Maryland’s antique State House has always been a sweatbox of steamy romance but there hasn’t been a reported case of groping, sexual misconduct, overly aggressive harassment or guys behaving like, well, guys. At least not yet, as there has been in 20 states since the wholesale unmasking of predators began. And yet the timeless art of seduction has transfixed Maryland voters with streamers of gossipy headlines and, in a least a couple of cases, happily-ever-afters and no doubts about who-did-what-to-whom.
Sex rears its ugly but pleasurable head in mysterious ways. In one fantastical case, cupid’s arrow struck in the Senate gallery, then again on an Annapolis sidewalk. In another, across a conference table and on out-of-state trips. The first was a long-haul, not-so-secret sidebar romance that led to a very public divorce and remarriage. The second was an ooops!—what Shakespeare called a “plight troth”—or, in modern English, a shotgun wedding.
Still another conveyed an air of distant acquaintance. A friend of many years was installed as official hostess—“First Friend,” in the realm of the era—and a kitschy fountain was built and dedicated in her name. And yet another toothsome rumor involved an alleged dalliance with a prominent television reporter but was never proven because it wasn’t true. The person being entertained was eye-witnessed as another but of equally undisputed prominence. And as no outcries followed—and many live on only in the cobwebs of history—the assumption is that the frolics, to whatever degree, were consensual.
The press room, two floors below and tucked in a basement corner, was as buttoned-up as an anonymous source, as it should’ve been. What happened there—and it was plenty—stayed within its politically plastered walls, except for a braggart or two who needed social reinforcement. Newsrooms, and press rooms, are full of sassy women and horndog men, and being vamped is part of the enduring mating game as well as the deadline dash.
“Since the beginning of time,” the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer observed, “All of man’s activity has been directed at a point centrally located between a woman’s navel and her knees.”
So, the presiding officers of the Maryland General Assembly have been taking no chances, or at least doing their best to avoid similar embarrassment of a reported 40 male lawmakers in 20 other states being outed in the last year for preying on women around them. In Maryland, lawmakers are required to attend seminars at least once every four years, the full elective cycle, on proper behavior toward the opposite sex.
The suspicion, the activity, the heightened awareness, all follows an almost daily rollout of names whose recent acceleration began back in 2016 when Anthony Weiner contaminated his own and Hillary Clinton’s campaigns, and President Trump debased his own with the unexpected leak of a revealing tape. Trump began with references to “short fingers,” supposedly a measure of a man’s member, and wound up being accused of sexual harassment by 13 women, including the well-documented Access Hollywood tape. And, of course, the lothario model for in flagrante delicto in the White House was President Bill Clinton, who escaped impeachment but not embarrassment in the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
The trail of names follows like a continuous loop—Charlie Rose, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), Glen Thrush, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Kevin Spacey, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), Roy Moore, Harvey Weinstein, Mark Halperin, Michael Oreskes, Louis CK, Oliver Stone, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), to mention a recent few. The elected officials were preceded by Sen. Robert Packwood (R-OR), who was driven from office in 1995 on charges of sexual harassment. And before that, Rep. Wilbur Mills (D-AR), who, in a vodka-soaked stupor, was caught cavorting in a Washington fountain with an Argentine firecracker named Fanny Foxe.
A former Maryland legislator and an arch-conservative Eastern Shoreman, Robert Bauman, was defeated for reelection to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1980 when it was revealed during the campaign that he had been charged with soliciting sex from a 16-year-old male prostitute.
The grope and grab accusations are not confined to politics and Hollywood. Even academia is no longer stuffy and staid. More than 400 professors from around the world are urging students to avoid applying to the University of Rochester because the university failed to protect its students against the roving hands and advances of one of its professors, according to reports.
The top of the column refers, of course, to a couple of Maryland governors who defied the conventions of their times. The first was Marvin Mandel (1969-2008), historically, Maryland’s first Jewish governor (how quaint that sounds now) who announced that he was leaving his wife of 32 years to marry a blonde divorcee, Jeanne Blackistone [sic] Dorsey, of St. Mary’s County, mother of four and 18 years his junior. They had been longing and loving in the shadows for nine years before that July, 1973 announcement, a daring display a year before an election. They married little more than a year later, in August, 1974, barely three months before the primary. Mandel won reelection easily.
A second divorce and remarriage involved Gov. Parris Glendening (1994-2002). Glendening didn’t have to travel very far, as did Mandel. Glendening’s inamorata was a junior member of his staff who, through the affair, advanced rapidly to deputy chief of staff. Jennifer Crawford discovered that she was pregnant without benefit of clergy. So, a hasty divorce and quickie marriage occurred in January, 2002, which was followed by an announcement in March that a child was expected. Baby Gabrielle was born on August 18, 2002. At the time of the marriage, Glendening was 59, Crawford was 35.
Rumors trailed Gov. Martin O’Malley like tin cans tied to a dog’s tail. They were fed, in part, by a remark from his wife, Katie, during an interview with The Washington Post and intensified by O’Malley’s frequent appearances in a muscle shirt with his Celtic rock band, “O’Malley’s March.” He was forced, finally, to issue a statement dismissing the rumors and attesting his fidelity to his wife.
Rumors and allegations, true or false, have persisted back over at least six decades of memory circuits, covering nearly every governor who’s held the office and many prominent lawmakers and support staff who populated the State House. Interestingly, Spiro T. Agnew was the exception. The best recollection is that there was never a suggestion of sexual misadventure during Agnew’s abbreviated term (1967-69) as governor, though other misdeeds that occurred during his Annapolis years eventually drove him from the vice presidency.
Change has been swift and unforgiving, the awakening a revelation. Women are no longer terrified of losing their jobs or of the social stain of an invisible scarlet letter. There are cave men—and they include some very big, now toppled names, including Trump—who believe the rules of engagement have abruptly changed, or that lapsed time is not a legitimate accusatory finger, or that a cash settlement or escape into treatment automatically erases and forgives predatory acts. But insensitive boors and shameless vulgarians have never been tolerable. Their behavior is now out in the open, and that’s what’s changed.