ANNAPOLIS -- It was in the shadows of a spring afternoon, and Marvin Mandel was sipping Jack Daniel's and dodging questions about his role as counselor to his old friend Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
Asked if he advised Schaefer on how to deal with the rambunctious Maryland General Assembly that Schaefer neither knew nor understood, Mandel, the former Maryland governor, replied:
Asked about rumors that he held regular meetings with Schaefer's aides to plot legislative strategies, Mandel responded:
Asked if legislators questioned him about how to get along with Schaefer, Mandel said:
"I guess some people called."
Finally, Mandel's wife Jeanne, who that day celebrated a birthday and wore a button that proclaimed her "Over The Hill," put her hand over her mouth to conceal a smile and then broke into laughter.
"I'm sorry," she said to Mandel. Turning to the questioner, she confided, "Our phone was like an extension to the State House."
And so Marvin Mandel is back -- again -- and this time in a new role.
"He's sort of an elder statesman," said Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg.
Less than 10 years ago, Mandel's name was synonymous with the political corruption that marked Maryland government. His conviction in 1977 on racketeering and mail fraud charges ended what had been a wildly successful tenure as chief executive, and his successor and one-time friend, Harry Hughes, won the governorship in 1978 by promising, in effect, that the Mandel years were over.
But with Hughes' successor, it is a different story. Schaefer and Mandel are brothers in the close fraternity of Baltimore Democratic politicians. Schaefer testified to Mandel's character at the former governor's sentencing trial. He offered him a job when Mandel was released from prison after serving nearly two years. And whatever Mandel's role in helping Schaefer shape his administration -- and there are those who think stories of Mandel's influence are greatly overblown -- Mandel has become a much more common sight at the State House since Schaefer took office in January. He is greeted warmly these days almost everywhere he goes.
But the examination of Mandel's victories and crimes is not over yet, and now it is Mandel who is asking for the scrutiny. At age 67, Mandel has asked for the right to renew his legal practice.
It is a long process that involves an investigation, reviews by two boards composed of lawyers and nonlawyers and, ultimately, a decision by the Maryland Court of Appeals, the same court that suspended Mandel's legal license in 1977 and officially disbarred him in 1982.
Although Mandel won't talk specifically about his request for reinstatement, he said he was aware that the process would likely force him and others to relive a part of history he would just as soon forget. But he said the result would be worth it.
"All my life, from the time I was a kid, I did two things," he said. "Practice law and work in government. I love the practice of law."
Mandel has said that he intended to retire from politics in 1970 after serving as speaker of the House. But that changed when Richard Nixon picked then-Maryland Gov. Spiro T. Agnew to be his running mate in 1968. The job of choosing the next governor fell to the legislature, and Mandel easily won the position. He took office in January 1969, and won election on his own in 1970.
What followed was one of the most productive periods in the state government's history. On the day after Mandel's indictment in 1975, The Washington Post described the man and his era: "With his intimate knowledge of the legislature and willingness to use everything from patronage to the prestige of his office as tools, Mandel got done what other governors only dreamed of."
Mandel reorganized and streamlined state government; created the nation's first state-run insurance agency; began to regulate hospital costs; built a subway in Baltimore and paid Maryland's share of the Metro; and doubled the budget, created scores of new programs and kept taxes stable.
But with the praise for Mandel's accomplishments came questions about his tactics and relationships. It was said that if Mandel didn't engage in questionable behavior, he allowed it in those around him.
And Mandel's personal life was played out in full drama. In July 1973, he announced his longtime relationship with Jeanne B. Dorsey, called her "the woman I love" and announced his intentions to divorce his wife of 32 years, Barbara. His first wife refused to accommodate him; she remained in the governor's mansion for five months while Mandel moved to a nearby hotel.
The divorce didn't hurt Mandel politically and he was overwhelmingly reelected in 1974. But the indictment that would end his political career came one year later.
Mandel was charged with manipulating to increase the value of a Prince George's County race track that was secretly owned in 1972 and 1973 by Mandel's friend and political fund-raiser Irvin Kovens and four others.
Mandel helped the track obtain extra racing days, allocated by the state and worth millions of dollars in extra profits, while the track owners showered the governor with money, jewelry, vacations and financial assistance in completing his divorce and remarriage.
Mandel and the others were convicted in August 1977, although federal prosecutors never provided a direct link between the gifts and the race track manipulations. The conviction was first reversed by a panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and then reinstated by the full court. When the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his appeals in 1980, Mandel was sent to a federal minimum-security prison in Florida. He served 19 months before President Reagan commuted his sentence, allowing him to return to Maryland five months before his term was scheduled to end.
Mandel received a rousing welcome home, complete with news conferences and banners at the airport. And while some politicians wondered whether they could afford to associate with Mandel, then-Baltimore Mayor Schaefer offered him a job.
Mandel turned it down, but he didn't forget the gesture. Despite the reservations of some of Schaefer's advisers, Mandel and Kovens were active in Schaefer's campaign for governor. Schaefer's opponent, Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs, denounced the involvement in the Schaefer organization of what he called "convicted political racketeers," but the voters seemed not to mind.
Many State House observers believed it was only natural, then, that Mandel would be active in helping Schaefer run his government.
Schaefer said in an interview at the end of the legislative session that rumors of Mandel's influence were exaggerated. "He didn't try to give me advice," Schaefer said. "When I asked him for some, he would give it. He doesn't call me up and tell me what to do."
"Marvin was a really good governor. His style and my style and the style of a man by the name of Mayor Daley are very similar," Schaefer said, referring to the late Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley.
Schaefer also said that he did not ask Mandel, as was rumored in the State House, to round up legislative support for his proposals. "I think it would be embarrassing to Marvin to have the governor call and say 'Marvin, will you call somebody?' " Schaefer said. "I haven't done that."
Some who know Schaefer well believe that there is no one who influences him very much, and that Mandel is simply a friend and a needed source on the legislature and the egos involved.
For his part, Mandel said he offers advice, either to the governor's staff or the legislature, only when he is asked. But one point he has tried to make with those Schaefer aides not familiar with the legislative process is that of respect. "What I've told them is that every legislator is as important to the people in his district as any lieutenant governor or governor," Mandel said.
He also is counseling Schaefer to learn patience with the legislative process.
Mandel said Schaefer had not offered him a job in state government, nor would he accept one. It would be the same as the job offers to become a lobbyist he has rejected. "That would be the whole session -- what I was doing," he said. But never one to close doors entirely, Mandel added, "I'm not saying that one day I won't do it."
These days, Mandel still works at the same job he took when he left prison, as a consultant for Triangle General Contractors.
He also has a weekly talk show on a local Annapolis radio station.
What he would like to do, he said, is practice real estate law, and that is why in January he filed a petition seeking readmission to the bar.
As Mandel's petition notes, there was a note of sympathy in the unanimous Maryland Court of Appeals decision that disbarred Mandel in 1982.
"We are not unmindful of the fact that Mandel has already been suspended from the practice of law for almost five years and that the tortuous appellate process and imprisonment might bear considerable weight if viewed from the standpoint of rehabilitation," the court wrote. The opinion added that "the number of years one would normally expect to pass" before a petition for reinstatement would be considered might be shortened in Mandel's case.
The reinstatement process will likely stretch for months before it reaches the court. But some who know Mandel say they feel that the reason for the reinstatement request has less to do with Mandel's desire to practice law than it does with his desire to remove at least one of the black marks against his name.
Mandel said only, "I think the worst thing that could happen to me is to retire."