When confronted with rumors in 1972 that he did not care if his veto of race track legislation was over-ridden, Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel responded: "I want all my vetoes sustained," according to testimony today.
John C. Eldridge, the man who relayed the rumors to Mandel, testified today that as the governor's chief legislative aide he was so worried about the impression the rumor made on legislators that he interrupted a meeting to inform the governor.
Now a Mandel-appointed judge on the Maryland Circuit Court of Appeals, Eldridge gave the first direct testimony in the defense case that Mandel did not want over-ridden his veto of a bill that would have doubled the racing days of the Malboro Race Track, which was then secretly owned by at least four of the five men who are now Mandel's codefendants.
Arnold M. Weiner, attorney for Mandel in the governor's political corruption trial, brought in six witnesses in addition to Eldridge who testified on the crucial question of Mandel's role in 1972 legislation affecting the Marlboro trzck.
The prosecution's multi-count indictment charges Mandel with accepting some $350,000 worth of favors and gifts from codefendants W. Dale Hess, Harry W. Rodgers III, William A. Rodgers, Irvin Kovens and Ernest N. Cory Jr. in return for actions beneficial to the legislation that brought windfall profits to the secretly owned track.
Just as the prosecution called on legislators generally known to be foes of Mandel, the defense today called on state senators known as trusted allies.
Eldridge began the day with his memories of the first day of the 1972 sessions of the General Assembly when all vetoes are traditionally considered. State Sen. Arthur A. Dorman (D-Prince George's), then a delegate, surprised him at his office with the "unusual" rumor that Mandel didn't care that his veto of the Marlboro Race Track transfer bill would over ridden. Eldridge testified.
He said he burst into the governor's office and was told by Mandel: "You go tell him (Dorman) I want all my vetoes sustained."
The legislators who followed Eldridge represented a cross-section of the State Senate, except for the fact that they are Mandel supporters.
Sen. Clarence Blount (D-Baltimore City), first black called to the stand on either side, said that neither Mandel nor the governor's lobbyists approached him during the veto override or the subsequent debate on the race track consolidation bill that would have provided greater benefits to Marlboro.
A woman senator, Margaret Schweinhaut (D-Montomery), followed with essentially the same testimony. When chief federal prosecutor Barnet D. Skolnik asked her if the lobbyists had avoided her because she is a woman, Schweinhaut replied: "in my 19 years as a legislator I have been lobbied . . . my arm twisted and my leg twisted . . . and I have been lobbied by the Maryland Bar Association."
Skolnik, a member of the state bar, raised his hands and said he had never lobbied a legislator. He also ended his cross examination.
Sen. Melvin A. Steinberg (D-Baltimore County) added to the view that Mandel took a hands-off approach to the race track bills. He also took credit for the Senate's "independence" demonstrated when Mandel's veto was over-ridden.
Sen. Edward T. Hall (R-Calvert), a coleader of the minority Republican Party in 1972, was a member of the Senate Finance Committee that deliberated about two weeks on the race track consolidated bill.
He contradicted other senators on that committee who had testified for the government that Mandel's lobbyists were persistent figures throughout the committee hearings.
Instead, Hall said, if they were even there he could not recall: "They didn't make an impression on me.
After hearing defense testimony from representatives of Baltimore, Baltimore County, the Washington suburbs and southern Maryland as well as black, a woman and a Republican, the proceedings were recessed for the day.