Five with plenty of clout

Baltimore Glimpses

October 30, 1990|By Gilbert Sandler

BALTIMORE magazine has published a list of the 50 most powerful people in the city. While insisting that this business of who has what power over whom is positively a screwball exercise, Glimpses feels compelled to publish its own list of the people with the most clout in Baltimore -- a few years back. We'll list only five -- but you'll get the idea.

Marvin Mandel: It was said of the pipe-smoking Mandel, who came up through the rough and tumble of Baltimore politics and became governor, that "what Marvin wants, Marvin gets." He came to the pinnacle of power (as governor) after Spiro Agnew was named to the vice presidency by Richard Nixon. But power comes and goes. Before too many years, Agnew would lose it all -- and so would Mandel.

Earl Weaver: The Orioles manager could turn the delirium switch on 50,000 fans by rising from the dugout and lumbering to home plate to confront an umpire. Power came and went with Weaver, too. He had a sterling record as field leader of the Orioles during their glory years, but he won almost none of those disputes with umpires.

John Dorsey: There are any number of restaurant critics writing these days -- so many, in fact, that they tend to cancel each other out. But for years Dorsey, writing in The Sun, dominated. His was singular, awesome authority, and when he didn't like a restaurant, he didn't mince words. The reader knew it. So did the restaurant!

William Adelson: Governor Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin enjoyed the reputation of a liberal and a populist; his speeches were laced with religious (Catholic, Protestant and Jewish) references. He went about town calling everyone "brother" and declaring that confrontational, down-and-dirty, patronage politics was not for him. That task was left to Adelson, his aide and friend. When anyone asked McKeldin for a political favor, he'd back off with, "Ask Bill." He didn't add that Bill had the power, but that's what he meant.

Julius ("The Lord") Salisbury: His power was concentrated on The Block, but it was said that nothing could happen there, in the clubs or on the street, unless The Lord wanted it to. Control, through channels only vaguely defined by sources who have always chosen to remain anonymous, was in the rackets -- numbers, gambling, vice. Salisbury jumped bail and no one knows where he is today, dead or alive.

And speaking of power in Baltimore, it's time to tell our favorite Willie Curran story. Political boss Curran is considered by some Baltimore buffs to have been the most powerful man in the history of the city.

When he died in 1951, after a stormy up-from-the-streets career that spanned almost half a century, Curran's obituary contained the observation: "He commanded the only all-weather, constantly functioning Democratic organization attempting to operate on a citywide scale." At word of his death, judges in the courthouse stopped all proceedings to pay tribute to him.

Once he was standing outside of a meeting room waiting for a politically sensitive caucus to end. Finally, one of his lieutenants came out smiling.

"We won!" he said.

Curran was unmoved and asked quickly, "What was the vote?"

"Seventy-two to 12," the lieutenant responded.

Curran narrowed his eyes and commanded, "Get me the names of those 12!"

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