Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) yesterday appointed four new members to the state university system's Board of Regents, including a former governor who was involved in one of the state's biggest political scandals and Ehrlich's own chief campaign fundraiser.
Ehrlich, who campaigned on a promise to clean up the "culture of corruption" in the state capitol, picked former governor Marvin Mandel -- one of the most prominent Democrats to appear publicly with him during last fall's campaign -- to help oversee the state's 13-campus public university system.
Mandel's 10 years as governor were overshadowed by his 1977 conviction on mail fraud and racketeering charges and 19 months in federal prison. His conviction was overturned on appeal in 1987.
Ehrlich also appointed Richard E. Hug, chairman of Baltimore's Environmental Elements Corp. and the mastermind behind the GOP governor's formidable fundraising machine, which broke records last year by collecting more than $10 million.
Hug, whose name has surfaced for several months as a possible future board chairman, will replace Lance K. Billingsley, a former board chairman, who is stepping down two years before the end of his second five-year term on the board. Billingsley was a close associate of former governor Parris N. Glendening (D).
The other appointees were Robert L. Pevenstein, president of a business consulting firm in Timonium, and Robert L. Mitchell, a Bethesda real estate developer.
Ehrlich called Mandel a "friend . . . held in very high esteem" and praised all four nominees for the "business expertise" they would bring to the job. In particular, he noted Hug's record of service to the state, which he said makes Hug something of a "glue between the private sector and the public sector."
The state Democratic Party, however, quickly blasted the appointments.
"Gee whiz, political cronies getting appointed in the Ehrlich administration. Imagine that," party spokesman David Paulson said. "This is the issue that Glendening took it on the chin for for eight years.
"I don't know what Mr. Hug's qualifications are to sit on the Board of Regents, but it seems the only qualification that is really needed is the ability to give a lot of cash and raise a lot of cash for the Republican machine in Maryland." As for Mandel, Paulson said: "I guess he'll enjoy his payback for sitting for a photo op and opening up to Bob during the campaign."
The Mandel appointment drew a more ambivalent reaction among longtime university faculty. "It seems like a strange appointment to me," said a former president of the University of Maryland senate who spoke on condition of anonymity. "But an ex-governor understands something about state politics and budget in Annapolis."
Meanwhile, the State House's most prominent Democrat voiced strong support for Ehrlich's picks. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's), whose chamber votes on such appointments, attended Ehrlich's news conference yesterday and praised his choices.
"These are four excellent appointments," Miller said. "I salute and congratulate the governor."
Miller, known as a fierce partisan, has sharply criticized some of Ehrlich other nominations. His comments yesterday, however, came a week after Ehrlich sent the Senate more than 200 appointments to boards and commissions, among them Miller's law partner and other Democrats.
Mandel, Pevenstein and Mitchell will replace regents Bruce L. Marcus, Leronia A. Josey and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D), whose terms expire in July.
Pevenstein and his wife gave $8,000 to the campaigns of Ehrlich and Lt. Gov. Michael L. Steele. Mitchell, a contributor to both Republican and Democratic campaigns, helped throw a fundraiser for Ehrlich last fall.