' early political education came from his father, his graduate degree was earned under Tydings.
You can't understand Steve Sachs without going back to Tydings," said Democratic national committeeman Lanny Davis. "Tydings . . . was for good government, a prosecutor of corruption, issue oriented, a high-minded U.S. senator."
In the 1964 Democratic primary, Tydings beat Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, the hand-picked candidate of the state Democratic organization controlled by Gov. J. Millard Tawes and his chief fund-raiser George Hocker. Two months before the primary, Sachs left the U.S. attorney's office to help run the campaign.
Tydings' election to the Senate in 1964 was a watershed event for Sachs and the Maryland Democratic party. Appointed U.S. attorney by President Kennedy in 1961, Tydings convicted two congressmen and the speaker of the Maryland House for their involvement in the state's original savings and loan scandal. Sachs and Civiletti were the two young assistant U.S. attorneys who argued the government's case against Speaker A. Gordon Boone.
Tydings' Senate victory, combined with the fervor of the Kennedy years, drew a whole generation of young Maryland activists into politics. "Joe [Tydings] had challenged the existing Democratic organizations . . . and there was an expectation after he won that this new effort ought to continue," remembered Clinton Bamberger, a veteran of that period who now teaches at the University of Maryland Law School.
Two years after Tydings was elected to the Senate, a number of the people involved in his campaign, including Sachs, went to work for gubernatorial candidate Carlton Sickles. The ticket of Sickles and Bamberger, who was running for attorney general, challenged the Tawes organization slate headed by Tom Finan. The split helped George Mahoney, who had run on a thinly veiled appeal to racism, capture the Democratic nomination. Mahoney, without the active support of the reform wing of the party, lost the governor's race to Republican Spiro Agnew.
As a reformer, Sachs helped form a northwest Baltimore political organization called the Fifth District Reform Democrats -- appropriately known as the FDR Democrats -- and participated in the movement that led to the 1967 Constitutional Convention.
A high-water mark for the FDR Democrats came when their seven-person slate for the Constitutional Convention swept the legislative district against the Pollack organization, which Sachs said "was the symbol to us of all that was rotten and bad in Baltimore city politics."
Reflecting recently on the reformist stirrings of the 1960s, Sachs conceded there was some "elitism" to the movement. "What reform is in politics is a group of people who win with new candidates who see themselves, as we did, as a new and better breed, who want to preserve the flame . . . . But the reform spirit can be kind of arrogant."
Kalman Hettleman, one of the founders of the FDR Democrats, remembers the young Sachs as "very, very committed and very outspoken . . . ready to joust with established interests. He's always been a moral crusader and always seen politics and government as the highest and noblest pursuit."
But Sachs' associates from that period, the lawyers and former prosecutors who shared his politics, also remember thinking that Sachs would never seek office himself.
That changed in the early 1970s when Sachs, back in private practice, first toyed with the idea of running for attorney general. With the State House controlled by Mandel and the regulars, and his old mentor Tydings defeated in his bid for reelection to the Senate, Sachs said he realized that "if I was going to have anything to do, I was going to have to get it myself."
Today, Sachs says he would have run, had his representation of former acting FBI director L. Patrick Gray during the Watergate summer of 1974 not tied him up.
Two years later, Sachs began building his 1978 campaign for attorney general, starting so early that he preempted the field. He won handily over token opposition.
In his two campaigns for attorney general, Sachs has relied on a core group of old associates from the Tydings and Sickles campaigns and a new generation of lawyer-activists.
One new member of that inner circle, University of Maryland law professor Michael A. Millemann, says he was attracted to Sachs by his "deep commitment to process . . . his belief in fundamental fairness . . . . There's a piece of Bobby Kennedy in Steve."
The question facing Sachs -- who trails Schaefer 2 to 1 in most polls now -- is whether the tradition and ideas he represents are out of step with the voters of 1986.
"I guess we'll find out in the fall," said Millemann. "I think that the country goes through swings and there will be a time when we can bring back out our 'Grateful Dead' T-shirts."
Sachs himself is unsure whether the electorate cares about his opponent's links to the old guard.
"The ethic is somewhat different today," he said. "There is a whole philosophical argument about how much these things matter anymore. But they matter to me. They matter. To some of us."
Tomorrow: Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer