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More toasts than roasts at former Md. Gov. Marvin Mandel's 90th birthday

Former Gov. Bob Ehrlich, left, and his wife Kendel, right, joke with Marvin Mandel at a 90th birthday party organized by Bruce Bereano, standing in the back. (Shannon Lee Zirkle/The Capital)

Hey, weren't they supposed to be roasting Marvin Mandel here?
What was billed as a lighthearted 90th birthday tribute to the former Maryland governor kept going off-track as Free State pols jabbed each other instead. This being an insider's insider dinner -- a couple hundred of the state's political elite gathered by lobbyist Bruce Bereano at the University of Maryland's Riggs Center -- you're forgiven if some of the riffs went over your head.

State Senate President Mike Miller set the tone with his jolly towel-snapping -- how when former-and-maybe-future governor Bob Ehrlich needed votes "he would send [first lady] Kendel out on dates with William Donald Schaefer" (ribbon-cuttings, really); some old saw about a distinguished jurist's college days ("Was that his GPA? No, that's his blood-alcohol level!")

Was Wayne Curry trying to announce something? While praising Mandel ("At every juncture, he said, 'If there's anything I can do, just call me'."), the former Prince George's County executive mentioned "people asking me, would you like to be lieutenant governor?" No, said Curry, genuflecting toward Mandel: "I'd rather take a crack at being like that." Huh, wha? Did Curry -- a Democrat who'd been a rumored long-shot running mate for Republican Ehrlich in his race against Gov. Martin O'Malley -- just announce he's running for governor? (By the way, know who wasn't there? O'Malley.)

Not that Mandel couldn't have provided ample material for a roast. He was infamously twice evicted from the governor's mansion -- first by his first wife, in 1974, when he took up with the second Mrs. Mandel; later by the feds, on a 1977 mail fraud and racketeering conviction (later overturned). But most of the stories were laudatory -- how he created the Department of Transportation, streamlined the judiciary, attended 1,200 Terps games.

Miller recalled Mandel's coaching on how to finesse a controversial bill: "You vote for it in committee and against it on the House floor." John Hanson Briscoe, a former state House speaker, described the backroom sessions with the guv: "You'd be done talking, and he'd say, 'Stay in touch.' You'd walk out of there and feel like you got his ear -- and you got nothing!"

"What does that mean, 'keep in touch'?" laughed Rep. Steny Hoyer. "But I kept in touch."
Mandel was the last to take the stage. "I thought this was going to be a tough roast!" he said. But he had warned everyone: "I said, 'You tell any lies about me, I'll tell the truth about you.' It all worked out fine."

By The Reliable Source  |  May 6, 2010; 1:04 AM ET
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