Former Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel, the state’s first and only Jewish governor, passed away Sunday afternoon.
One of Maryland’s most prolific political figures, Mandel served as governor from 1969 until 1977, when he was convicted and jailed for racketeering and mail fraud charges. His sentence was later commuted and his conviction overturned.
Gov. Larry Hogan said Maryland lost a great leader and someone that he and many others considered a friend.
“I will be forever grateful for the advice, wisdom and stories Gov. Mandel has shared with me throughout the years,” Hogan said in a statement. “No other governor has had the lasting impact on all three branches of Maryland government, and while he held elective office for 28 years, he dedicated his life to making our state a better place to live.”
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake also expressed her condolences.
“I know that Gov. Mandel will be remembered for many accomplishments during his time in state government, particularly the instrumental role he played in developing and promoting public transit in our region,” she said. “I will fondly remember his love of state and local politics and the stories he would share. My thoughts and prayers are with Gov. Mandel’s family.”
Mandel, Maryland’s 56th governor, is credited with reorganizing the state’s executive branch into departments with supervising secretaries, revamping the court system, establishing mass transit and dedicating resources to school construction.
He was elected to Maryland’s chief office when then-Gov. Spiro T. Agnew stepped down to be the country’s vice president under President Richard Nixon. Prior to his time as governor, Mandel was a member of the House of Delegates, where he served as speaker from 1963 until 1969.
U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski released a statement extending condolences to Mandel’s family.
“Gov. Mandel was a brilliant administrator who was rightly proud of his extraordinary legacy of modernizing and reorganizing Maryland state government,” she said. “He will also be remembered for his many other innovative initiatives, including reducing the burden of school construction costs on counties and helping to build subway systems in both Baltimore and the metro areas around D.C.”
U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin also released a statement, which touched on the interaction the two had as members of the Maryland House of Delegates in the late 1960s.
“I was witness to and learned from his unique ability to bridge political and geographic divides to get things done for the state of Maryland,” Cardin said. “Gov. Mandel understood that government existed to serve the people; he instilled that ultimate truth into every member of the House of Delegates, and that tenet served as the cornerstone of his governorship. During his time as governor, we saw unprecedented investments in education and transportation infrastructure as well as an overall streamlining of government to make it more effective.”
Lainey LeBow-Sachs, president of the Baltimore Jewish Council, joined with the rest of the Jewish community in mourning Mandel’s passing.
“We mourn the passing of Gov. Mandel who contributed so much to the state of Maryland,” she said on behalf of the BJC. “Gov. Mandel was a strong representative of the Jewish community in Annapolis and on a regular basis helped to secure many of our needs. His legacy to the Maryland citizens was exemplary, and he will be greatly missed.”
LeBow-Sachs knew Mandel personally from her time working in the office of Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
“He was just an incredible person who cared so much about people,” she said. “Schaefer and he were very close friends, and when the governor was mayor he helped with the building of the Convention Center.”
In May, Mandel celebrated his 95th birthday at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel in an event featuring tributes from Hogan, former Gov. Bob Ehrlich, former Rep. Kweisi Mfume, U.S. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, House of Delegates Speaker Michael Busch and state Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller, among others.
Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt of Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, Md., got to know Mandel during his days as a student at the University of Maryland in the early 1970s, when he served as a student liaison to the state government. He had contact with Mandel on a number of occasions, particularly during antiwar demonstrations on campus that required the presence of National Guard troops.
“He was very responsive,” he said. “When there were problems on the campus, I was able to reach him on the phone. My sense is he was genuinely concerned about the safety of the students.”
Weinblatt said Mandel was “amazingly effective” as a governor in his ability to streamline the bureaucracy of state government.
“I think he’ll be remembered as someone who knew how to use the tools of government in a way that could benefit all, and his concern for trying to serve all citizens of the state was certainly felt by all,” he said.
Weinblatt continued to stay in touch with Mandel for the remainder of the former governor’s life, speaking at his 90th and 95th birthdays.
“He was very moved by it on both occasions. There were tears in his eyes when I did the blessing for him,” Weinblatt said of the celebration in May.
Weinblatt officiated at the funeral service, which took place Thursday at Sol Levinson & Bros., Inc. Interment followed at Lakemont Memorial Gardens in Davidsonville. He lay in state at the Capitol in Annapolis on Wednesday.