Anderson, ex-county executive, dead at 79 Politician was convicted of federal charges

July 28, 1996|By Larry Carson and Dan Thanh Dang | Larry Carson and Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Scott Wilson contributed to this article.

Dale Anderson, the blunt, former Baltimore County executive and one of Maryland's most influential politicians until his 1974 conviction on federal extortion and tax evasion charges, died of a heart attack yesterday at his Kent Island home. He was 79.

Hard-headed to opponents, Trumanesque to supporters, Mr. Anderson was the first major Maryland politician to be indicted by a federal investigation that culminated in the resignation of Vice President Spiro T. Agnew.

Mr. Anderson served 13 months and two weeks in federal prison in Allenwood, Pa. Nonetheless, with characteristic defiance he maintained his innocence, proclaiming: "I'm not guilty, and I'm not going to let those bastards destroy me."

He was vindicated by voters in 1982 when he was elected to the House of Delegates from northeastern Baltimore County. Four years later, he lost a bid for re-election.

"Baltimore County politics was essentially a one-party system," Gary Huddles, a former county councilman and close friend of Mr. Anderson, said yesterday. "For the most part, it was a Democratic stronghold and Dale was at the center of it. He was clearly his own man."

From his power base as county executive, Mr. Anderson headed one of Maryland's most powerful Democratic organizations, in the county's east end, through the early 1970s. At the height of his power, he controlled thousands of patronage jobs, had a voice in the upper reaches of the national Democratic Party conference as one of the state's two national committeemen, and was courted by presidential candidates from Hubert H. Humphrey and Henry M. Jackson. Only then-Gov. Marvin Mandel enjoyed more influence.

But Mr. Anderson's brand of conservative populism ran afoul of civil rights leaders when race was the paramount political issue in Maryland. At the time, thousands of his constituents had fled increasingly black Baltimore for Baltimore County, which was 97 percent white.

Such a stance appealed to blue-collar workers of Dundalk, Catonsville, Middle River and Perry Hall, members of the executive class in the Towson and Lutherville apartment complexes, and landed gentry of "the Valley."

It was characteristic of Mr. Anderson's influence that he retained the loyalty of great numbers of his people long after evidence had come to light that he once was involved in criminal activities in a corrupt sphere of county politics.

Mr. Anderson's bravura and zest for big issues defined the way he ran his office until he had a mild stroke in 1973.

"He was a heck of a politician during those times of grass-roots, clubhouse oriented politics," said Theodore G. Venetoulis, the Democratic county executive elected after Mr. Anderson. Mr. Venetoulis led the reform movement to defeat the old guard represented by Mr. Anderson. "He had a real grasp of the county and his constituents. I had a lot of respect for him."

Mr. Anderson conceded readily that "political patronage is a necessary part of politics" but repudiated suggestions that the developers, contractors and consultants who contributed to his campaigns did so for any other motive than to support his policies.

"We don't sell favors around here," he insisted. And he never budged from that position.

He himself explained his political philosophy as, "Basically all human beings want to be left alone. They don't want too much interference from government. They want to live in peace, in comfort. They want government to provide the services it is legally responsible to supply and otherwise leave them alone "

Mr. Anderson was born in Metropolis, Ill., and christened Naaman Dale Anderson, but he declined to use the name Naaman, a Hebrew word meaning "pleasantness."

He came to Baltimore in 1937 to become a stock clerk in an uncle's automobile-parts business. During World War II, though he never went overseas, he rose from private to captain in the Army Air Corps.

In 1950 he made two major moves, starting a homebuilding business and taking the first steps on the way to the office of county executive as a precinct leader in the 14th Election District that won him the patronage job of night clerk in the old Overlea-Fullerton magistrate's court.

Eight years later, and by then a successful builder, Mr. Anderson was elected to the County Council.

He later gave up his business to enroll in the old Mount Vernon School of Law, completing the three-year program in two years and receiving his law degree in 1963. In 1966, he was elected county executive by an enormous majority.

But eight years later, during the first 10 weeks of 1974, admitted criminals testified with immunity about paying kickbacks to Mr. Anderson and laundering cash for him.

From their testimony emerged the picture of a man who sold favors systematically in exchange for tens of thousands of dollars and who hid money in his house in Overlea behind a cinder block -- ready for use to play golf in Florida and to buy automobiles and expensive suits.

A federal jury convicted him of all 32 corruption and income-tax charges placed against him.

Years later, musing about the future, Mr. Anderson remarked: "I don't want to create a lot of aggravation all my life. I'm hopeful I'll be allotted the usual three-score years and 10. And if so, I'd like to spend the last 10 years or so in comparative peace."

Surviving are his wife, the former Doris Rassa; a son, David Anderson of Baltimore; and a daughter, Mindy Voelker of Kent Island; two grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

Funeral plans are not complete.

Pub Date: 7/28/96

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