Ehrlich names Mandel to Md. Board of Regents
Some raise questions over pick of ex-governor who went to prison
By David Nitkin
February 21, 2003
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. placed former Gov. Marvin Mandel and a prominent
Republican fund-raiser on the University System of Maryland Board of Regents
yesterday, laying his first
imprint on a panel frequently criticized for being heavy with political appointees and thin on higher education experience.
Mandel and businessman Richard E. Hug were among four regents appointments
announced by the governor yesterday. The others are Robert L. Pevenstein,
president of a Timonium
mergers and acquisitions firm, and Robert L. Mitchell, chairman of a Bethesda homebuilding company.
"The common denominator here is a love of the system, a love of the state and a business expertise they are going to bring to the board," Ehrlich said.
But the selection of Mandel, 81, who was convicted in 1977 on charges
that he pushed legislation to benefit friends who had given him hundreds
of thousands of dollars in gifts and
bribes, raised concerns among ethics experts, who said Ehrlich could have made a better choice.
Though his conviction was overturned a decade later, Mandel remains
a polarizing figure - lauded by those who remember his management and political
skills, dismissed by others who
hope that the state's history of back-scratching machine politics has ended.
"If you want to pick someone who's been in government before to elevate
to a regent, it seems like you should find someone without a criminal record,"
said Bill Allison, a spokesman for
the Center for Public Integrity in Washington. "There are plenty of people who serve in government honorably who are never accused of anything, who never commit any offense."
Mark C. Medairy Jr., a former chairman of the Maryland Ethics Commission, called the Mandel selection "real disappointing."
"It's rather surprising to me, because I know that Governor Ehrlich
campaigned on a platform of cleaning up state government," Medairy said.
"It looks to me that Governor Ehrlich is just
replicating what Gov. [Parris N.] Glendening had done. It's rather disturbing, because the Board of Regents has had some controversial times in recent months."
Ehrlich dismissed those concerns, calling Mandel an elder statesman who deserves respect.
"That's 30 years ago," he said of Mandel's alleged misdeeds. "I think he's gotten past it. I think the people have gotten past it."
The governor said Mandel, a Democrat, would take the spot of Rep. Steny
H. Hoyer, a Southern Maryland Democrat. Hoyer and university system Chancellor
William E. "Brit" Kirwan
endorsed the appointment, Ehrlich said.
Hoyer had said that he did not want to be reappointed to the unpaid
position, which carries with it the prestige of managing the system's 13
institutions and attending high-profile
"I wanted a prominent Democrat," said Ehrlich, a Republican. "Steny thought it fit, Brit thought it fit, and that was good enough for me."
Mandel, a 1942 graduate of the University of Maryland School of Law
and a former president of the Terrapin Club, said yesterday that he considers
the appointment an honor, one he had
desired for decades.
"This is something I always dreamed about," he said. "When I was governor, I would have appointed myself, if I could have."
The board has generated headlines in recent years. Glendening was accused of packing it with allies who had little background in education.
One of Glendening's appointees and friends, Lance W. Billingsley, was
negotiating in 2000 for a vice chancellor position that would have paid
nearly $200,000 a year, but withdrew his
name after criticism from colleagues.
A year later, Glendening was working behind the scenes to have the regents
- all of whom he appointed - name him chancellor of the system, with a
$375,000 salary. Glendening, too,
withdrew after donors, including Hug, threatened to withhold contributions.
Another Glendening appointee, Nathan A. Chapman Jr., resigned as chairman
under a cloud of allegations about his stock dealings with the state pension
system. Chapman remains on
The board became an issue in the gubernatorial campaign when former
Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend said she would change the way members
are appointed, saying that
political nominations by Glendening contributed to a "culture of corruption" in Annapolis.
At the time, Ehrlich said through a spokesman that no such change was needed. "It's real simple," said aide Paul E. Schurick. "Just do the right thing."
Mandel's troubles lasted more than a decade. Convicted in 1977, he was
sentenced to four years in jail and suspended from practicing law. He served
19 months, until his sentence was
commuted by President Ronald Reagan in 1981. Six years later his conviction was overturned.
"I think most people would want someone who made a mistake to have a
second chance," said Paul J. Quirk, an ethics expert with the University
of Illinois Institute of Government and
Public Affairs. "And there's nothing about a university that makes it an especially dangerous place to give someone a second chance. Usually, the trustees have little or nothing to do
with particular contracts and hiring and firing individuals."
"I think he has paid whatever debt is due to society and that the appointment
ought to be judged on his merits. And I think he is eminently qualified,"
said Donald B. Robertson, a former
majority leader in the House of Delegates who headed a commission on lobbyist ethics from 1999 to 2000.
The Mandel selection is not the only one with heavy political overtones.
Hug, 68, played a leading role in helping Ehrlich raise more than $10
million for his election bid and had long been rumored to get the regents
post. He noted yesterday that he has served
on two other university boards and was a trustee emeritus at the Duke University Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, and at Loyola College in Maryland.
Pevenstein, 56, is a longtime Ehrlich family friend. His wife, Elaine,
was a manager of Ehrlich's campaign and helped coordinate his inaugural
festivities. He taught accounting at the
University of Maryland, College Park from 1976 to 1984.
Mitchell received a civil engineering degree from College Park and was president of the Terrapin Club in 1997.
While all four nominees are white males, Ehrlich aides and supporters said gender and racial diversity could be reflected in future appointments.
"We have other appointments that will be made to the board," said Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele.
Sun staff writers Alec MacGillis and Michael Dresser contributed to this article.
Copyright © 2003, The Baltimore Sun