Six years ago he emerged from federal prison, the disgraced former Baltimore County executive linked in seamy courtroom revelations to cash kickbacks and laundered money. Today, finally off probation, Dale Anderson, 65, is trying to make a modest comeback, running for the lowliest of state offices, a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates.
This blustery archconservative, whose trial unraveled a system of corruption that led to the governor of Maryland and the vice president of the United States, has for the last month been repeating his old claims of innocence and insisting that The People -- the conservative, blue-collar workers of his district -- still love him.
"People are disgusted and disturbed about a judicial system that can do what it did to me," he said recently in the sparse basement campaign office of his southeast Baltimore County home. The comment draws astonished murmurs from those who remember the courthouse disclosures that helped turn Maryland into a national synonym for political corruption.
Since July, when he stunned county Democrats with his decision to run, Anderson has been touring his working-class district, turning an otherwise quiet election into a contest of some notoriety.
With his lingering conservative image and his name appearing first of 11 on the alphabetized Democratic primary ballot, Anderson is given an excellent shot at winning the Sept. 14 Democratic primary and November general election.
Anderson's entry has caused much discomfort among old friends and those who once liked his brand of politics. Privately they admit that his effort may focus unwanted attention on Baltimore County's years of shame, when the sprawling suburb, with its mix of factories, row houses and stately horse farms "had a worse reputation than New Jersey," as one county politician put it.
By the early 1970s, the county contribution to Maryland's political corruption rolls included a speaker of the House of Delegates, a U.S. senator, a former county executive -- Spiro T. Agnew -- who became governor and vice president, a state prosecutor and several lawyers. In 1973 came the indictment of Anderson, one of the most powerful Democrats in the state and a prospective candidate for the U.S. Senate. A jury convicted him of extorting about $40,000 in illegal kickbacks from engineers and architects doing business with the county and sent him off to Allenwood federal prison farm.
The Anderson candidacy has provoked indignation from newspapers and those associated with the "new" Baltimore County, which in eight years has consciously forsaken the clubhouse politics that gave Anderson his power for the new, open politics of neighborhood associations and civic groups.
About three weeks ago, for instance, the Baltimore Sun ran an editorial entitled, "In Search of Vindication," which did not mince words on the subject:
"For those who might be inclined to make old warhorses their sentimental favorites, it would be wise to review the Anderson years. Not only was his administration shot through with corruption, but Mr. Anderson came to embody a gruff, narrow-minded philosophy of government. He did everything except stand in the schoolhouse door to preserve his county as a white-only suburban enclave . . . . Open government was a concept alien to him.
"In short, Dale Anderson's regime in Baltimore County was a disgrace, a betrayal of the voters' trust. Now, times have changed . . . . The citizens of Baltimore County are not anxious to return to the days of demagogic, autocratic rule . . . . "
Anderson has been undaunted by the attacks. "Who would write an editorial like that about a poor boy who's down and they want to kick him a little more," he said recently. Not that this tough-talking, gut-fighter of old would leave it at that. Anderson fired back a letter from his home in Overlea, accusing the powerful Baltimore Sunpapers of "reaching a new low in your continual persecution of Dale Anderson.
"It is a malicious, calumnious and cowardly attack and it is totally wrong. I never betrayed the trust . . . and you will someday find, most of the people of this great county know it . . . . I am not searching for vindication but rather an opportunity to serve in a position in which I well be much better than the person who wrote that editorial is in his position."
While Anderson claims his return to politics is simply an effort to bring better representation to Annapolis, people who know him are not convinced that is his only motivation. Perhaps, his friends say, like many fallen politicians, he believes an election victory will somehow show that he was not the bad guy after all. If he wins, his family and friends say, Anderson will have wiped away his past -- the testimony of all the witnesses at his trial, the 13 months in jail -- and shown that most people accept his claim that federal prosecutors were out to get him.
"He feels he was the Lt. Calley of Overlea; he was a scapegoat," said longtime family friend Del. Thomas Bromwell, whose family bar, the Bromwell Tavern, was plastered with a huge "Welcome Home Dale" banner on the day in 1976 that Anderson returned from Allenwood.
"He said, 'If I lose then I'll know the people of Baltimore don't approve of what I've done for them.' It'll prove something to him," said Anderson's wife, Doris, who tried along with his daughter to dissuade him from running.
Anderson has mulled over the possibility of running again since his 1976 release from prison. In 1978 he tried to file for the state Senate but was ruled ineligible because he was still on probation. "I don't think it has ever been out of my mind," Anderson said. "I'm a politician by nature and a good one."
Some suspect that Anderson might be running for the $23,000 salary each delegate will be paid next term. Anderson denies this, although he admits that past IRS bills have swallowed what savings he had and that his real estate business is quite sluggish these days. But he says his county pension and Social Security check are enough to support him.
The suspicion of financial need first surfaced nearly two years ago, when Anderson went to see the current County Executive Donald P. Hutchinson and told him that he wanted to be made director of the county's permits and licenses department. Anderson threatened to challenge Hutchinson for reelection if the incumbent turned down his request, those familiar with the incident said.
Hutchinson, an exponent of the new, good-goverment school of Baltimore County politics, gave Anderson a flat no. Anderson then spent the next year consulting old advisers to see if he could make good on his threat. A few months ago he decided to shelve it and run instead for the lowlier delegate spot.
It has not been an easy reentry, however, even at the delegate level. Anderson's wife has avoided an active role. A 12-year-old grandson, who had visited Anderson regularly at Allenwood, learned through television news reports that the community was in fact a federal prison. "All that time he thought Dale was working on a farm," Doris Anderson said, "Maybe we should've said something earlier."
The campaign itself has had an entirely different feel from the successful 1966 and 1970 quests for county executive. Gone are most of the old-timers who helped Anderson mold a tightly run political organization -- former state Sen. Jim Pine and Roy Staten, council member Harry Bartenfelder, lawyer Robert Ramadka are no longer involved.
Instead of a well-oiled campaign, this race is basically a two-man show -- Anderson and his treasurer Daniel Colosino -- and it is run not out of a campaign headquarters but from Anderson's basement.
There he sits at an uncluttered desk, surrounded by few political momentos. He still wears an American flag in his lapel and chain-smokes one pack of cigarettes after another as he discusses his past -- only after stating flatly that he will not grant an interview if it touches on that subject.
When Anderson attends candidates nights or club meetings he is greeted politely, sometimes warmly, according to other participants at the meetings. When he speaks of his conviction, he evokes both sympathy and curiosity. On other occasions, when the former county executive boasts, in his old style, about his ability to "blackmail" the state into giving money for a community college, there is discomfort, the other participants say.
And outside the newspapers, there is little public discussion in this race of Dale Anderson's past.
Bromwell, who is running for state Senate on a slate with three other delegate candidates, says he and his people have run a "high-road" campaign concentrating on his team's qualifications. He said his ticket does not include his old family friend Anderson because the slate was formed before Anderson became a candidate.
"I don't debate the merits pro or con Dale," Bromwell said. "Whether it was Dale Anderson or Idi Amin we're not going to say anything about the past because it doesn't belong in this election."
But, Bromwell acknowledges, the issue may be a factor on election day: "There is still that question and we will know on Sept. 14 if people are going to pull that lever for Dale Anderson because he's their friend, he's a good guy or he was a good county executive, or if they're not going to pull that lever because of the past."