03 February, 2009

Marvin Mandel

Marvin Mandel was an American politician and lawyer who served as the 56th Governor of Maryland from January 7, 1969 to January 17, 1979, Lt. Governor Blair Lee III served as the state's acting Governor in Mandel's place from June 1977 to January 15, 1979. He was a member of the Democratic Party, as well as Maryland's first, and only, Jewish Governor.

Before he became the state's Governor, Mandel had been Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates from 1964 to 1969 and a delegate since 1952.

Mandel was elected as Governor of Maryland on January 7, 1969 by the joint vote of both houses of the Maryland General Assembly due to the approaching vacancy created by the election of Spiro T. Agnew, the incumbent governor, as Vice President of the United States, as there was no Lieutenant Governor to succeed to the governorship, as in most other states. Such an office was created by amendment in 1970.

Mandel was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and attended the Baltimore City Public Schools, graduating from the Baltimore City College, which was a citywide, all-male institution that served as an early model of a college prep, specialized "magnet" school that developed and became popular in American public education forty years later. Mandel received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Maryland at College Park in 1939 and a Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of Maryland Law School in 1942.

Mandel was first elected to public office in the Maryland House of Delegates in 1952, representing northwestern Baltimore City. Mandel served several terms throughout the tumultuous events and urban politics of the 1950s and early '60s when civil rights was on the state's front burner, and was finally chosen as Speaker of the House of Delegates in January 1963 and served in that position until January 1969. Speaker Mandel was first elected Governor and then sworn in by the legislative members of both houses in a joint session of the General Assembly in January 1969, upon the resignation of Governor Agnew, who was sworn in as Vice President later that month. In his short inaugural speech to the legislators, he famously predicted his method and attitude towards the powers of his office putting aside the indirect and unusual way he came to the executive office and the idea of serving as an "acting governor", from the formerly opposing party, saying, "Make no mistake about it, we intend to govern!". After serving 23 months, almost two years of the unfinished Agnew term, he was duly further elected by the entire Maryland state body of voters in a special gubernatorial election for a full four-year term in November 1970, and re-elected in a regular state election in November 1974.

Mandel's executive administration was notable for many reasons. While he was governor, the executive branch of the Maryland state government was reorganized, combining the recent 20th-century growth of commissions, boards, offices, bureaus and agencies into twelve departments headed by supervising secretaries with several administrative levels in each executive department. Each secretary and their assistants and deputies reported directly to the governor and their chief-of-staff, reflecting the current American federal presidency and presidential cabinet system.

Additionally, the mass-transit system of Maryland was established and fostered under Mandel, enacting plans begun back in 1969 for the establishment of two urban subway networks. The first such rail network was for the Baltimore metropolitan area (Baltimore City and its two adjoining suburban counties of Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County), and the second was for the National Capital area of Washington, D.C. (comprising several northern Virginia counties, and the Maryland suburban counties of Montgomery and Prince George's Counties.

A statewide public school construction program initiative for Baltimore City and the 23 counties of Maryland to be equalized and fully funded by the State was undertaken while Mandel was governor. Accordingly, students in kindergarten or first grade would begin their public education through to high school with equally adequate buildings, supplies and teachers.

The additional executive departmental reorganization and structure simplified the state government. Although narrowly rejected by state voters in a 1968 referendum (because of several large controversial proposals), many of the proposed charter's other more generally acceptable provisions and reorganizations were later pushed past the legislature by the new Mandel administration and enacted into law and policy by the voters in several special elections/referendums and the edicts of the Mandel and later Hughes and Schaefer administrations. This included the reorganized four-level state court system.

Other similar administrative organizations and efficiencies were reflected in the various other departments as they were set up and took shape with the various "administrations", authorities" and "offices" arrayed beneath the state secretaries in the governor's new cabinet, including newer unprecedented departments such as the environment, general services, public safety and correctional services, and natural resources.

Mandel was convicted in 1977 along with five co-defendants of mail fraud and racketeering. The charges stemmed from what prosecutors said was a complicated scheme in which Mandel was given money and favors for vetoing one bill and signing another to help his friends make money on a race track deal. On June 4, 1977, he notified Lieutenant Governor Blair Lee III that Lee would have to serve as "Acting Governor of Maryland" until further notice. Lee continued to serve as "Acting Governor" until January 15, 1979, when Mandel rescinded his letter appointing Lee as "Acting Chief Executive" (just two days before the expiration of his second full term) on the basis of his overturned previous legal conviction and the neutral legal opinions on the status of his appeal case, that the governor was now eligible to re-assume the powers of his office previously delegated to Lee, even at that late date.

Mandel had already served nineteen months of his original sentence in the low-security federal prison camp at Eglin Air Force Base, in Florida, before having his sentence commuted by President Ronald Reagan in 1981.

Based on the reasoning of an opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court, a U.S. District Court judge overturned the former governor's conviction in 1987. A year after that, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the final decision, ending the long legal and political saga.

In addition, in 1980, Mandel's administrative aide Maurice R. Wyatt, a Maryland District Court Judge Allen B. Spector, and State Health Department director, Donald H. Noren were tried and convicted by Judge James MacGill on bribery charges related to payments for land development and septic tank installation moratoriums. Although not connected with Gov. Mandel's personal integrity and administration, these additional trials and convictions cast a pall on an otherwise overwhelming record of positive accomplishments in Maryland during the Mandel years.

Mandel's official gubernatorial portrait was not hung in the governor's Reception Room of the Maryland State House, the historic state capitol, with the most recent occupants of the office, until 1993, fourteen years after he left the executive chair and two administrations had intervened.

Mandel served as the chairman of the governor's Commission on the Structure and Efficiency of State Government beginning in 2003. He was also a member of the Board of Regents for the University System of Maryland from 2003 through 2009.

Mandel died on August 30, 2015 at the age of 95 in Compton, Maryland.

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