Glendening puts Agnew's portrait back on display

April 14, 1995|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Sun Staff Writer

After being buried in the state archives for 15 years, the portrait of former Maryland Gov. Spiro T. Agnew returned yesterday to the State House he disgraced more than two decades ago.

In an event that was more news conference than ceremony, Gov. Parris N. Glendening explained his controversial decision to restore the portrait to its chronological spot among those of Maryland's other 20th-century governors in the State House reception room.

The purpose, Mr. Glendening said, was not so much to honor a former governor, "but to bring reason and a sense of history to this room."

"It is not up to us to alter history. This is not an Orwellian future where history can change. We learn from history, warts and all."

Mr. Agnew, who lives a very private life in Rancho Mirage, Calif., did not attend yesterday, although he did call the governor Wednesday to thank him for the gesture. Mr. Glendening said the former vice president of the United States sounded cheerful about the move and said he had wondered if he would ever be returned to his place in history during his lifetime.

No Agnew family members or friends appeared to be in attendance yesterday as most of the chairs in the reception room were either empty or occupied by reporters.

Mr. Agnew, now 76, resigned the vice presidency nearly 22 years ago under pressure from federal prosecutors probing allegations accepted kickbacks in office, including as governor. The Republican pleaded no contest to one count of federal income tax evasion.

Mr. Glendening said his decision generated about 200 letters from the public, about half in favor of hanging the portrait, half against.

Some argued that it was unfair to exclude Mr. Agnew, who rose from obscurity as Baltimore County executive to the second highest office in the land. Others urged the governor not to do it, with one calling Mr. Agnew's role in American politics "repugnant," Mr. Glendening recalled.

Harry R. Hughes, governor from 1979 to 1987, removed Mr. Agnew's portrait after coming into office.

Today, it hangs next to Mr. Agnew's successor, former Gov. Marvin Mandel, who had legal problems of his own.

Mr. Mandel was convicted, imprisoned, pardoned and legally exonerated of mail fraud and racketeering. His portrait was hung in the State House in 1993, more than a dozen years after he left office.

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