Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Marvin Mandel (1920-2015)
MSA SC 3520-1487

Governor of Maryland 1969-1979

The quoted portion of  the following essay is taken from Frank F. White, Jr., The Governors of Maryland 1777-1970 (Annapolis:  The Hall of Records Commission, 1970), 311-315.

"FOLLOWING Governor Agnew’s election as Vice President of the United States on November 5, 1968, Maryland faced the uncertainty of gubernatorial succession to complete the final two years of his term. The Democrats almost immediately began their agitation for Agnew to resign, but he did not do so until January 7, 1969, not quite three weeks before he was to assume his Washington duties. The Legislature, on this occasion, faced the unprecedented situation of selecting a successor to one of the few Republican governors, the only member of that party to resign while he was in office, and Maryland’s only Vice President. Under the Constitution of 1867, Governor Whyte had resigned in 1874, Governor McLane in 1885 and Governor O’Conor in 1947, but in all three of these instances, the Democratic-controlled Legislature had replaced a Democratic governor with a Democratic successor. In 1969, however, the Legislature, which was still controlled by the Democrats, would replace a Republican with a Democrat.

"The Democratic Party battle to determine Agnew’s successor developed almost as soon as the results of the 1968 presidential election became known. William S. James, the President of the Senate, Francis X. Gallagher, a Baltimore lawyer, and Republican Congressman Rogers C. B. Morton competed for the votes of the members of the Legislature. None of these candidates was successful. Instead, Marvin Mandel, the Speaker of the House of Delegates and 'the legislator’s legislator,' became Maryland’s fifty-sixth elected governor, but by the vote of the General Assembly rather than by a popular mandate.

"Mandel’s election came as no surprise. The result was an almost foregone conclusion even before the vote had been taken and in spite of the fact that he had been little known outside the Legislature, and virtually unknown to the general public. Mandel became governor as the result of his legislative standing which gave him advantages when the Legislature voted. The Sun termed his election a tribute to one of his unusual characteristics, namely 'an ability to wield political power without incurring political enmities.'l Mandel, in his own words, took office under the dis- [p. 312] advantage of being 'an instant governor, a man who . . . [walked] into that office and [became] governor immediately without the usual opportunity to learn the background of the job.'2

"Mandel, in addition to the unusual manner of his election, had several unique distinctions. He was the State’s first Jewish governor. He was also the first Speaker of the House to move directly from that position to the Governor’s office.

"Marvin Mandel, who described himself as a 'political accident,' was born on April 19, 1920, in Baltimore, the son of Harry and Rebecca (Cohen) Mandel.His father was a clothing cutter who never had any experience at all in politics. Governor Mandel attended Pimlico Elementary School and Garrison Junior High School in that city, and was graduated from City College in 1937. He went to the University of Maryland and then to the University’s Law School, where he received his Bachelor of Laws degree in 1942. On June 8, 1941, he married Barbara Oberfeld of Baltimore. They have two children, a son, Gary, and a daughter, Ellen.

"Mandel enlisted in the Army in 1942 and was an instructor at Aberdeen Proving Ground and at Texarkana, Texas. He served until 1944.

"He began his legal career after World War II, working for several attorneys in Baltimore. He soon formed a partnership with Stanford H. Franklin and they later established the law firm of Mandel, Gilbert, Rocklin and Franklin. Mandel remained a member of the firm until his election as Governor.

"Mandel’s political career began in 1950 when he was appointed a Justice of the Peace in Baltimore City. He was also a member of the Governor’s Commission on the Municipal Court for Baltimore City.

"In 1951, his friend, City Councilman Samuel Friedel (later Congressman) asked him to run for the Democratic State Central Committee. Mandel said he had no idea what the State Central Committee was at the time, but he agreed to run as a favor to Councilman Friedel. His election victory began an unbroken string of victories which has extended to the present time.

"In January 1952, Marvin Mandel was selected by the Democratic State Central Committee to fill a vacancy in the House of Delegates from Baltimore City’s Fifth District. In 1954, with the support of Baltimore City’s Mayor, Thomas D’Alesandro, Jr., he was elected Chairman of the City’s delegation in the House. He later became Chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. He was elected to the House of Delegates in 1954 and was re-elected in 1958, 1962, and 1966.  In 1962, Mandel led the reform movement in the Fifth District against political boss James H. Pollack. In 1963, he was elected Acting Speaker of the House of Delegates to fill out the term of A. Gordon Boone, who had resigned the post. In 1964, Mandel was again elected Speaker and was re-elected every year until he became Governor.

[p. 313] "Governor Mandel’s leadership in the General Assembly has been described as 'quiet and cautious.'Although he exercised firm control of the House, he was always open to all sides of an argument and was always willing to help fellow legislators with their problems. He developed a reputation for keen instincts and judicious use of power. He received national recognition for his legislative leadership and was a member of the 10-man Executive Committee of the National Conference of State Legislative Leaders. As Speaker of the House, he commissioned the Eagleton Institute of Political Science, of Rutgers University, to study ways of modernizing the General Assembly. Afterwards he implemented the bulk of their recommendations, making Maryland one of the leading states in the reform and modernization of state legislatures.5

"In July 1968, he helped organize a National Committee of State Legislators behind the presidential candidacy of Hubert Humphrey. Earlier that same year, he was elected Chairman of the Democratic State Central Committee of Maryland, which broke a seven-month deadlock to fill the vacancy. He resigned that post in the fall of 1969 after the party’s deficit accumulated during the 1968 presidential campaign was repaid.

"Shortly before his election, Mandel was asked what goals he would set should he win the governorship. He advocated the creation of the post of Secretary of Health to reappraise the State’s financially hard-pressed Medicaid program. He supported the creation of a Department of Transportation, and the retention of capital punishment. He opposed the transfer of the power to appoint Baltimore City’s Police Commissioner from the Governor to the Mayor of Baltimore. He was to see many of these plans enacted into law at the next two sessions of the General Assembly.

"Mandel received 126 of the 180 votes cast by the members of the General Assembly meeting in its historic joint session. 'Mandel,' commented The Evening Sun, 'becomes Governor without any popular mandate, that one political underpinning which executives in government commonly find indispensable.'6 Mandel was inaugurated Governor on January 7, 1969, the same day that the General Assembly elected him. In his acceptance speech, he indicated that he would be anything but a 'caretaker' filling out two years of an elective term. 'Let there be no mistake in anyone’s mind, I shall govern. The State of Maryland cannot mark time; and I do not accept this office in that spirit.'7

"Mandel’s biggest task was the establishment of rapport with the public and a responsiveness to his will because of the manner in which he had become governor. He had other problems to face as well. He had to overcome the fiscal crisis inherited from the Agnew administration. His Democratic Party was gripped by factionalism. Finally, he had to propose solutions to the many State ailments which had been in a state of suspended animation since Agnew’s unexpected elevation to be 'a household word' in August 1968.

[p. 314] "Mandel strove vigorously to live up to the challenge he set for himself. One of his first acts was the restoration td Medicaid of the 22,000 persons who were cut from the rolls in an economy move by the Agnew Administration. The highpoint of his 1969 Legislative program was the passage of eight Constitutional Amendments, including the reform of the State’s court system. He proposed the reorganization of the executive department. As a first step, four new department were created, each headed, by a cabinet level officer. Other significant achievements included increasing the State’s contribution to community colleges, the creation of the Drug Abuse Authority, the establishment of a State Housing Authority to encourage the development of low-rent housing, the enactment of a prevailing wage law, the restoration of the Presidential preferential primary to Maryland, and the strengthening of the Human Relations Commission. His legislation to reorganize the Metropolitan Transit Authority was designed to prepare the way for a mass transit system in the Baltimore metropolitan area. He also proposed legislation to assure the preservation of enough open spaces to provide for parklands and recreation areas in Maryland. Another one of his first acts was the creation of the Council of Economic Advisors. He financed his $1,300,000 budget by a one-cent boost in the sales tax. The 1969 Session, however, did not consider crime problems, welfare, racial unrest, educational deficiencies, and other matters. 'Yet,' commented the Evening Star 'his pledge to avoid the role of a ‘caretaker’ governor [was] off to a promising start.'8

"His 1970 accomplishments were as productive. At his urging, the Legislature enacted seven more executive reorganization bills, of which two stimulated sharp disagreement, those relating to the Department of Transportation and the Department of Economic and Community Development. The 1970 Legislature also enacted a variety of conservation measures including those to protect the State’s wetlands, the implementation of the narcotics control program, environmental protection measures, the regulation of credit life insurance and a budget bill which did not include a tax increase. At the end of his second legislative session, he was called 'the quiet politician,' who 'never indulges in the type of emotional oratory that sets one group against another.'9

"Governor Mandel’s present term expires on January 20, 1971. On June 9, 1970, he announced himself as a candidate for election to a full four-year term. He summarized the accomplishments his administration had made during the previous eighteen months 'to re-shape the forces and the role of government in Maryland.' and asked the people to join with him 'in sharing the conviction that State government is the vital center of our system, an orderly process through which responsive government serves the needs of people, and through which competing forces can be accommodated.'  He concluded his announcement by describing himself 'as a person of modest origins who has been the beneficiary of the American Dream.'  He considered the 'Governorship of Maryland to be the most [p. 315] important office in the nation.'  For that reason, he asked 'each of you who might have had even a lesser share of that Dream to reflect upon those among us who have had no share at all. This is why I want to continue working with you, and for you--and for Maryland.'10

"Mandel faced only token opposition from within his own party in his campaign to capture the governor’s office by means of a popular mandate. In the ensuing general election, he easily defeated his Republican challenger, C. Stanley Blair, the Secretary of State in the Agnew administration, receiving over sixty percent of the votes cast to score an impressive personal victory. 'Marvin Mandel’s victory,' declared The Sun, 'is in part new proof of his skill in political conciliation. . . . It is a public endorsement of Mr. Mandel’s manner of handling the governorship during his time in office up to now. The sweeping nature of the endorsement, which besides its expression of personal approval includes a granting of almost all he had asked for . . . frees him to move in ways perhaps unavailable when he was governor merely by choice of the Legislature, not by popular election. . . . The next four years under his leadership look especially promising.'”11

The positive note on which Frank F. White, Jr. chose to end his essay on Marvin Mandel unfortunately did not characterize Mandel's second term as governor.   Shortly before his reelection to his second term, Mandel publicly announced that he was divorcing his wife of twenty-three years, "Bootsie," who refused to step down as first lady and forced him to take up residence in the Annapolis Hilton rather than leave Government House.  Within hours of his divorce, Mandel married Jeanne Blackistone Dorsey, a significantly younger woman with whom he had been consorting for the previous three years; an act that did not help his public image.  Some people accused Jeanne of being behind the "shady dealings" that later came to light; Jeanne however, steadfastly maintained Marvin's innocence.12

Mandel's second term in office was marked by charges of corruption and a criminal investigation that would end his political career.  In November 1975, a grand jury indicted Mandel and five others of mail fraud and racketeering.  Mandel, perhaps motivated to pay for the divorce that cost him approximately $400,000, had become involved in a deal to influence legislation bearing on the Marlboro race track by which he and some friends benefited financially.  In August, 1977, all six codefendants were convicted, and Mandel served eighteen months between May 1980 and December 1981 in a federal prison at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.  His sentence was commuted by President Ronald Reagan on December 4, 1981, and the Supreme Court overturned his conviction in 1987.

Upon his conviction, Mandel had been forced to relinquish the governorship.  By letter dated June 4, 1977, Governor Mandel notified Lieutenant Governor Blair Lee III that Lee would serve as acting governor until further notice according to the terms of Article 2, Section 6b, of the Maryland Constitution of 1867.  Lee continued to act in that capacity until January 15, 1979, when Mandel rescinded the letter two days before the expiration of his second full elective term.  Governor Mandel designated Lee acting governor again for a brief period on January 16 to permit Lee to preside at the installation of Rita C. Davidson to the Court of Appeals.13

As of 1997, at the age of 77, Mandel was practicing law in Annapolis.  In an interview with The Baltimore Sun, Mandel maintained that his indictment was unwarranted.  "People never understood it.  From the day I came home from prison, when it was finally over, there were more congratulations than when I was elected," said Mandel.14  Mandel's legacy, however, will include the accomplishment of having restructured the state government by consolidating the 238 separate agencies that existed in the 1970s into the "cabinet-style" system that exists today.15

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