Mathias helped build Maryland

February 03, 2010

If the late Senator Charles McC. Mathias had been an American corporation, he'd be Microsoft, Google and Intel combined.

His influence on Maryland's economy and society has been incalculable. His independence, fidelity to the Constitution, civil rights record and reputation as "the conscience of the Senate" made him unique in the annals of Congress, as many commentators have pointed out since his death on January 24.

But few realize the extraordinary influence Senator Mathias continues to exert on the wealth, prosperity and the material well-being of the Free State's 5 million citizens.

This aspect of the Mathias legacy goes beyond his well-publicized efforts to preserve the Chesapeake Bay, the Potomac and the C&O Canal. Instead, it is reflected in the handsome dividends, which show up in the paychecks and investments of Marylanders from Garrett County to Ocean City.

Before "earmarks" became a derisory term, here are just a few:

*Obtaining the appropriation to dredge the bay's shipping channel to a depth of 50 feet, which has enabled the Port of Baltimore to preserve and expand the thousands of maritime-related jobs and businesses that have kept the state competitive in both foreign and domestic trade.

*Breaking the federal funding bottleneck to build the Ft. McHenry Tunnel, which until then stood as the last barrier to the free-flow of traffic and commerce on Interstate 95 from Maine to Florida. The job was completed in record time and more than $100 million under budget. Moreover, he assured a smooth construction project by insisting that it be built using organized labor on the condition there would be neither strikes nor paralyzing labor-management disputes.

*Creating the home in Baltimore at The Johns Hopkins University of the U.S. Space Telescope Science Institute, which is extending man's understanding of the universe and pushing the frontiers of cosmology to new limits with the Hubble Space Telescope.

*Prevailing on the U.S. Social Security Administration to locate its national offices in the city of Baltimore with its well-paying jobs and related business opportunities, from providing sophisticated management information systems to the provision of everyday supplies.

*Securing funding to build, upgrade and renew the state's multi-level transportation system, including the Baltimore and Washington subway systems, the MARC commuter rail service, the Baltimore Light Rail System, expansion of Baltimore-Washington Internatyional Thurgood Marshall airport, widening the Baltimore and Potomac rail tunnels to support high-speed AMTRAK and MARC rail service, and creating a new transportation corridor in Northwest Baltimore to relieve congestion and create new business opportunities in Pikesville-Owings Mills-Reisterstown with the construction of I-795.

*Establishing a new U.S. Veterans Hospital -- the last to be built in the nation -- at the University of Maryland medical campus to provide superior patient care for veterans along with training of medical and health care personnel.

The Mathias influence is everywhere in Maryland from beach restorations at Ocean City to designation of the National Aquarium in Baltimore; from flood control on the Upper Potomac to establishing the National Fire Academy at Emmitsburg.

And in embellishing his great interest in Maryland's history, from clearing the name of Dr. Samuel Mudd in the Lincoln assassination conspiracy after more than a century to preserving the Monocacy Battlefield in Frederick County; from planting a Maryland-bred Liberty Tree on the U.S. Capitol grounds to assuring the continuation of the historic tattoo ceremony at Ft. McHenry.

The record of investment in people and facilities that Senator Mathias built over more than a quarter century of public life will continue to shape the quality of life in Maryland far into the future, and will stand as a singular achievement.

That is part of the pragmatic legacy left by this quintessential Marylander for the health, prosperity and enjoyment of all the state's people.

Jack Eddinger, Baltimore

The writer was Senator Mathias' communications director from 1977 to 1983.

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