A tall orange van from Earle's Moving and Storage pulled out of former Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel's driveway at 2:45 this afternoon and hauled away 20 pieces of furniture and bric-a-brac that state officials say Mandel improperly took from the governor's mansion when he left office.
But later in the afternoon, when representatives of the governor and attorney general took an inventory of the returned items at the Old Maryland Armory, they discovered that Mandel had not parted with all of the contested merchandise in what has become known as the Great Furniture War.
Still missing, according to the state inventory, were a large oak rolltop desk, a Nathan Lagan glass lamp and a set of blue and white commemorative plates. In addition, only 12 of the 13 spoons, commemorating the original 13 colonies were there. The Maryland spoon was missing.
Reached at his home late this afternoon. Mandel said he had sent a letter to Attroney General Stephen Sachs explaining that the desk was being repaired and would be sent on later. He added that the lamp had been left behind by mistake. The plates, he said, are his, and so is the spoon.
"That was the spoon we paid for. We have the check," the former governor said.
Today's brief ceremony of loading and unloading, however, did little to mute the continuing debate about ownership of the remaining 55 -- Mandel says 35 -- items of furniture removed from the governor's residence when Mandel moved out in October 1977 after his political corruption conviction.
Sachs today continued to maintain that he will take Mandel to court to recover the remaining items -- which include Chippendale chairs, Waterfold crystal and a C.B. radio -- if they are not returned to the state by Jan. 4. But as far as Mandel is concerned, anything not returned today "is my property."
Three weeks ago, Gov. Harry Hughes brought the furniture debate -- long a source of gossip in the State House corridors -- out into the open, saying that Mandel and his wife Jeannie were in possession of 87 items, worth a total of $35,000, which belonged to the state of Maryland.
Mandel has since disputed Hughes' claim of ownership on most of the items, and challenged the governor's count of the items in dispute.
"Look," said Mandel today as he gestured at a pile of items arrayed by his back door as if for a yard sale. "Look at the magnificient items we are fighting about . . . the total value of this would not come to $800 -- all of this."
As the two moving men methodically carted things into the truck, Mandel added, "They want it back, they can have it. But what belongs to us, they cannot have."
The moving truck, hired by the former governor, pulled up to Mandel's house at about 1:50 this afternoon. A few neighbors in the quiet surburban community near the U.S. Naval Research and Development station turned out to watch as a handful of reporters and cameramen crowded around.
The presence of the news media clearly angered Jeanne Mandel, who kept repeating "We were trying to do this in a nice way . . . news must be very slow.
After 50 minutes of packing and answering questions, the Mandels got into their white station wagon and led the moving man along the winding three-mile route to the armory. As the drove past the armory, Mandel pointed the way for the van. Then the former governor and his wife drove around the corner and disappeared.
Waiting at the armory was Assistant Attorney General Michael Elder, pencil, clipboard, and furniture list in hand. He was soon joined by Irvin E. Feinstein, the adminstrative officer to the governor carrying his own clipboard and list.
As the movers unloaded the furniture, Elder and Feinstein started to take inventory, while another state employee pulled out a yellow tape and began measuring the items.
First in the door was the item labeled "Hall Rack with Mirror." Then came a small cabinet and a faded wing chair with a piece of stuffing missing. "They want this back?" one of the moving men mumbled as he set it down.
Then, in rapid succession, came the chest-on-chest, the wicker settee, the wicker table, the wicker Bar Harbor desk, the bed-ends of the Cannonball bed, the wicker lamp with a wicker tortoise as its base, the pewter pipe holder, the spoons from the Franklin Mint, the brown leather sofa, the chest of drawers and the rest.
As for the remaining items, however many there are, Mandel said today he will go to court "if I have to" to keep possession of what he says is his property. And Attorney General Sachs is equally adamant about going to court to get back for the state of Maryland what he says belong to it.
"As long as it's my job to collect the $1,000 bills of former mental patients at Spring Grove state hospital. I'm going to continue to try and collect state property from the former governor and the former governor's wife," he said.
"I'm not going to go to court mindlessly, frivolously or stupidly over something of no consequence," he added. "But I don't consider this something of no consequence."