Peter G. Angelos, Marylander of Year Honor: Lawyer invests in his hometown to improve it for all who live and work here.

December 27, 1998

THAT Peter G. Angelos should be The Sun's Marylander of the Year was not in doubt. The question was which year. Measured by professional accomplishments and contributions to his city and region, he is the Marylander of this decade.

Just in 1998, the plaintiff's lawyer represented Maryland in its massive settlement with tobacco companies. He shook up his Baltimore Orioles once again.

He spearheaded planned revitalization of the west side of downtown, remade Charles Center with ownership of its flagship building, anchored the Johns Hopkins University across the street and improved Towson and Timonium real estate. He negotiated to develop a great convention hotel near the baseball stadium, where the city needs one most.

He is sole partner of one of Baltimore's larger law firms. He purchased, and thus preserved, the most visible horse farm in Maryland, the 237-acre Ross Valley Farm in Baltimore County that provides a visual treat to thousands of commuters on Interstate 83. He bid for the Washington Redskins football franchise.

He served on nonprofit boards. He and his wife, Georgia, donated a parking lot to the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation. They underwrote -- or helped underwrite -- a score of events and activities in Baltimore, including the Baltimore Symphony Gala and the School for the Performing Arts' production of "The Nutcracker." They and their foundation gave money as in previous years to causes and institutions known only to beneficiaries.

That was this year.

No one in memory has invested in Baltimore on that scale. Few have given such philanthropy, and very few have tried to exercise such influence.

Much of Mr. Angelos' influence is, beyond argument, for the good. An outsider's observation is that he tries to make things be as he remembers that they were -- or should have been. He even intends to replicate the electric sign of news bulletins on a long-demolished Baltimore Sun building, because such a sign should be.

Mr. Angelos is a man of many ideas. No one need agree with them all. Being strong-willed and a boss, he strikes some people as arrogant.

The right of a baseball magnate to make personnel moves is exceeded only by that of fans to critique them.

Some people cheered by his renovations in Charles Center oppose his plan for parking there. The General Assembly legislated his 25 percent tobacco case fee down to 12.5 percent, but that is subject to federal arbitration.

A man who comes politically from the left, Mr. Angelos tries to accomplish more good through for-profit investments than by philanthropic donations. In that, he embodies free-market thinking on societal improvement, whether or not he shares it. His hotel and west side projects, if successful, would employ many Baltimoreans and make this a healthier city and stronger region.

Not everything Mr. Angelos attempts comes to pass. He has tried several times to acquire a National Football League franchise, but, so far, lacks one. His plans to buy the old Masonic Temple on Charles Street never panned out. He tried to buy the Sparrows Point shipyard from Bethlehem Steel, to keep ship workers employed, but saw it get away. He has made civic proposals that were ignored.

As a lifelong champion of working people, Mr. Angelos should be reassured that tycoons don't always win -- even when he's the tycoon.

Mr. Angelos was remembered as a promising young politician of the 1950s who flamed out in the 1960s and became a lawyer for union locals and members who gravitated to personal injury cases. He built a solid practice.

He came to public attention again only in the 1990s when some 10,000 asbestos cases, in most of which he represented the plaintiffs, were consolidated into a single trial by Judge Marshall Levin in Circuit Court of Baltimore City. It made legal history.

This led to a jury finding in 1992 that seven asbestos companies were liable for damages to 8,555 plaintiffs, many of them wartime shipyard workers. This provided for minitrials to decide individual amounts, which led to massive settlements in 1993. Many people recovered damages for the illness they had suffered, and Mr. Angelos, who had invested millions on contingency, became a very rich man.

After three decades, Mr. Angelos was back in the limelight. He put together a group that outbid rivals to buy the Orioles in 1993, for what was then the most ever paid for a sports franchise, keeping the team in Baltimore. While pushing his law practice, Mr. Angelos has made nonstop public betterment efforts, some of them controversial. His second public career had begun.

On the City Council from the 3rd District from 1959 to 1963, Mr. Angelos crusaded to provide the council its own fiscal advice, fought for public accommodations laws and more African Americans in municipal jobs and championed workfare before its time. He lost primary runs for City Council president in 1963 and mayor in 1967, beaten each time by Thomas J. D'Alesandro III.

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