A poor choice

February 24, 2003

GOV. ROBERT L. Ehrlich Jr.'s decision to honor former Gov. Marvin Mandel does nothing to end the culture of corruption in Annapolis. Quite the contrary.

The new governor campaigned against the culture, but he hired former state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV to a $92,000 job - though Mr. Mitchell had been censured by the General Assembly's ethics committee. Mr. Mitchell's troubles continue to unfold in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

Now Mr. Ehrlich elevates Mr. Mandel to the University System of Maryland Board of Regents. In so doing he has conferred distinction on a man whose behavior as governor landed him in federal prison for 19 months. By a technicality, his conviction for political corruption was overturned.

Mr. Ehrlich also named his fund-raising chairman, Richard E. Hug, to the board, along with Robert L. Mitchell, a businessman from Bethesda who is president of the Terrapin Club, the University of Maryland, College Park's booster organization, and Robert L. Pevenstein, president of a Timonium mergers and acquisitions firm. They are no doubt deserving, but has the honor been diminished?

Once again, politics intrudes on a board buffeted by politics. Mr. Ehrlich's predecessor, Parris N. Glendening, had appointed or re-appointed all of the regents then on the board. Then he made himself a candidate for chancellor of the university system, a post paying $375,000 a year. A few regents resisted, and the governor withdrew. Now the board looks like a political playpen all over again.

It's not that Mr. Mandel has nothing to recommend him. Old Annapolis hands remember him as a resourceful and wise architect of governmental structures. But friendship stands as the No. 1 qualification for the regents. It's not enough.

In his first days as governor, Mr. Ehrlich approved the hiring of former Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs to argue against the re-instatement of a lobbyist convicted of corrupting the legislative process. That action did attack the corrupting culture.

The appointment of Mr. Mandel does not.

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