LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Politics with a twist

A recent column by Ken Rudin, former political editor for National Public Radio, rated Spiro “Ted” Agnew as the worst vice president in the past 60 years. His ranking is suspect, first, because he is unfamiliar with Agnew’s history before that period. Second, he doesn’t mention Dan Quayle in the top five.

As a young radio reporter, I covered [Spiro T.] “Ted” Agnew, who made his reputation with the Baltimore County Zoning Board of Appeals, as he surprised pundits, winning the 1962 election as a Republican against the well-entrenched Democratic incumbent County Executive. Agnew was helped by two Democratic factions having a bloody primary.

Agnew was a graduate of The Johns Hopkins University and the University of Baltimore Law School. He served as an officer in World War II and was recalled for the Korean War.

As Baltimore County Executive (mayor), Agnew proved resourceful and an attractive candidate. So much so, he became the Republican candidate for governor in 1967. His Democratic opponent was George P. Mahoney, a

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Fred Neil

millionaire contractor, who, as Racing Commissioner, helped to clean up thoroughbred racing in Maryland. Mahoney’s campaign slogan was “A Man’s Home is His Castle.” In this campaign, Ted Agnew was the liberal and Mahoney was the conservative.

Agnew attracted national attention as county executive with his tough stance during the attempt to integrate the Gwynn Oak Amusement Park. Lost in the rhetoric was Agnew’s effective handling of the situation that resulted in the integration of the park.

His role as governor was not marred by scandal. His verbiage in handling tough situations attracted Nixon and his campaign staff, who parlayed his ability as an erudite, forceful political tool.

Still friendly [then] with Ted and the staff members he brought with him to Washington, I know his role as vice president was held in tight control by the Nixon team. Perhaps Nixon did with Agnew what FDR did with Vice President Truman in regards to the atomic bomb. Nixon used presidential prerogative, and kept a very competent Agnew out of the presidential loop.

Personally, Ted was a very charming and caring gentleman who was a good county executive and governor. His one fault was he was not a rich politician. Back in those days, bagmen were prevalent for both parties. It was what was done, and it still is. Political action committees now make it legal to use money to gain influence.

In a report published in this newspaper in 2013, the Common Cause organization drew a correlation between legislators’ 2012 votes on Senate Bill 205 that dealt with rent increases in manufactured housing, and contributions received from leased-land-community owners. The inference was that contributions to legislators and support of their interests were tied together. The bill failed in 2012, but in 2013, a Rent Justification Bill was finally passed.

Still, Agnew’s fall from grace was a huge disappointment to me, a man whom I knew and liked. As for ratings, those remain in the eye of the beholder. This year, those who do presidential ratings or rantings will have a field day.

Fred Neil
3rd District, Dover City Council

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