Autobiography is risky business as there’s usually an unwritten backstory chasing the book. It could be a disturbing fragment of a life, an amusing anecdote, an unreported tawdry interlude, a slimy business deal or two, or the inflicted decline and fall of political promise. Everyone has a “Rosebud.”
Often the episode is a snippet in time the memoirist may not even be aware of, or at least hasn’t recognized. Such may be the case of former U.S. Sen. Joseph D. Tydings’ recent unburdening, “My Life in Progressive Politics: Against the Grain.”
Tydings credits the NRA and the Nixon White House for his defeat in 1970. He may be partly correct but not know the how and why. His downfall was more the fine hand of foul play than gunplay, mixed with his own awkward ability to antagonize both gun owners and blacks in parallel strokes – sponsorship of a gun control bill and an anti-crime bill.
(Disclosure: I’ve observed Tydings from the front row and the back room – as a reporter covering his 1964 campaign and his years in the U.S. Senate, and as Gov. Marvin Mandel’s press secretary during Tydings’ 1970 reelection campaign. The following telling is an abbreviated rendition of the more expansive version that appears in my unpublished manuscript, “Shiksa: The Rise and Fall of Marvin Mandel.”)
Early in the 1970 primary election season, Tydings appeared to have an easy ride ahead, with no big-foot opponent to eat up the resources he might need in the general election against J. Glenn Beall Jr., a popular Republican and son of the incumbent senator he had defeated in 1964.
George P. Mahoney, the Maryland marplot of “Your Home is Your Castle” ignominy, had been threatening to run against Mandel, who was preparing for election on his own after being chosen by the General Assembly to succeed Spiro T. Agnew, who moved to Washington as vice president
Mandel was a strategic thinker, always a chess-piece ahead of the competition, real or feigned. Mahoney was a paving contractor who made a business of running for political office. He had run statewide nine times, and often came close – once winning under the old “unit vote” system (similar to the electoral college) but losing the popular vote, and again, in 1966, winning the primary by 1,950 votes in a four-way race but losing to Agnew in the general election. Mahoney was, more often than not, a spoiler in crowded Democratic primary races over the decades, beginning in 1950 – a crowd-pleaser enticed by his mercantile interests to affect the outcome of elections.
Mandel’s emissaries, armed with the authority of gubernatorial purchase, met with Mahoney on a couple of occasions to try and dissuade him from jeopardizing Mandel’s chances of becoming Maryland’s first elected Jewish governor (how quaint that sounds now).
The Mandel team’s final agreement was a negotiated package Mahoney couldn’t resist: Run against Tydings and the Mandel campaign would arrange the requested financial incentives. And, if he lost, Mandel would bedeck Mahoney with official titles and honorariums. Mandel eventually named Mahoney chairman of a commission to study banking laws, and, ultimately, Mahoney’s most impressive set of epaulets, chairman of the Maryland State Lottery Commission.
On the morning after Tydings and Mandel easily won their primaries, representatives for both candidates met at Mandel campaign headquarters in downtown Baltimore to discuss symmetrical campaigns. Mandel was represented by Joseph Napolitan, the premier Democratic pollster and political consultant of the era, Joseph Anastasi, the campaign manager, and me. Tydings representatives at the table were Albert Figinski, a ranking Tydings campaign official, and Albert Salter, the Tydings’ advertising overseer.
“Senator Tydings’ election will go a long way toward helping to elect Governor Mandel,” Salter said.
Actually, the reverse was true. But on that discordant note, Napolitan closed his notebook, pushed his chair back, lit a cigar and never said another word. Napolitan had done Mandel’s polling and knew a thing or two about Tydings’ vulnerabilities. Besides, Mandel had collected far more votes than Tydings in the primary.
Mahoney had fulfilled the role assigned to him, boosted by the Mandel campaign proffer. Throughout the general election campaign, Tydings declined, in fact, refused, to campaign with Mandel as a Democratic team. Mandel often remarked that “Joe is making a big mistake.”
As general election day approached, each campaign was arranging for the final dash. The Tydings campaign decided not to join Mandel for a joint election night Democratic victory headquarters. Meantime, the Beall campaign was making its closing arrangements, too. The Nixon White House had dispatched $135,000 in walk-around money to the Beall campaign from its infamous “Town House” operation.
But most of the voters who were amenable to such encouragement were Democrats. So, on the decisive payday, it was revealed, W. Dale Hess, a member of the House of Delegates who was helping to manage the financial side of Mandel’s campaign, joined the Beall operatives at their headquarters in the Lord Baltimore Hotel to facilitate the vendible aspects of Baltimore City politics. Put another way, Hess showed the Republicans how to divvy up the walk-around money among the different Democratic political factions in Baltimore and get results for the Republican candidate. Hess concentrated on the black organizations and precincts.
On general election night in November 1970, the Mandel campaign team, and other guests, were in a celebratory mood in a 12th floor suite at the former Hilton Hotel in downtown Baltimore, across the street from its campaign headquarters, an aging optical center building.
As the returns were beginning to show which way the election results were heading, the phone on a table between Mandel and me rang its urgent tremolo. I answered. It was Tydings.
“I’ve got to speak to Marvin,” Tydings said.
“Marvin, it’s Joe Tydings,” I said, handing out the receiver.
“Talk to him,” Mandel said.
“Marvin’s busy, Joe, what can I do for you,” I said.
“Tell him that unless I get 50,000 black votes, I’m dead,” Tydings said.
I relayed the message. “Tell him they’re not there,” Mandel said.
Tydings’ reply has evanesced into the cobwebs, but it was apparent that Hess had done his job on Mandel’s behalf and they had finally gotten even with Tydings for what they viewed as an insult and an act of betrayal in 1963. Beall defeated Tydings by less than 2 percent of the vote.
As U.S. attorney for Maryland following his service in the House of Delegates, Tydings had indicted the speaker of the House, in which he once served, in the first savings and loan scandal that rocked Maryland. Mandel and Hess had been close allies of A. Gordon Boone, the speaker, whom Mandel succeeded on his way to the governorship.
At the time, it was understood that Boone had accepted his plight and that he and other officers of the House had negotiated an understanding that Tydings and the arresting officers would not disrupt the business of the House but would wait to formally arrest Boone until the affairs of state were concluded. But the truce was broken when U.S. marshals descended on the State House and hauled Boone off like a common criminal. The Seven-year grudge was finally repaid with illicit cash at the ballot box.
Soon after his heady election victory by a huge margin, Mandel began talking privately about running for the U.S. Senate in 1976, two years before his two-term limit would expire as governor. He had eased Tydings out of the picture, at least temporarily, and helped to install a friendly Republican in the seat who would be easier to defeat in a heavily Democratic state than a Democrat who had been ensconced for two terms.
But later in his tenure as governor, Mandel, ever the cunning politician, gave the screw another ironic turn. He appointed Tydings to the Board of Regents of the University of Maryland, Tydings’ (and Mandel’s) alma mater – a seat that Mandel himself would later occupy. Tydings believed he was appointed because of the public service he would perform; Mandel made the appointment to tuck Tydings into the fold and quiet him once and for all – a variation on the ancient wisdom, “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”
But a month after the election, on December 5, 1970, Mandel was involved in a fatal automobile accident that would alter his life and career path as well as the future of Maryland politics. His secret seven-year affair with a young divorced mother of four was outed and he eventually married her in August 1974, an hour after his divorce was final and six weeks before that year’s primary election for his second term.
And, in a final toothsome twist, Mandel got caught up in a federal investigation into political corruption in Maryland by the U.S. attorney’s office which Tydings had headed and was now led by George Beall, brother of the man he’d indirectly helped to elect and the person with whom Hess had worked to distribute the walk-around money that helped to accomplish it. Mandel never made it to the Senate. He ended up on trial and in prison.
Nor did Tydings find his way back to the Senate. He ran again in 1976, but lost the primary election to then-Rep. Paul Sarbanes, who went on to recapture the seat for Democrats and end the political roundelay the Beall family had enjoyed as prominent Western Marylanders.
Tydings may have been unaware of the run-away 18-wheeler that hit him at the time, but at least he can now fill in the blanks in his memoir.