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Marvin Mandel: 95 And Still Doing Constituent Service

Sheilah Kast

Living longer than nine decades seems mostly a matter of genetics, healthy habits and luck.  But Marvin Mandel reports that continuing to enjoy life in your mid-nineties may also require feeling useful.

I'm surprised that I'm still moving along, he acknowledged. But I also am happy to be involved. - Marvin Mandel

In advance of tonight's 95th birthday bash for Mandel at Baltimore's Marriot Waterfront Hotel, the former governor shared the wisdom gained over a tumultuous life of great highs and deep lows.

At an age when many of his contemporaries are housebound with health problems or retired to the golf course, Mandel still gets a kick out of what legislators call constituent service.

"If you spend your life helping people and taking care of people, you will enjoy a good life because there’s a certain satisfaction that you get out of being able to help other people," he explained.

Mandel is still practicing law, currently out of a Glen Burnie office shared with his son, Paul, and former gubernatorial aide, Maurice Wyatt.  He doesn't go into court anymore, but he does a lot of reading and research for Paul, who is involved in the gaming industry.

Much of what Mandel does, though, is make phone calls.  He probably knows nearly everybody in Maryland's legal community, and gave lots of them their jobs. He says his calls are strategic.

"Just trying to keep everything moving along smoothly and effectively," he said.

Feeling useful helps Mandel deal with the 2001 death of his second wife, Jeanne, the woman for whom he risked it all.

"It was very difficult, extremely difficult because she was my partner, we worked together and did everything together and after she passed away it was a good part of my life gone," he said.

In a way, Mandel's current fixer role is reminiscent of those days in the State House when he was known as Uncle Buddy, the powerful House Speaker who became governor when Spiro Agnew was elected vice president.

His vast legacy includes streamlining state government, creating the Shock Trauma unit, providing state aid for local school construction, and imposing a gas tax and gun controls.

Mandel's power was presumed so huge that federal prosecutors convinced a jury that he had orchestrated a complex scheme to reward friends, who did favors for him in return, such as paying the divorce settlement to his first wife, Bootsie.

He served nearly 19 months in federal prison before his sentence was commuted by President Reagan. The conviction would later be overturned.

Mandel knows who to blame for the debacle, but offers no names.

"Just a group of people that wanted to get rid of me as governor," he said.

But he displays no bitterness.

"I just faced what I had to do and took care of it," he said.

The bipartisan range of tonight’s speakers--which includes Republican Governor Larry Hogan, former GOP governor Bob Ehrlich, and the Democratic leaders of the General Assembly—speaks volumes about the respect Mandel enjoys in Maryland's political community.

All in all, Mandel counts himself lucky.

"I was fortunate in being governor," he said. "I felt that that was a remarkable job to have."

And most observers think he was quite good at it.