Marvin Mandel, Maryland’s only Jewish governor

by | Sep 16, 2015 | Obituaries

Marvin Mandel, the only Jewish governor of Maryland, died at 95.

Mandel, a Democrat who led the East Coast state from 1969 until 1977, died Sunday, August 30 in St. Mary’s County, Md. The cause of death was not provided.

His gubernatorial record was a mixed one: While Mandel earned kudos for policy victories, a fraud conviction in 1977 for helping facilitate business dealings for friends who owned a racetrack forced him to leave office. Although an appeals court overturned the conviction in 1979, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit reinstated the conviction later that year and Mandel served 19 months in a federal prison, according to the Washington Post.

Mandel’s governorship was also known for his messy divorce, involving a $400,000 settlement, from his wife Barbara (known as “Bootsie”), whom he left for his girlfriend in 1973. Mandel later married the girlfriend, Jeanne Dorsey; she died in 2001.

Mandel grew up in a lower-middle- class, Jewish section of Baltimore, the son of a garment cutter and a housewife. During World War II he served in the U.S. Army in Maryland and in Texas, according to the Post, then earned a law degree before serving in Maryland’s House of Delegates for 17 years.

According to the Post, Mandel “never emphasized his Jewish identity,” but attended High Holidays services and as a state legislator once volunteered to complete a minyan, or prayer quorum, for the memorial service for a colleague’s father.

When Mandel first became governor, replacing Vice President-elect Spiro Agnew in a special vote of the state Legislature, JTA described him as “a leader of the Baltimore Jewish community” who “is very active in the Associated Jewish Charities, the Israel Bond campaign, synagogue groups, the Menorah Lodge of B’nai B’rith, and other Jewish organizations.”

In a 1972 appearance at the National Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs convention, Mandel said that it is “up to us to work as individuals and as a community to carve out a community identity as Americans, as Jews, as American Jews.” (JTA)