Spiro T. Agnew. The most successful...


November 10, 1990|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Spiro T. Agnew. The most successful politician in Maryland history was 72 yesterday.

Some of you may not believe Agnew was that successful. (Some of you may not even believe that yesterday was Agnew's birthday. On Oct. 31 I started this column with "Happy Birthday, Ted Williams," saying he had turned 72 the day before. Leo Coughlin of Joppa wrote in to say that the Splendid Splinter was born on August 30. He's right. My source, "Chase's Calendar of Annual Events," got it wrong.)

My source for saying Agnew was born on Nov. 9, 1918, is much more reliable: The 1972 biography "Spiro Agnew's America" by my favorite author. That would be me.

My justification for saying Agnew was Maryland's most successful politician is that no other Marylander ever rose so high -- to the second highest elective office in the land.

He almost rose higher. As those of you old enough to remember 1973 know, he was forced to resign the vice presidency less than a year before Richard Nixon was forced to resign the presidency. (Nixon for illegal acts he committed while president, Agnew for illegal acts he committed as governor of Maryland and Baltimore County executive.) Had Agnew been clean, or been able to hunker down and hold on in 1973-74, he would have become president.

I thought of Agnew this week when Roger Hayden was elected Baltimore County executive. Some commentators kept saying he was the first Republican ever elected to that job. But, of course, Agnew was. He was elected county executive in 1962. In 1966 he was elected governor and in 1968 vice president.

It's natural to have forgotten Agnew. His scandal caused a lot of Marylanders to thrust him from memory. And, to give him his due, unlike a lot of fallen heroes he has retreated into a dignified privacy, rather than spend his time writing or gabbing on the talk show circuit, trying to convince us that he was a victim of a miscarriage of justice.

Some commentary about the Hayden victory and that of Bob Neall in the Anne Arundel's county executive race has looked down the road to see such suburbanites rising higher and higher. Sounds familiar. In my book I predicted that "Politicians like Agnew will certainly be prominent in the future." I meant those who climbed the political ladder in the 'burbs.

So where are they? Our governor used to be our mayor. Our junior U.S. senator was a City Council member. Our senior U.S. senator represented a city district in the General Assembly.

Suburban pols have not made much of a mark on state and national politics. The most watched gubernatorial race this week was in California, where the ex-mayor of San Diego defeated the ex-mayor of San Francisco. The ex-mayor of Cleveland won the Senate race in Ohio.

There are five former mayors or city council presidents in the Senate -- but only two former county executives. I guess I was wrong.

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