Suspended Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel, who has played no visible role in state politics since his conviction on corruption charges, participated in negotiations that ultimately resulted in the political merger between Acting Gov. Blair Lee III and State Senate President Steny H. Hoyer.
Hoyer, who agreed May 29 to give up his candidacy for governor and run as Lee's lieutenant governor, said yesterday that Mandel met with him twice at the Sheraton Lanham Hotel and suggested he run for lieutenant governor or attorney general. He did not specifically recommend the Lee ticket, however, Hoyer said.
The two hour-long sessions in a private room were arranged and attended by Maurice R. Wyatt, Mandel's long time partronage secretary, who acted as Lee's chief negotiator in the selection of a running mate. One meeting was attended by Peter F. O'Malley, the Prince George's political leader and Hoyer confidant.
At one of the meetings, Hoyer recalled in an interview, Wyatt recommended that the Senate President relinquish his longshot candidacy for governnor and "come over with Blair" as lieutenant governor, "Maurice was clearly working for Blair or leaning towards him at that point," Hoyer said.
Mandel never specifically suggested the merger, according to Hoyer. Instead, the convicted governor asked him about his political options, noted his low standing in the polls and said "I'd a strong candidate for attorney general or lieutenant governor on anyone's ticket, not exclusively Blair's," he said.
"I did not perceive him (Mandel) as an emissary or a broker for Blair Lee," said Hoyer. "It wasn't a hard sell and it wasn't on Blair's behalf. I got the impression he just wanted to talk. It was an informational thing for him. He is every interested in what's going on and likes to keep his hand in politics."
Mandel's role in the early stages of negotiations with Hoyer shows he is still a pivotal figure in Maryland political circles nearly nine months after he was suspended from office following his conviction on political corruption charges. He is awaiting the outcome of his appeal.
Two of Lee's opponents in the Democratic primary for governor - State Attorney Francis (Bill) Burch and Baltimore County Executive Theodore G. Venetoulis - have tried to link the acting governor to Mandel and critized the alliance with Hoyer as "a political deal" smacking of Old Guard politics.
In past interviews, Hoyer has consistently denied that Mandel played any role in the negotiations leading up to the merger with Lee. He acknowledged meeting Mandel at the Sheraton only after The Post told him he had been seen at the "motel with the suspended governor, Wyatt and his friend, O'Malley.
Lee said in an interview yesterday he was not aware of the meetings with Mandel in early May. "I would have preferred to do it myself," he said. "I'm sensitive to the implications. But I am really reluctant to make Marvin a leper with nobody being able to talk to him."
Emphasizing that he and Hoyer worked out details of their alliance alone during the crucial stages of negotiations in late May, the acting governor said, "You and I can't tell to what extend these (meetings with Hoyer and Mandel) were serious negotiations and to what extent it was an ego trip for Marvin."
Mandel could not be reached for comment yesterday. In an interview last week, he said he has talked with several candidates and political leaders, but has avoided the role of broker and has carefully remained politically neutral in this election so as not to embarrass or create campaign problems for candidates.
Perhaps I'm overly sensitive," Mandel said, "But there would be people that would attempt to make something out of the fact that I was actively supporting A, B, C or D, whoever it is. They would try to make that the issue rather than who was best qualified to be governor. Why should a candidate have to risk that?"
Hoyer said his meetings with Mandel, which were about 10 days apart in early May, did not convince him to join forces with Lee. "At the time," the Prince George's senator said, "I was convinced I had a good shot at being governor. I wasn't interested in lieutenant governor then."