George P. Mahoney

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Maryland Ahead by (Clarence) Miles

After Clarence Miles died on October 8, 1977, the Baltimore Sun described him as “an urbane man who never forgot the value of good common sense. And he applied both traits with rich results for the city and the state.”[1]Miles has long been an overlooked figure in Maryland history, primarily overshadowed by the passage of time and such larger-than-life contemporaries like Thomas D’Alesandro, Jr., Theodore R. McKeldin, George P. Mahoney, and William Donald Schaefer. Yet, Miles’ contributions played a significant role in charting the course Maryland took during the last half of the twentieth century.

Graduating from the University of Maryland School of Law in 1920, and being admitted to the state bar, Miles quickly made a name for himself within prominent Democratic political circles. He first gained prominence during the telephone rates case of 1924. At the time, the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company sought to increase rates by eight percent, prompting statewide protests from individual counties. Miles, then serving as the City Solicitor for Salisbury, argued on behalf of Caroline, Dorchester, Somerset, Wicomico, and Worcester counties before the Public Service Commission.[2] Governor Albert Ritchie singled out Miles’ efforts in the telephone rates case, and named him People’s Counsel to the Public Service Commission. Beginning on January 1, 1925, Miles served as People’s Counsel for fifteen months, resigning in March 1926.  The Baltimore Sun praised Miles for his industry and energy, “showing purpose and demonstrating ability to protect the public interests.”[3]

Clarence Miles (left front) with Richard Nixon and Governor Theodore McKeldin, 1954. SVF Sports Baseball Orioles vs. White Sox, 1954.

Ironically, in a career that demonstrated such early promise, the People’s Counsel would be the last public office Miles held in a long, storied career. Miles’ stature within the Democratic Party grew during the 1930s and 1940s. So much so, the Baltimore Sun considered him a powerful figure within the party, known for facilitating harmony between the state party’s divergent wings. However, by the early-1950s, Miles’ stature within the party weakened. He lost favor within the party for his support of Dwight D. Eisenhower during the 1952 presidential election. In supporting Eisenhower, Miles became viewed as a “prime mover” in an inter-party rebellion that witnessed forty-seven prominent Maryland Democrats throwing their support for the Republican nominee. Four years later, however, Miles publicly supported the Democratic nominee Adlai Stevenson, accepting the chairmanship of the Volunteers for Stevenson and Kefauver campaign in Maryland.[4]The damage was nonetheless done.

Clarence W. Miles with Orioles Jim McDonald and Harry Byrd, 1955. Photo taken from the book Eight Busy Decades: the Life and Times of Clarence W. Miles (page 40) edited by Jacques Kelly.

Yet, one of Miles’ major accomplishments came outside the political realm. He worked closely with Mayor Thomas D’Alesandro, Jr. and local financiers to bring the St. Louis Browns to Baltimore. In September 1953, with Baltimore holding slim hopes of landing the Browns, Miles offered to purchase eighty percent of the team’s stock, costing a total of approximately $2,450,000. The money Miles produced proved influential in helping Baltimore secure a Major League Baseball team.[5] As a result, Miles became the Orioles first team president. His tenure, however, proved less successful. With the Orioles performing poorly during the 1954 and 1955 seasons, Miles leadership style facilitated resentment from members of the Board of Directors, especially given the organization’s free-spending ways in acquiring young talent. The Board ultimately squeezed Miles out as team president in November 1955.[6]

Miles experience with the Orioles paved the way for his most memorable role: member of the Greater Baltimore Committee (G.B.C.). As people and businesses left Baltimore in the post-war period, revitalization became viewed as the remedy for the city’s decay. The Commission on Government Efficiency and Economy called for the extension of “blight-correction activities” into the city’s core.[7] However, without a coherent policy, most plans failed. By January 1955, members of Baltimore’s business community formed the G.B.C., whereby members would work with municipal agencies to facilitate “prompt and aggressive action” to correct city problems.[8] Miles not only served as one of the organization’s founders, but he also served as the organization’s first chairman. Through Miles’ efforts, the G.B.C. helped “prepare Baltimore for a downtown renaissance,” especially through the development of One Charles Center as a building block of revitalization.[9]

Eight Busy Decades: the Life and Times of Clarence W. Miles available at the H. Furlong Baldwin Library at MdHS.

Miles efforts not only served to benefit Baltimore, but also his native Eastern Shore. In November 1963, Miles, with New York’s Steuben Glass Company President Arthur A. Houghton, Jr., formed the Wye Institute. The institute stood as a non-profit organization designed “to help guide the economic, cultural and educational growth of the once-isolated Eastern Shore.”[10] Miles served as the Wye Institute’s first president, overseeing a rocky beginning which included a quickly prepared survey that sharply criticized the region’s business and civic leaders for their inability to communicate and work together for the general good. As a result, Eastern Shore leaders grew disenchanted with the Wye Institute.[11] Miles’ tenure, however, paved the way for an educational summer camp designed to broaden the cultural and educational horizons of the Eastern Shore’s youth.[12]Over time, the Wye Institute played a pivotal role in working with business and civic leaders in the development of the Eastern Shore, integrating the region with the rest of the state.

By September 1965, Miles left his position as president of the Wye Institute to focus on his campaign for governor. He had hinted at the prospect of running months earlier, prompting the Baltimore Sun to comment that, “[w]ith his family roots in the Eastern Shore, his law office in Baltimore and the General Assembly his sometimes area of activity [as a lobbyist], his qualifications for a general approach to State issues couldn’t be more promising.”[13] Miles became the first Democrat to enter the gubernatorial race in September 1965. With “Maryland Ahead By Miles” as the campaign slogan, Miles advocated for a limited form of open housing legislation, while also supporting reform to the state’s tax code, constitution, and horse racing industry. Miles finished fourth in the Democratic primary, but made his presence felt. Being from the Eastern Shore, Miles cut into front-runner Thomas B. Finan’s base of support in the region, enabling George P. Mahoney to capture the nomination through his anti-open housing slogan, “Your Home is Your Castle – Protect It.” Miles ultimately endorsed Spiro T. Agnew, who defeated Mahoney in the general election.[14]

Click on the play button below to hear a clip from a 1976 interview with Miles discussing the 1966 campaign.

Miles continued to work actively to benefit Maryland during his later years. While contemplating to run for governor, Miles served as a statewide chairman to the State Constitutional Convention Commission, which sought to modernize Maryland’s constitution. Governor Agnew later appointed Miles as chairman of the Maryland Gambling Commission. As chairman, Miles worked to develop a comprehensive plan to reorganize Maryland horse racing. The reorganization, known as the Miles Plan, went unadopted.[15] However, Miles’ significance cannot be seen through the lens of a failed gubernatorial campaign or an unadopted horse racing measure. Miles’ significance can be seen through his efforts in bringing baseball to Baltimore, not to mention his efforts in laying the foundation for revitalizing Baltimore and the Eastern Shore. Through his oral history interview recorded in 1976, listeners will be able to hear Miles express his thoughts on events and organizations that shaped Maryland during the twentieth century. Events and organizations which he held considerable influence. In the process, listeners will gain a rich perspective from an influential, though overlooked, figure in Maryland history. (Richard Hardesty)

Richard Hardesty is currently a doctoral student at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. In the summer of 2009, his article, “‘[A] veil of voodoo’: George P. Mahoney, Open Housing, and the 1966 Governor’s Race” appeared in the Maryland Historical Magazine. Richard’s current research examines the role the Orioles played in shaping Baltimore’s urban renewal and identity.


[1] “Clarence Miles, GBC founder, dies at 80,” Baltimore Sun (Baltimore): October 9, 1977; “Clarence W. Miles,” Baltimore Sun, October 11, 1977.

[2] In explaining the need to increase rates, Chesapeake and Potomac President A. E. Berry noted, “[t]he growth of Baltimore has forced heavy burdens upon our company and plant. For example, the number of telephones in Maryland has increased from 122,512 in 1919 to 159,722 in 1923. By 1928, we figure that there will be 206,764 telephones in the State.” Berry noted that, in order to prevent a curtail in service to a growing clientele, the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company had to increase its rates by eight percent. “Three Utilities Likely to Seek Raise in Rates,” Baltimore Sun, March 29, 1924;  “Will Join Forces Today In Fight On Phone Rates,” Baltimore Sun, July 23, 1924; “To Resume Hearing in Phone Case Today,” Baltimore Sun, October 21, 1924.

[3] “C. W. Miles Gets P. S. C. Place to Succeed Maloy,” Baltimore Sun, December 27, 1924; “T. J. Tingley Named People’s Counsel,” Baltimore Sun, March 17, 1926; “People’s Counsel,” Baltimore Sun, March 18, 1926.

[4] Charles G. Whiteford, “Democrats Again Plan To Back Ike,” Baltimore Sun, September 23, 1955; “Clarence Miles, GBC founder, dies at 80,” Baltimore Sun, October 9, 1977.

[5] Historian James Edward Miller speculated that Miles had been motivated by his political ambitions. As Miller noted, “Miles had long-term ambitions to run for political office and recognized that the prestige acquired by bringing a major league team to Baltimore would aid his eventual bid.” Miles never revealed his intentions for bringing baseball to Baltimore. Not only did Miles lose most of his records in a house fire during the early-1970s, but his memoir did little to reveal his true intentions. However, Miller’s analysis had merit, especially in light of Miles’ support of Eisenhower in 1952. James Edward Miller, The Baseball Business: Pursuing Pennants & Profits in Baltimore (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1990), 32; Jesse A. Linthicum, “Miles Offers To Buy 80% Of Browns Stock,” Baltimore Sun, September 29, 1953.

[6] The organization spent $700,000 on acquiring young talent during the Orioles first two years in Baltimore, only to have the team finish in seventh place both seasons. As a result, the Board sought to move in a new direction, pushing Miles out in the process. Miles, for his part, publicly cited his obligation to his law practice as the reason for resigning. “Miles Resigns Post as Orioles’ President Amid Atmosphere of Dissension,” New York Times (New York): November 8, 1955; “Miles Quits Board Job With Orioles,” The Washington Post (Washington): November 17, 1955; Lou Hatter, “Miles Leaves Oriole Board; Others Remain,” Baltimore Sun, November 17, 1955; Miller, The Baseball Business: Pursuing Pennants & Profits in Baltimore, 47-8.

[7] The Commission reported that only four of Baltimore’s twenty-eight wards gained tax revenues from 1925 to 1950, while seven wards lost tax revenue.  The remaining seventeen wards did not gain or lose its tax money.  As Miles noted, “[p]rojecting those trends into the future, the report concluded that the city would reach a turning point in which the growth in new development could not match the deterioration in the value and assessment of the older properties.” Clarence W. Miles, Eight Busy Decades: The Life and Times of Clarence W. Miles, ed. Jacques Kelly (Queenstown, Maryland: White Bank, 1986), 57; “City Slums Increasing, Report Says,” Baltimore Sun, November 16, 1952.

[8] Miles, Eight Busy Decades: The Life and Times of Clarence W. Miles, ed. Kelly, 58-61; “83 Leaders Form City ‘Action’ Unit,” Baltimore Sun, January 6, 1955.

[9] “Clarence W. Miles,” Baltimore Sun, October 11, 1977.

[10] Douglas D. Connah, Jr., “Shore Soon To Get Help,” Baltimore Sun, April 28, 1964.

[11] “Study Is Critical Of Eastern Shore,” New York Times, October 25, 1964; “Advice Disturbs Maryland Shore,” New York Times, February 14, 1965.

[12] “Wye Camp Dedicated,” Baltimore Sun. May 29, 1966.

[13] “While We Wait,” Baltimore Sun, June 29, 1965.

[14] Governor Harry Hughes noted in his autobiography that Miles’ candidacy played a pivotal role in preventing Finan from obtaining the Democratic nomination. In running for governor, Miles took votes away from Finan, enough to ensure that he finished third behind Mahoney and Representative Carlton R. Sickles. Without Miles’ candidacy, Finan would have received enough votes to overtake both Sickles and Mahoney. Miles’ candidacy did shape the outcome of the Democratic primary, but, in a race where Mahoney won by 1,939 votes, Miles’ candidacy did not represent the only reason behind Mahoney’s victory. Despite being viewed as a perennial loser, Mahoney had been a noted vote-getter, though his popularity had started to wane by the early-1960s. His candidacy, though, was not simply aided by Miles, but also by Finan and Sickles themselves. As the two front-runners, Finan and Sickles spent so much time going after each other that they overlooked Mahoney, allowing him to fly under the radar during the primary. Mahoney also benefitted from divisions amongst the state’s civil rights leadership, as they either supported Finan or Sickles. Lastly, Mahoney benefitted from Sickels poor showing in his home jurisdiction of Prince George’s County. Opponents attacked Sickles’ stance on open housing, to the point where some linked Sickles to the issue of busing. While Sickles ultimately carried Prince George’s County, he did so by a narrow margin, hindering his chances for the nomination. See also, Richard Hardesty, “‘[A] veil of voodoo’: George P. Mahoney, Open Housing, and the 1966 Governor’s Race,” Maryland Historical Magazine 104 (Summer 2009): 145-184; Harry Roe Hughes and John W. Frece, My Unexpected Journey: The Autobiography of Governor Harry Roe Hughes (Charleston: The History Press, 2006); Whiteford, “Miles Asks Free Homeowner Sale,” Baltimore Sun, May 18, 1966.

[15]  “Clarence Miles, GBC founder, dies at 80,” Baltimore Sun, October 9, 1977.

Election Recollection: All Politics is Weird

This week, with the final Obama-Romney debate bearing down on us, we thought it would be fun to take a look at some of the more bizarre political and election-related items in our holdings. In doing so we set our sights on Maryland’s own Spiro Agnew, the Nixon administration, and the many products Agnew’s likeness and political legacy inspired, as reflected in our collections. Please note that we are leaving the library collections this time out, with the exception of one item, and venturing into MdHS’s museum collection to explore these curious pieces of political and material culture.

Baltimore County native Spiro T. Agnew (1918-1996) began his political life as a Democrat but then switched parties when he discovered few opportunities for advancement. He was elected Baltimore County Executive in 1962 and Governor of Maryland (R) in 1966. Agnew’s legacy as Governor will be remembered by many Marylanders for his excoriation of African-American leaders in the aftermath of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. Others may remember him for his higher profile exploits later in his career.

Spiro Agnew watch by Dirty Time Company, MdHS, 2007.8.2.

The Spiro Agnew wristwatch pictured here was purchased at Hutzler’s department store on November 5, 1970. According to the receipt, it cost $20.75—not a small chunk of change. According to the Inflation Calculator this is roughly the equivalent of $123.00 dollars today. (Currently, original Agnew watches go for $50-100 on eBay.)

The Agnew wristwatch reflects a nationwide trend in the 1960s and ’70s to popularize political figures in a variety of media.  Agnew’s selection as the VP candidate by Richard Nixon and election victory in 1968 made him a national figure and subsequently tied him to the most infamous administration in U.S. history. Entrepreneurs wasted no time capitalizing on both men’s likeness from the moment they took office. The first Spiro Agnew watch was designed by Dr. Hale E. Dougherty’s Dirty Time Company ca. 1970 and by July of that year at least 50,000 were on order at department stores across the nation.

At least two other manufactures of the Agnew watch went into production in 1970. The watch became wildly popular. According to vintage wristwatch blog HODINKEE, Elizabeth Taylor, John Lennon, and Republican and Democratic Congress-members owned Agnew watches. “Dougherty even sent an early watch to Agnew who wrote back that the watch was ‘both attractive and clever,’ before later changing his tune and threatening legal action over the use of his likeness and invasion of his privacy,” reports HODINKEE blogger Eric Wind. Dougherty was the only manufacturer not to comply with the Vice President’s demand to donate a portion of the profits from the watch to “Agnew-designated charities.” The physician refused on the grounds that the watch was a sort of political cartoon and complying with the demand would set a dangerous precedent for artistic freedom of expression.**

Swiss Made Dirty Time Company’s Spiro Agnew watch, MdHS, 2007.8.2.

A complicated moderate not afraid to change his position, Agnew supported Maryland’s first open housing laws, helped repeal its anti-miscegenation law, stood as an alternative to state Democrats wishing to distance themselves from the racist sloganeering used by his ’66 gubernatorial election rival, Baltimore contractor-turned-politician George “Your home is your castle” Mahoney, and was an outspoken critic of antiwar demonstrators. Despite all that, by the early 1970s Agnew literally became a joke. The Baltimore Sun reported that a popular joke in 1970 went, “Did you know that Mickey Mouse wears a Spiro Agnew watch?” Forced from office by accusations of extortion, tax fraud, bribery and conspiracy, he was the first Vice President to resign from office.**

Along with the watch also came the T-shirt of the wristwatch. Why, you may wonder, would a wristwatch need its own shirt? Because T-shirts were the internet memes of the 1970s and ’80s.

T-Shirts were the internet memes of the 1970s. Spiro Agnew T-Shirt. 1970, MdHS, 2007.8.1.

Another variation of the Agnew wristwatch was the Agnew alarm clock. According to our provenance records, this clock was designed and illustrated by Baltimore attorney Zelig Robinson, who appears to be one of the other two manufactures of the Agnew watch. Robinson can be seen in an AP Wireservice photo from July 16, 1970 standing next to his wife and the Vice President who is proudly wearing the watch made in his own image. The photo’s caption notes that Robinson was able to meet with the VP because he—unlike Dougherty—was willing to pony up 25 percent of the proceeds to a charity of Agnew’s choice.

The Spiro Agnew Alarm Clock, 1970, MdHS, 1986.86. Made by Sheffield Watch Co. and illustrated by Zelig Robinson.

Finally, we have this little gem from MdHS’s ephemera collection. One could not have purchased any of the above items at any store we know of and been given this bag to tote away their collectibles, but here it is, and nonetheless it exists: the Democrats for Nixon tote bag. This bit of propaganda was aimed at siphoning votes away from Senator George McGovern (D – South Dakota), who unlike his ’72 election rival Nixon did not keep his plans for ending the Vietnam War a secret.

McGovern ran on a platform promising withdrawal from Vietnam, amnesty for draft evaders, and a 37 percent reduction in military spending over the next three years. It’s worth pointing out that two thirds of his platform came to fruition within the next five years. (George McGovern passed away as this post was being prepared on the morning of October 21, 2012. R.I.P. Sen. McGovern.) The video that follows the bag provides some more context behind the concept of Dems for Nixon. The toy soldier and secret plan jokes practically write themselves. (Joe Tropea)

Democrats for Nixon bag, Ephemera Collection, Box R4, 1930-1979, MdHS.

Democrats for Nixon TV ad ca.1972

Notes:

*”2 of 3 Spiro Wristwatches Windup with His Approval,” The Baltimore Sun, July 17, 1970: p.C11. http://www.hodinkee.com/2010/8/3/the-spiro-agnew-watch-a-gag-that-united-elizabeth-taylor-joh.html

**”Spiro Agnew Watches,” The Baltimore Sun, July 12, 1970: p.SD15.

Further reading: 

White Knight: The Rise of Spiro Agnew, Jules Witcover, Random House, 1972.

“Spiro T. Agnew and Middle Ground Politics,” Justin P. Coffey, Maryland Historical Magazine, Vol. 98, No. 4, Winter 2003.

“Spirogate: The Washington Post and the Rise and Fall of Spiro Agnew,” Charles J. Holden and Zach Messitte, Vol. 102, No. 3, Fall 2007.

“‘A Veil of Voodoo’: George P. Mahoney, Open Housing, and the 1966 Governor’s Race,” Richard Hardesty, Maryland Historical Magazine, Vol. 104, No. 2, Summer 2009.