A century full of colorful figures

July 05, 1999|By Barry Rascovar

NOW that The Sun's editorial page has embarked on its "Marylanders of the Century" series, debate will commence over the choices. What constitutes the kind of contribution that entitles one to make the final cut?

Here's one compilation of Marylanders from the political arena who, for a variety of reasons, won't be on The Sun's list.

Some were flawed figures; others had a substantial negative impact. In a few cases, time has obscured their contributions.

Spiro Agnew and Marvin Mandel.

The former was the only Marylander elected vice president. The latter was the best Maryland governor of the past half-century.

But their careers -- and reputations -- were destroyed by their corrupt practices.

Agnew copped a plea to avoid jail and resigned in disgrace as vice president; Mandel served jail time after two riveting trials.

Agnew was a moderate Republican governor and Baltimore county executive. He defined the ascension of suburban politicians in the 1960s. Sadly, he fathered an era of malicious name-calling in politics. His tough criticism of blacks during the 1968 Baltimore riots came to embody the GOP's blurred vision on civil rights.

Corruption tarnished Mr. Mandel's eight years as governor. That's a shame, because he was a political master. He skillfully gained court reforms, reorganized state government, set up a school construction program and a trust fund for mass transit and roads, and took on the National Rifle Association to pass Maryland's first gun-control law.

Dale Anderson and Joe Alton.

They embodied the "corruption community" that embarrassed Maryland in the 1970s. Anderson, a powerful Baltimore County executive, and Alton, an Anne Arundel County executive, were jailed for bribery. The verdict: good county managers, deaf on ethics.

And who can forget today's disgraced politician, former state Sen. Larry Young? His historic expulsion from the state Senate and his previous questionable behavior may be eclipsed by his trial this fall.

Alger Hiss and Whittaker Chambers.

The frightening "red scare" of the 1950s took root on a farm in Carroll County. That's where magazine editor Chambers hid documents in a pumpkin field showing that Hiss, previously a top State Department official and honored Johns Hopkins University graduate, had lied about once being in the Communist Party.

Hiss, from an old Baltimore family, was convicted of perjury. The witch hunt for communists was on.

Hiss' guilt is still hotly debated. The wild accusations that followed from Sen. Joseph McCarthy's inquiries claimed a Maryland political hero, too, when McCarthy used scurrilous smears to defeat four-term U.S. Sen. Millard Tydings, who dared to take on the Wisconsin senator.

Linda Tripp and Wallis Warfield Simpson.

Tripp laid a trap for her friend Monica Lewinsky that nearly toppled a president; Baltimore's Simpson toppled a king.

Tripp's possibly illegal tapes formed the basis for impeachment charges against President Clinton.

Simpson became Duchess of Windsor -- after King Edward VIII of England surrendered his throne in 1936 "for the woman I love." Both women were reviled by a nation, though Simpson's love story and her royal beau's sacrifice still enthrall romanticists.

Jeffrey and Karol Levitt.

He was convicted of stealing $14.6 million from Old Court Savings and Loan -- and precipitating a terrifying run on state thrifts in 1985. Depositors lost hundreds of millions of dollars and Gov. Harry Hughes lost his chance at a U.S. Senate seat. It presaged a nationwide savings and loan debacle.

Throughout the state crisis, the Levitts' opulent lifestyles came to symbolize the egregious nature of the theft from thrift depositors.

Another villain, Tom Billman, looted his Bethesda thrift of $28 million and disappeared, skipping from country to country while living in luxury -- until he was nabbed in 1992.

George P. Mahoney and Melvin Perkins.

Two perennial candidates, one a millionaire paving contractor, the other a Skid Row pauper.

Mahoney ran 13 times, almost always for governor or U.S. senator. He never won, but he was often a spoiler. He could be a populist or a demagogue.

He won praise as the reform-minded chairman of the racing commission in the 1940s. But in 1950, he tore the Democratic Party apart in the gubernatorial primary, leading to the defeat of Gov. William Preston Lane Jr. in November. In 1966, he helped give the nation Agnew by splintering Democratic voters with his racist rhetoric, thus handing the election for governor to Agnew.

For decades, Perkins filed as a pauper candidate -- for governor, mayor, even Congress. He relished his eccentricity. "We've had plenty of congressmen who went to jail," he once said. "What's wrong with a congressman who started in jail?"

He regularly brandished his discharge papers from a state mental hospital as proof of his sanity -- and demanded similar evidence from his opponents.

Willie Curran and Jack Pollack.

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