If Sar­gent Shriver had run for gover­nor of Mary­land ...

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS -

In the sto­ries about R. Sar­gent Shriver this week, it was of­ten men­tioned that he was a sec­ond choice to be Ge­orge McGovern’s run­ning mate in the 1972 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and that he ran un­suc­cess­fully for pres­i­dent in 1976. Shriver never did win elec­tion to any pub­lic of­fice, but his ca­reer, and Mary­land his­tory, might have been sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent if he had de­cided to run for gover­nor of Mary­land against fel­low Demo­crat Marvin Man­del in 1970.

In April 1970, Shriver had just re­turned to Mary­land af­ter two years as U. S. am­bas­sador to France. That only added to the glam­our of the Kennedy in-law, who had been much praised for his work es­tab­lish­ing the Peace Corps and run­ning LBJ’s War on Poverty. And with Ted Kennedy still un­der the cloud of Chap­paquid­dick less than a year ear­lier, Shriver was at that moment the most vi­able po­lit­i­cal star con­nected to the days of Camelot.

Shriver would have faced sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges if he had de­cided to run. De­spite his fam­ily’s long his­tory in Mary­land, go­ing back to pre-Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War days, he had not been ac­tive in Mary­land pol­i­tics and would have faced “car­pet­bag­ger” charges. And Man­del had amassed a cam­paign war chest re­ported to be more than a half mil­lion dol­lars — a lot of money in those days.

Still, Shriver was a “Kennedy-by-mar­riage,” Cen­tral Cast­ing hand­some and pos­sessed of charisma that Man­del did not have. And Man­del no­tably had not won the of­fice of gover­nor in a statewide elec­tion. When Spiro Agnew was elected vice pres­i­dent in 1968, the Mary­land Con­sti­tu­tion did not pro­vide for a lieu­tenant gover­nor. It fell to the state leg­is­la­ture to pick Agnew’s suc­ces­sor, and as speaker of the House, Man­del had the votes. But in 1970, Man­del, the state’s first Jewish gover­nor, had not yet demon­strated an abil­ity to win votes out­side his heav­ily Jewish Bal­ti­more district.

Some Democrats formed com­mit­tees and gen­er­ated pub­lic­ity to en­cour­age Shriver to get into the pri­mary race. And some thought that Shriver could win with a vig­or­ous cam­paign and strong sup­port from the Kennedy fam­ily. Shriver did tour the state to test his sup­port and then had a highly pub­li­cized meet­ing with Man­del in the gover­nor’s of­fice. I was part of a large me­dia con­tin­gent gath­ered out­side the door. When the meet­ing ended, Shriver was no longer con­sid­er­ing a run.

Last Oc­to­ber, I had the op­por­tu­nity to talk to Man­del, and I asked him what hap­pened in that meet­ing. He was his old, coy self, not re­ally giv­ing an an­swer. When I men­tioned his fi­nan­cial ad­van­tage over Shriver, he smiled but didn’t re­ally con­firm any­thing. He said, “ We had a long dis­cus­sion, and when it was over, he wasn’t a can­di­date.”

Nev­er­the­less, it is in­ter­est­ing to won­der what might have hap­pened had Shriver won in 1970. Most ob­vi­ous, there wouldn’t have been a cor­rup­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Man­del and the two long tri­als that fur­ther blighted Mary­land’s rep­u­ta­tion af­ter Agnew’s res­ig­na­tion from the vice pres­i­dency. And “Gover­nor” Shriver — now elected to prom­i­nent of­fice, not ap­pointed by Kennedy or John­son — would surely have been a more po­tent po­lit­i­cal fig­ure na­tion­ally.

If he had been re­elected gover­nor in 1974, he would have been a sea­soned can­di­date by 1976. Rather than los­ing in the pres­i­den­tial pri­maries to Jimmy Carter, who knows?

It is just spec­u­la­tion. What might have been? But it would be fas­ci­nat­ing to know what re­ally was said at that long-ago Shriver-Man­del meet­ing. The writer is a for­mer re­porter with WTTG-TV Fox 5 in the District.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

R. Sar­gent Shriver Jr. andMarv­inMan­del meet­ing in 1970.

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