Stories from Little Rock about a governor, state...


December 30, 1993|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

ALL THESE stories from Little Rock about a governor, state troopers and sex remind me of the Mandels and the FDRs.

Marvin Mandel, kiddies, was governor of Maryland long, long ago. He became governor in a peculiar way. He was speaker of the House of Delegates, and when Gov. Spiro Agnew resigned to become vice president in 1968, Mandel's fellow pols in the General Assembly named him governor. (No lt. gov. then.)

Mandel had the reputation of being something of a corner-cutting wheeler-dealer, but he wowed the folks with his governing, and in November 1970 he was elected governor with the largest percentage of the popular vote in 100 years.

The next month he was a passenger in a state police car, driven by a state patrolman, that was involved in a late-night fatal auto accident on U.S. 301 near Mitchellville.

Mandel said he was returning to Annapolis from a political meeting. He wouldn't say where. Turned out that Mandel, who had been married to his childhood girl friend, Bootsie Oberfeld, for over 30 years, had really been visiting his sweetie, Jeanne Dorsey, in St. Mary's County.

Theirs was a May-and-December, Abie's-Irish-Rose sort of affair. He was 54, she was 37; he was Jewish, she was Catholic.

Quiet rumors about their affair had been confined to a small political circle. After the auto accident, the volume turned up and the circle of listeners widened. Mandel moved out of the governor's mansion -- Bootsie stayed -- and got a divorce. Then he and Jeanne were married. Some of his backers said this would ruin him with his and Bootsie's old friends in Northwest Baltimore, Jeanne being a shiksa and all. There were even predictions that his career in politics was through.

But Jeanne changed her religion, producing in The Evening Sun a memorable two-column headline:

Jeanne Dorsey

Becomes A Jew

(Channel 13 -- I think it was -- that night copied and improved it to "Jeanne Mandel becomes a Jew! Film at 11!")

Whether it was her conversion or his good governance and politicking, I don't know, but in 1974, the voters gave Mandel a thundering endorsement, re-electing him with the second highest percentage of the popular vote in 100 years.

Alas, as older Readers recall, that was not the Happy Ending of this romantic fairy tale.

Apparently in order to pay for his costly divorce, Mandel made a deal with some cronies that, to say the least, was too clever by half. It involved his vetoing a bill that depressed the value of a race track so that his chums could buy it at a distress-sale price, then the governor allowed his veto to be overridden. I think. Something like that.

He got caught, prosecuted and convicted by the feds. Ultimately his conviction was overturned on a technicality, but only after he had served time in prison.

Monday: FDR and Lucy and Eleanor and Earl.

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