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Maryland Dems Pick Backlash Candidate

Dark Horse Ekes Out Plurality As Leading Democrats Squabble

By James K. Glassman

It rained all day that Wednesday in Maryland. Just one long, steady drench. Suburbs of Washington, D.C., got six or seven inches, and Baltimore got nearly four. But the news that morning befitted a soggy newspaper. The Democrats of Maryland had chosen a backlash candidate -- a sixtime loser -- run for governor in November. George P. Mahoney had only one plank in his platform -- rocksolid opposition to any open-housing law. And Mahoney had somehow eked out a 154-vote victory over liberal Carlton Sickles.

At first everyone was indignant. No one wanted anything to do with Mahoney. He only polled 30 per cent of the vote. It was all some mean trick. For two months before the election Sickles and Machine Man Thomas B. Finan bitterly fought each other. The primary, despite its eight candidates, was supposed to be a two-man battle. And all of a sudden this racist Mahoney turns up the winner. It just wasn't fair.

All the Democrats nominated in Montgomery Country--all Sickles' men--announced they would have nothing to do with Mahoney. Hyman Pressman, Baltimore City Comptroller, and Independent candidate for governor, screamed that Mahoney's "hate-mongering campaign" had disgraced Maryland and the Democratic Party. President Johnson noted in a news conference that he was disturbed at the power of the white backlash that seemed to have won the primary for Mahoney. Democrats bolted the Party in Maryland much as Republicans left Goldwater on his sinking ship in 1964.

But soon the indignance subsided and everyone began to look for justifications of Mahoney's victory. Baltimorians blamed CORE, which had made Baltimore (30 per cent Negro) their summer "target city." CORE, they said, got the whites excited and insecure with its demonstrations and turned them against Sickles and Finan, who seemed too sympathetic to the cause. The Chicago Tribune said in its lead editorial the day after the election: "The message from Maryland should serve as a warning to the marchers and headline seekers among civil rights leaders that their present methods are not helping their cause."

Others argued that Mahoney had played on the fears and worst instincts of Marylanders, much as Alabama governor George C. Wallace had in 1964 when he took 43 per cent of the vote in the state's presidential preference primary. But the most fashionable rationalization was that Mahoney, after all, had only polled 31 per cent of the vote. He really wasn't even the majority of the party's choice. The Washington Post suggested revamping Maryland's election system to require a runoff if no candidate received a majority of the votes cast.

But it was too late for revisions now. The deed had been done. Still, Sickles supporters looked for a way out. Mahoney had won by less than 1 per cent of the vote, and absentee ballots had to be counted and a canvass conducted to verify the results. There were irregularities in many of the polling places and Sickles could even challenge the entire result of the election. For two weeks the hope persisted. Then, after all the indignance and the rationalization and the searching, it was over. It rained that Wednesday too--two weeks later--and Carlton Sickles announced he was conceding.

The man who won is a 64-year-old Baltimore contractor whose only previous public administrative experience was serving as state racing commission chairman. Mahoney has been a delegate to the Democratic National Convention four times. But in elections he has not been so successful. Since 1950 he has run for governor three times and U.S. Senator three times in primaries. And he has lost each time. He seems like the tortoise who has finally overtaken the hare and is not quite sure what to make of it all. When Mahoney told a press conference the day after the election, "I feel very humble," he was doubtlessly sincere--sincere and surprised.

Carlton Sickles was surprised that day too. He has been Maryland's Congressman-at-Large since the office was created in 1960. He holds a spotless pro-civil rights and pro-labor record with a 100 ADA rating. He is young and looks forceful. He had the support of both of Maryland's liberal Democratic senators -- Daniel Brewster, who ran against Wallace in 1964, and Joseph Tydings, the Kennedy-style junior senator who defeated machine man Louis L. Goldstein in the same year. Tydings was making a bid to take over the party in the state from the present governor, Millard Tawes, who at 72 has already served two terms and was ineligible to run again.

The third major candidate, Thomas B. Finan, is a straight-shooting, balding Baltimorian of the smooth, conservative style that has dominated Maryland politics for decades. He is presently state attorney general and has also served as secretary of state for Maryland. Finan was machine through and through, and based his entire campaign on defending the Tawes Administration.

Mahoney, Sickles, and Finan were the main contenders. There were five others though, including Clarence Miles -- another open-housing opponant -- and Andrew J. Easter -- who wore a Santa Claus beard and an Uncle Sam suit, and whose platform called for "making everyday Christmas." Easter, who runs in every election he can, didn't get too many votes. Clarence Miles polled about 30,000. Finan got 134,000. And Mahoney got 146,000 -- 1600 more than Sickles.

Election night in Maryland was an incredible disaster. A power failure shut down voting machines in Hagerstown -- western Maryland's largest city -- for several hours. At one Baltimore polling place, someone forgot the key, and voters were jammed up for an hour during the morning rush. But Prince Georges County had the biggest problem. The ballot had 215 names on it, and voters averaged six minutes in the booths. During the evening rush, lines stretched out and voters had to wait a reported 7 1/2 hours. Many turned back and went home. Sickles might have lost the election because of the long ballot, since he was hurt by the unusually light turnout in his home county.

To say a racist won by some sort of fluke, or to say Sickles was whipped by white backlash is just too simple. Maryland is an odd state. It is half-Northern, half-Southern; half-urban, half-rural. The Eastern Shore seems like another world to the suburbanites of Montgomery and Prince Georges counties. The Shore and the southern counties below Washington are solid Dixie. Mahoney won all of these in the primary (except Miles' home county). But why was everyone so surprised? Wallace took 11 of the 12 in 1964. After the election too many people wouldn't look at a plain fact--the Eastern Shore and the southern counties have simply always been pro segregationist.

Montgomery and Prince Georges on the outskirts of Washington have been -- with a few exceptions -- suburban or big city-liberal. Montgomery went 32,111 for Sickles, 6547 for Mahoney. Prince Georges went 20,375 for Sickles, 7066 for Mahoney. The Washington suburbs and the Dixie counties tended to balance each other out, as they have in previous elections. The primary was really decided in Baltimore, and it was decided more by Mahoney's own personal appeal and the other candidates mistakes than by any racial factor.

In the six elections he lost, Mahoney polled an average of 144,000 votes--only 2000 less than he received this year. Mahoney has the kind of homey, honest charm that is endearing to blue-collar Baltimorians. He stirred up only one issue -- open-housing -- and he was smart to do it that way. Sickles spent his whole campaign damning the Tawes Admfinistration and Finan's role in it. A land scandal broke during the campaign involving key administration figures. Sickles played it up. He called Finan a boss-candidate and hurled inuendoes at the administration for its neglect of schools and pollution problems.

Finan, in turn, attacked Sickles. He called him a tool of the union interests and took a swim in the Cheasepeake Bay to show Sickles that Taweswater wasn't polluted at all. He attacked Sickles' voting record. It was as though Mahoney wasn't even there.

Mahoney for Castles

But late in the campaign, Mahoney showed up with his old-time appeal and his always present slogan: Your Home is Your Castle -- Protect It. Sickles had backed the watered-down Mathias Bill in the House and his stand was well-known on the open occupancy question. He soon was saying that he wanted the strongest possible bill the Congress could pass. Finan was forced to take a stand now. He straddled the fence for a long while and finally said he approved of the Mathias Bill, but he said it very quietly.

The open-housing issue got Mahoney the attention he wanted. By the time of the election, Finan and Sickles had battered each other so badly that Mahoney emerged from the dust as the winner. The reason so many people were surprised was that no one wanted to admit Mahoney had a chance. But he did, and he did from the beginning. Open-housing was merely the clincher. Many Baltimore workers in the huge plants of Dundalk and Sparrows Point abandoned Finan when Mahoney forced him to take a stand.

Baltimore Decides

In Baltimore city itself, Mahoney only beat Sickles by 2000 votes, but in blue-collar Baltimore County Mahoney took 40,000 to Sickles 21,000, and it was all over.

Sickles had a personality obstacle to overcome. Despite his youth and appearance, he was really a wishy-washy pearance, Tydings had reportedly hedged on backing him because of this. His campaign tried to portray him as active and enthusiastic. It helped, but it could have helped more in Prince Georges--his home county--which he lost to Finan by less than 1000 votes.

Mahoney spent an incredibly low $.58 per vote. He hardly ever appeared on television and hardly ever campaigned in the Washington suburbs. But he won without the exposure Finan and Mahoney got. He received all the notoriety he needed from open-housing, then sat back and let the others tear themselves apart.

When the votes began to roll in on election night and it appeared Mahoney would win by a landslide, someone at Sickles campaign headquarters started circulating a Democrats for Spiro T. Agnew (the Republican candidate) petition. After the results of the primary had been verified, the movement grew, and Democrats began to desert the party in force. Two of Baltimore's most powerful union leaders declared their support of Pressman the Independent. (The union leaders had contributed heavily to the Sickles primary campaign fund while the rank-and-file membership voted overwhelmingly for Mahoney and will probably do so again in November.)

Sickles said in his concession speech that he could not as a Democrat support Agnew or Pressman, but he withheld endorsement of Mahoney -- at least temporarily.

Agnew's Chances Good

Mahoney's chances against Agnew are not especially good. Agnew -- the top elected official in Baltimore County -- is well-liked in this pivotal district. He has declared that he supports the Mathias open-housing bill, and the election in November could prove much more about the occupancy issue than the Democratic primary.

Still, Agnew is bucking a 3-1 Democratic registration majority, and he could get his most troublesome opposition from foes of Mahoney. Pressman -- a liberal and Baltimore's fiscal watchdog -- could take several thousand Agnew votes in the city. And if a Sickles write-in campaign gets underway (there is a lot of talk about it), Sickles could easily push enough votes away from Agnew put Mahoney in the governor's chance.

The man who will carry the barer of the Democratic Party -- or party of it anyway -- is not a racist in the sense of Jim Johnson of Arkansas or Lester Maddox of Georgia -- both primary victors this year. He has been around Maryland politics a long time and this year everything just worked out right for him.GEORGE P. MAHONEY The 58 cent victor

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