Politics stays in their blood Camaraderie: Former Baltimore County politicians started meeting for lunch in 1995 so they could reminisce about the "good old days" when politics was "fun" and the b'hoys ran things.

March 24, 1997|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,SUN STAFF

Life after politics can be lonely. Phones don't ring as often. Nobody asks for favors or complains. No more IOUs to call in, no deals to make, no candidates to fight for -- or against.

But old pols never forget the feuds and shifting alliances, the elections hard fought, won and lost. It's in their blood.

For 20 old-line Baltimore County politicos, the "Has Been's, Wanna Bee's and Never Wuzze's," a recent lunch at the Valley Inn on Falls Road was a chance to reminisce about the "good old days" when politics was "fun" and the b'hoys ran everything.

"It's just a bunch of old-timers who have all been involved in politics," said Francis "Ike" Iglehart, 72, who first ran to be a Democratic Convention delegate in 1954 and has held appointed government posts. "Time heals everything, so now we just laugh about it."

Many of the "Has Been's" are veterans who entered politics soon after World War II, when three county commissioners ruled in Towson but the single state senator in Annapolis was the most powerful man in the county.

"Anything the county commissioners wanted, they had to come through the state senator," recalled James A. Pine, 84, the last lone senator who, in 1963, sponsored the bill that created the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

The Supreme Court's one-man, one-vote decision changed all that. The 1966 election saw seven state senators elected in the county. In 1974, in the wake of the scandals involving former County Executive Dale Anderson and former Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, a crowd of "shiny-brights" swept into office. Pine, for example, lost his Senate seat to Del. Donald P. Hutchinson, later a two-term Baltimore County executive and now president of the Greater Baltimore Committee.

"These guys are all my friends, regardless of whether they were with me or against me," Pine said. "In the politics I was raised in, once the election was over it was behind you. There was no vengeance, like there is today."

In their day, these politicians depended greatly on people like James E. "Bud" Matthew, 77, who held a number of county jobs and worked as a behind-the-scenes political operative.

Matthew recalled a time when his loyalties were torn between his patron and a friend. Preston Hutchinson, Donald's father, died halfway through his term in the House of Delegates. Donald filled out the term -- then announced a Senate run against Pine.

"I had to support Donald against Jim," Matthew said. "It really hurt me to have to run against Pine, but I had to do it. Pres had begged me to take care of his son [politically]. Politics makes strange bed partners."

The politicians' group owes its start to four-time Council Chairman Norman W. Lauenstein, 69, who left the council in 1990 and missed the camaraderie of political life.

A couple of years ago he called a few old friends and suggested that they set up a lunch group.

"Twelve people showed up for the first one, in 1995, at the Orchard Inn," said Lauenstein, who practices law in Essex. "We have no dues, no business, no agenda, no speeches and lots of fun." Membership is 32 with about 20 people attending each time, he said. The group meets every six to eight weeks at county restaurants.

Although the group reflects Baltimore County's decades of Democratic dominance, Republicans are welcomed -- former Councilman Clarence "Bud" Ritter, 67, attended the latest get-together. From 1974 to 1978, Ritter was part of the "Fearsome Foursome" -- two Republicans and two conservative Democrats who frustrated many of County Executive Theodore G. Venetoulis' "progressive" proposals.

Also at the meeting was Thomas Toporovich, 66, who started in county government in 1969 as an administrative assistant to Anderson and retired as secretary to the County Council in 1991. "It's an interesting, eclectic group that has a fantastic history in Baltimore County politics," he said. "You have movers and shakers here."

Taking a less reverent view was Webster C. Dove, 75, a retired lawyer who served on the council from 1970 to 1974: "This is just a reconvening of all the bad--- guys in county government," he said with a grin.

Pub Date: 3/24/97

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