State House Rogues' Gallery

October 20, 1993

A portrait of Marvin Mandel was placed in the Governor's Reception Room of the State House last week, 16 years after he was convicted on federal charges of mail fraud and racketeering and seven years after a judge vacated the conviction.

The public hanging was appropriate. The state's stated policy in this matter is that the Governor's Reception Room should display the portraits of as many ex-governors as there is proper space -- in reverse chronological order. Each time a governor leaves office, his or her official portrait is supposed to be added, and the portrait of the governor last in this reverse chronology is removed -- to storage or to a less prestigious room.

That policy should not involve value judgments about whether a governor was good or bad, honest or dishonest. To do so is a form of political correctness that is as out of place in a political setting as in an academic one. History is history.

Which brings us to another ex-governor many feel is a rogue. The portrait of Spiro T. Agnew, who immediately preceded Marvin Mandel in the office (and in disgrace before a federal judge), is also not hanging from a wall in the Governor's Reception Room. He was never convicted of anything, but he did plead no contest to a charge of failing to pay all the income tax he owed. Legally he was just a tax evader -- but everyone knew this was a technicality. The income he didn't pay tax on consisted of bribes and kickbacks to him as governor. (Governor Mandel was convicted on a technicality and un-convicted on one, too. The jurors who found him guilty on mail fraud charges based that on a finding that he took bribes and lied about it.)

Governor Agnew deserves to be in his proper place in the reception room. What he did was disgraceful, as were Governor Mandel's actions, but as we say, the state shouldn't pick and choose portraits of ex-governors if the policy is to present a chronological progression of chief executives.

The Agnew portrait used to be on the Reception Room wall. It was stored away in 1980 after the state's Commission on Artistic Property decided it was "not appropriate" to so honor him. An Agnew portrait is on display in the hall outside the Baltimore County executive suite in Towson, along with all other former county execs. A marble bust of him is scheduled to be placed in the U.S. Capitol next year, joining those of all the other vice presidents. Those are not rehabilitative gestures, merely acknowledgments of the reality of American history. Annapolis should follow suit.

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