August 7, 1977, Sunday, Final Edition
SECTION: First Section; A1
LENGTH: 1652 words
HEADLINE: Blair Lee Wants No Modifier Before His 'Governor' Title;
Blair Lee's Ambitions Bloom;
'Because I Want to Get to the Top...'
BYLINE: By Donald P. Baker, Washington Post Staff Writer
Three and one-half years ago, Maryland Lt. Gov. Preston Blair Lee III told a reporter 'I don't have the kind of driving ambition to reach the top, unfortunately, I think I've always known it."
Last week, Acting Gov. Lee, 61, who could become governor in fact if a federal court jury finds Marvin Mandel guilty, said he has changed his mind. He wants the top job, and if he doesn't get it by default next week, he plans to earn it at the polls next year.
Lee has had to make some accommodations with himself. Again, in 1973, he said, "it's an old axiom that the ones who get to the top are the ones willing to make expedient decisions."
If he still believes that, Lee was asked the other day, why this newly revealed ambition to move up? "Because I want to get to the top, silly," Lee said with characteristic candor.
His head rolled back, spewing ashes from the ever-present his teeth, and Lee grinned, pleased with himself.
"We live in a world of compromise," he went on, "where the ideal is rarely accomplished, and where there actually is little agreement on what the ideal is."
There is agreement that Marvin Mandel and Blair Lee, the two men who have been presiding over the government of Maryland for the last eight years, are "two totally different animals," in the words of state personnel secretary, Henry G. Bosz.
It's the difference between being born to a family of cloth cutters and a family of patrician governors, senators and admirals: of growing up in a big-city Jewish ghetto and on a suburban estate; between Pimlico Elementary and St. Paul's, night law school and Princeton.
Marvin Mandel, through cunning and dealing, clawed his way through the Byzantine maze of Baltimore politics to the legislature, and on, to become and accidental governor, chosen when Gov. Spiro T. Agnew became Vice-President.
Blair Lee, the blueblood, was born to a tradition of public service passed down through 10 generations, from the only two brothers who signed the Declaration of Independence.
Perhaps not surprisingly for politicians, both men have worked hard at disguising their natural roles.
Mandel buys or accepts as gifts, $400 suits, vacations at flashy Florida resorts; he goes deep-sea fishing and duck hunting; he relishes the regal treats of riding in state-owned helicopters, yachts and a Continental limousine, and cultivates a taste for French wines.
Lee cultivates the common touch, though he appears to find it difficult to be a back slapper and seems awkward of the campaign stump.He buys his suits off the trak (his latest a $107 special at T. I. Swartz in Annapolis), putters around in ragged clothes in a backyard garden and traded in his state-owned Lincoln for a Mercury, in which he insists on riding in the front seat alongside the trooper-chauffeur.
While Mandel appears to enjoy being flanked by state police protectors, Lee eschews the added protection offered to him as acting governor and refuses to allow the ever-present "janissaries" to move into his Silver Spring home.
Lee's references to janissaries, an elite corps of loyal, subservient 14th century Turkish soldiers, not only is a hint of his academinc success at Princeton, class of 1938, but of what press aide Thom C. Burden calls Lee's "affection for the language."
Since Mandel named him acting governor on June 4, Lee has had a chance to show the style he might be expected to bring to the governor's office.
At his press conference, informality prevails. The first day as acting governor, he strode into the ornate governor's reception room, smiled at the cameras and said to the reporters, "you bums are supposed to stand up and salute."
The reporters return the casualness, addressing the acting governor as "Blair," a breach of formality seldom exhibited with Mandel behind the podium.
Lee is quick with the quotable comment, the shoot-from-the-hop quip, a characteristic that his advisers have warned will get him trouble.
When a television reporter asked, in his most resonant, somber tone, if Lee would follow the lead of the federal government and push for the decriminalization of marijuana, he dismissed the question with a quick "No." When the reporter persisted, asking "Why not," an irritated Lee retorted, "Because I've got other more important things [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] cringed, he arbitrarily added, "and that goes for gay rights too."
If Lee's press conferences are snappier than Mandel's, they also are shorter, a circumstance resulting according to some veteran reporters, from the fact that Lee give precise, direct answers, while Mandel parries and offers obtuse explanation.
It may be his quick-draw responses that will get Lee in trouble.
"As governor, like no one else, every word you say is taken down," observed Wilner. "Mandel played it close to the vest, not announcing his decisions until he was absolutely certain. Blair is more inclined to make his thinking process public, speaking when possibly not all the information is at hand. He runs the risk of boxing himself in to a position he might not want."
Lee already has had to back away from one promise. After Transportation Secretary Harry H. Hughes resigned, charging that Victor Frenkil, a Mandel friend and politically influencitial contractor, had tampered with the consultant for the Baltimore subway, Lee announce that Frenkil's firm would not be considered for the job.
Later, lawyers told Lee it wasn't within his authority to ban Frenkil from bidding, so Lee amended his pledge, saying what he really meant was that he would not vote to give a contract to Frenkil.
Last week, the contract was awarded to the Ralph M. Parsons Co. of California, the original low bidder.#TIt was his inclination to speak before investigating that brought Lee into public controversy in 1974.
He sided with a developer who complained that inaction by the state health department was blocking a proposed $25 million apartment project in Prince George's County. Deciding that the developer was "[WORD ILLEGIBLE] screwed high, wide and handsome bureaucratic bungling, Lee order Health Secretary Neil Solomon "get off dead center and get moved on the needed permits.That interaction led to complaints of favoritism [WORD ILLEGIBLE] it was revealed that the development had contributed $5,100 to the Mandel Lee re-election fund and was represented by a Lee associate. The [WORD ILLEGIBLE] later was returned.
Lee's only other brush with controversy involved a published rumor later proved false, that he had supported financial wheeler-dealer Jo Kline for the post of state banking commissioner, Lee earlier had been accused of using questionable judgement in accepting $12,500 for his 1970 campaign for lieutenant governor from Kline, who subsquently was jailed when his financial empire collapsed in scandal.
As acting governor, Lee has made about 800 appointments, most of them to obscure boards and commisions, and a few dictated by commitments made by Mandel. "And you'll be happy to know," he told the press sarcastically, "that nobody paid anything to be appointed to the harness racing board."
In two major appointments of his own, Lee displayed and understanding of political power that he had in hand, however temporary.
After Hughes resigned from his cabinet-level post, Lee replaced him with Hermann K. Intemann, a Republican and a key adviser to Anne Arundel County Executive Robert Pascal, often mentioned as a GOP candidate for governor.
Given a list of appproved candidates for a judgeship in Washington County, Lee bypassed two personal friends to tap State Sen. John P. Corderman, who was expected to run the Western Maryland campaign for another gubernatorial rival, Senate President Steny H. Hoyer.
The question of how Lee should address the question of corruption in government poses a delicate problem for Lee. It is, after all, some insist, the Mandel-Lee administration.
Lee praises Mandel as an administrator though he has toned down his praise to the summation that Mandel has been "a pretty good governor," and concedes that federal prosecutor Barnet D. Skolnik has "succeeded in revealing an almost sleaziness in his (Mandel's) personal ralationships, which is a different matter altogether."
The public, Lee perceives, has "an uncanny ability . . . to distinguish me from the cronies. A governmental associate (of Mandel) I am. A crony, I am not.
A former Mandel aide agrees that "Blair's reputation was never tarnished," despite a series of scandals in state government in recent years.
Lee concedes that "the reputation of the state has been harmed" by scandals, but he quickly adds that "only a small part of that can be attributed to Marvin," an evaluation that Lee admits will have little validity if Mandel is convicted.
If Mandel is found guilty, under provisions of the state constitution, Lee would be elevated to governor upon the sentencing - not the conviction - of Mandel.
"But Gov. Mandel doesn't embrace the possibility of conviction," Lee said last week, "and I'm to agree with him."
If Mandel is acquitted, Lee predicts "he'll loom rather large in the forthcoming campaign," another reason not to burn his bridges with the incumbent.
"The outcome will be the background for a series of related decisions," Lee foresees.
For example, earlier this year, Lee hedged on whether he would accept help in his campaign from Irvin Kovens. Mandel's life long friend and co-defendant, who is regarded as the state's premier political fund-raiser.
Asked why he chose not to disassociate himself from Kovens, Lee said smiling "I wanted to neutralize brother Kovens. He was flirting with Burch (attorney general Francis W. Burch, another rival for the governorship) and I didn't want his support to be in someone else's camp."
If Kovens is acquitted, would he seek his support? "I don't know," Lee said after a thoughtful pause.
CORRECTION-DATE: August 9, 1977, Tuesday, Final Edition
An article in Sunday's Post about Acting Gov. Blair Lee III incorrectly stated that the Ralph M. Parsons Co. was the original low bidder on a management consultant contract for construction of the Baltimore subway. The Parsons Co. had been selected as the "best qualified" bidder, as factors other than price were considered.
GRAPHIC: Picture, Blair Lee looks over papers during a reflective moment
in his office; By Douglas Chevalier - The Washington Post; Picture 2, Acting
Maryland Gov. Blair Lee takes time out during his lunch break to give autographs
to admirers. By Douglas Chevalier - The Washington Post