Frank DeFilippo: Pop Quiz: Fun and Games with Political Names
“No man’s life, liberty or property is safe when the General Assembly is in session.”
—New York probate judge
Here’s a pop quiz for lawmakers and political hobbyists alike as the 2022 General Assembly gets underway in solemn session in an eerie and uncertain election year — Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s last as governor and the first in a decade with new district borders under consideration as well as the raging social inhibitor of COVID-19’s stubborn offspring, omicron, and a major payload of deja vu.
The test of Maryland political knowledge is more than a trivia contest or a deep dive for ephemera. It invades shadowy corners and exposes high and low jinks in the messy world of sausage-making. Recent-comers to the General Assembly may not recognize some of the names, but they are the brooding ghosts of legislatures past and the lore they live with in Maryland’s antique State House. Cheat, if you must, by peeking at the answers below.
- Who was the first member of the General Assembly to be expelled? (It’s not who you think it was.)
- Name the House of Delegates’ member who in 1964 was charged with an assassination attempt on political rival State Sen. Verda Welcome.
- How did the wily and widely admired Sen. Harry McGuirk, of South Baltimore, get the nom de guerre “Soft Shoes?”
- Which senator from Baltimore abandoned a General Assembly session, with his girlfriend in tow, for an ashram in India to seek his inner lotus – kind of like the Annapolis version of the movie “Eat, Pray, Love.”
- Name the beer industry lobbyist in the 1960s whose name mockingly was attached to annual legislation.
- How did the General Assembly resolve Maryland’s first attempt at congressional redistricting following the 1962 “one person, one vote” ruling?
- Name the House of Delegates’ member who was gunned down in the underground garage of his Baltimore high-rise apartment building.
- Trick question: Name the folk remedy that was thought to ward off the flu, polio and other diseases that was popular during the 18th and 19th centuries, and especially during the 1918 flu pandemic.
- Name the speaker of the House of Delegates who was indicted in 1963 and the U.S. attorney who indicted him.
- A cocktail party occurred during the 1966 session of the General Assembly as a tune-up to that year’s primary election for governor. Name the party’s sponsor and the result.
- There are two memorable quotes from the past that ought to be chiseled at the State House entrance. The first belongs to Del. Xavier Aragona, of Prince George’s County, the second to Sen. Joseph Staszak, of Baltimore City. What are they?
- Quick. Name Maryland’s eight lieutenant governors since the office was reconstituted in 1970. Even quicker, name the five women who’ve been chosen (as of this writing) as runningmates for lieutenant governor this year.
- What was George P. Mahoney’s winning, though divisive, campaign slogan in the 1966 Democratic primary election for governor?
- What was Maryland’s “unit vote?”
- Who was the first president of the United States and the only Marylander to ever hold the title?
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Answer 1: Yes, Sen. Larry Young was ejected from the State Senate for ethical violations, but he was not the first castoff, as has been widely assumed and reported. The first to be kicked out was Del. Irving “Coddy” Friedman, a stalwart of Political Boss James H. “Jack” Pollack’s Northwest Baltimore political machine. Friedman was booted in a tit-for-tat payback between Pollack and his one-time ally, House Speaker Marvin Mandel, for a criminal violation prior to his election in 1966 under a prohibition in Maryland law.
Answer 2: Del. Ernest Young, a 36-year-old lawyer, was charged with hiring four hit men to eliminate Welcome. In the attempt, a spray of bullets from a gang that couldn’t shoot straight greeted Welcome as she emerged from her car near her Northwest Baltimore home and one projectile grazed her buttock. On the path to repatriation, Young applied for employment as a croupier in Las Vegas. Whether he got the job is unknown.
Answer 3: A Senate colleague, Joseph Bertorelli, of Baltimore’s Little Italy, described McGuirk light-footed approach as, “He kind of sneaks up on you like he’s wearing soft shoes.” The sobriquet stuck. McGuirk appropriated the nickname, even producing and distributing lapel pins of — you guessed it — a pair of shoes.
Answer 4: The boyish Sen. Frank McCourt, of Baltimore’s old center-city Second District, got caught up in the hallucinogenic ‘60s culture and decamped, mid-session, for India with his inamorata and fellow traveler. Landing in New York on the sobered-up return trip a month later, McCourt was greeted by a Maryland State Police escort for the awkward trip back home. McCourt held the single decisive vote on a key consumer protection bill and Sen. James A. Pine, of Baltimore County, the bill’s sponsor, arranged the police escort to make certain McCourt would be present at the State House to vote for passage of the bill. The anti-usuary legislation, an artifact of the long-gone past, capped interest rates on department store revolving credit accounts.
Answer 5: The bill, introduced annually, was called the Hocker-rocker, named after George H. Hocker, a beer industry lobbyist and Gov. Millard J. Tawes’ ambassador to the wonderful world of money, or, in political parlance, Tawes’ bag-man. The legislation would have raised the tax on beer, which hadn’t been increased in years. It was also the Assembly’s way of getting Tawes’ attention, and, if necessary, to the bargaining table on other weighty issues to rescue Hocker from the embarrassment of a tax increase on beer and his cachet as a lobbyist.
Answer 6: Unable reach a decision on how to carve up the state to accommodate the additional member of Congress that Maryland had been awarded following the 1960 census, the General Assembly created the extraordinary office of “congressman at-large.” The job’s first holder, elected in 1962, was Carlton R. Sickles, a delegate from Prince George’s County, who had the state-wide constituency of a U.S. senator but the lesser portfolio of a member of the House of Representatives. The one-of-a-kind office was eliminated for the 1966 election when, by then, an eighth congressional district had finally been created.
Answer 7: Del. Turk Scott, 43, a Baltimore bail bondsman by trade but a suspected drug entrepreneur by the federal government, was gunned down in 1973 in the underground garage of Sutton Place, a high-rise apartment building in the resuscitated Bolton Hill section of Baltimore. His body was riddled with a dozen bullets in what was considered a vigilante-style execution. Scott had been under federal indictment for conspiracy to transport 40 pounds of heroin to Baltimore from New York.
Answer 8: The folk remedy was called — are you ready for this? — an “asaphidity bag” (the most common of several spellings) and the stinky sack was usually pinned to an undergarment or strung around the neck. The bag, popular in Appalachia, was commonly stuffed with foul-smelling herbs such as garlic, onion and often the resin from dried plant roots. The bag’s curative powers were more in the hope than the results, kind of like today’s Republican prescription for the vermicide ivermectin to chase away the coronavirus. Unfortunately, Dr. Anthony Fauci was not around at the time to evaluate the efficacy of the bag.
Answer 9: The speaker of the House of Delegates who was indicted in 1963 was A. Gordon Boone, of Baltimore County, as part of the first Maryland savings and loan industry collapse. (The second S&L collapse occurred in the 1980s.) Boone was indicted by Joseph D. Tydings, a member of the House of Delegates from Harford County who served with Boone before he was appointed U.S. attorney for Maryland by President John F. Kennedy. House leaders believed they had an understanding that Tydings would handle the awkward event in a discreet way that would not embarrass the General Assembly. Nonetheless, U.S. marshals were dispatched to the State House to arrest Boone in a very public and humiliating display. Resentment over Tydings’ heavy hand was not easily forgotten or forgiven. Boone was eventually convicted for his role in the S&L scandal and did soft time at a federal prison camp in Maine. Tydings went on to become a U.S. senator.
Answer 10: Thomas B. Finan, then attorney general and one of four Democrats running for governor — the others were Carlton R. Sickles, George P. Mahoney and Clarence Miles — sponsored a St. Patrick’s Day cocktail party-buffet at the Maryland Inn to buff up his bona fides with members of the General Assembly. When the legislature resumed its business at 8 p.m. following the party, the unruly House session lasted about 15 minutes before Speaker Marvin Mandel recognized that members were unable to conduct business in an orderly fashion. The celebratory cocktail party spilled over into the House session and was very much in evidence. “This House cannot continue in this manner,” Mandel announced as he cracked the gavel to adjournment and sent delegates staggering home for the night.
Answer 11: During a pause in a zesty debate on the House floor (the subject has evanesced into the ether), Aragona rose to his feet and was recognized: “Mr. Speaker, this issue has degenerated into a matter of principle.” The oxymoronic statement was recognized for its idiosyncratic admission by publication in The New Yorker Magazine. Staszak was an East Baltimore tavern owner who, to no one’s surprise, regularly supported legislation favorable to the liquor industry. On a particular occasion, Staszak voted for a bill that would benefit his business. Asked by a reporter if his vote was a conflict of interest, Staszak replied: “How does that conflict with my interest?” Staszak soon found out. In separate action, Staszak later pleaded guilty in federal court to mail fraud and tax charges resulting from his secret interest in a Dundalk tavern while serving on the Baltimore City Liquor Board to which he was appointed by Gov. Marvin Mandel in 1975. The judge overseeing the case was C. Stanley Blair, a former Republican member of the House of Delegates who served in the legislature contemporaneously with Staszak and was later secretary of state and chief of staff to Vice President Spiro T. Agnew. Blair was Agnew’s designated, though losing, candidate for governor in 1970. Staszak was awaiting sentencing when he drowned in a boating accident in 1979 while fishing with a friend.
Answer 12: The eight modern lieutenant governors are (were): Blair Lee III, Samuel W. Bogley, J. Joseph Curran Jr., Melvin A. Steinberg, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Michael S. Steele, Anthony G. Brown and Boyd K. Rutherford. The five women chosen to run for the office this year are Democrats Michelle Siri, Monique Anderson-Walker, Nancy Navarro and Aruna Miller and the Republican is Gordana Schifanelli.
Answer 13: George P. Mahoney’s slogan in the 1966 Democratic primary election for governor was “Your home is your castle.” The divisive line was a deliberate word-play against the new “open housing” policies of the era which were adopted to eliminate “blockbusting,” redlining and the refusal to sell houses in certain neighborhoods to people of color and others. It also capitalized on the solid base that segregationist Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace had established in Maryland in his 1964 run for the presidency. Mahoney won the primary by a scant 1,900 votes. For the general election, Democratic officials had persuaded Mahoney to abandon the divisive slogan, which many viewed as racist. Two Mahoney campaign billboards emblazoned with the slogan at the corner of North Ave. and St. Paul St. in Baltimore were papered over with an anodyne replacements which caused an immediate uproar among Mahoney’s supporters. So he quickly reprised the slogan and went on to lose the governorship to Spiro T. Agnew, who, believe it or not, campaigned as – well, liberal may be too strong of a characterization – in favor of fair housing policies, an increase in the income tax and, in the phrase of the day, equal rights.
Answer 14: Maryland’s “unit vote” was the state’s corollary to the federal electoral college. It was eliminated following the Supreme Court’s “one person, one vote” ruling in the early 1960s. Under the unit system, each county was assigned so many “unit votes” based on a complex classification formula, and statewide candidates in primary elections had to win both the popular vote and the unit vote to claim victory. For example, George P. Mahoney, a 10, or was it 11-time candidate for statewide office, won either the popular vote or the unit vote, but never both, in several of his early campaigns. Which leaves us with the wonderment: If the “one person, one vote” ruling eliminated the unit vote at the state level, how come the electoral college, its illegitimate parent, still exists?
Answer 15: George Washington, silly. Every school kid knows that. Well, maybe not. There are some who argue that the first president of the United States was John Hanson, former member of the Maryland House of Delegates and direct ancestor of John Hanson Briscoe, speaker of the House of Delegates in the 1970s. John Hanson, squire of Port Tobacco, in Charles County, and later of Frederick, was elected president of the Continental Congress on Nov. 5, 1781. At the time, under the Articles of Confederation, there was no executive branch in the central government, so the congress elected Hanson “president of the United States.” The title was largely ceremonial and Hanson threatened to resign after one week in the office. But to Hanson we owe Thanksgiving Day. During his year as president, Hanson issued a proclamation setting aside the last Thursday in November as “a day of thanksgiving to God for all His mercies.”