In June 2018, when Temple B’Nai Israel in Easton was dedicated, Maryland’s senior U.S. Senator, Ben Cardin, spoke. He told a funny story that might be applicable to Jewish houses of workshop—but probably more universal.
Cardin was a young and successful state delegate when he attended with his father, a Baltimore judge, a tense meeting of the membership of their synagogue. As the discussion became heated, the young Cardin told his wise father that he was going to stand up to seek resolution of the conflict. His father immediately told him to stifle his conciliatory impulse, saying “This is much more difficult than disputes in the Maryland House of Delegates. “
Ben listened to his dad.
Sen. Cardin then suggested at the brand-new sanctuary, “I’m sure that no such discussions happened at B’Nai Israel.” The comment drew knowing laughter.
The youngest person at age 36 to become Maryland Speaker of the House, Cardin announced his resignation three weeks ago from the U.S. Senate after 58 years of public service. Now 79, he will not run for re-election in 2024. Maryland will lose a true, squeaky -clean and intelligent politician who rarely sought publicity.
My family has known and liked him for nearly six decades. He is one of the best in our nation’s capital, as he was in Annapolis.
I recall that when he was the House Speaker in Annapolis, he was incredibly effective. Gov. Harry Hughes was willing to leave policymaking to the General Assembly. Cardin picked up the gauntlet and acted aggressively on property tax system, the educational funding formula and higher ethical standards.
Exceedingly difficult issues.
What caught my attention was Cardin’s inclination to punish Democratic legislators whose votes he needed at critical moments but were not delivered. Though not much discussed, punishment is commonplace in legislations, as renegade legislators find themselves moved to committees that may not have been to their liking.
Independence has a cost in politics. Ironically, Cardin took positions in Congress opposed by Democratic administrations, without suffering any political damage. He understood well the intricacies of foreign policy issues.
Cardin’s toughness was disguised by his savvy political instincts, his outstanding constituent service and his civility. His staff has always been outstanding. Turnover has been minimal.
Some years ago, I wrote him a letter critical of his vote against the Iranian Nuclear Treaty negotiated by the Obama Administration. In my opinion, he catered to his Jewish constituents and donors by opposing a landmark foreign policy initiative that I thought was necessary to add a smidgeon of calm in the explosive Mideast.
My letter was a bit snippy. In response, he wrote me a personal letter that fully explained his position. His foreign policy credentials were impeccable.
Known for being serious and cerebral, Cardin has a pleasing sense of humor, as I noted earlier in this essay. At a fundraiser some years ago in Talbot County hosted by a couple he knew and liked, Cardin referred kiddingly to conversations with these loyal, generous Democrats, ones in which the couple rarely agreed. He earned some laughs.
As opposed to focusing on Ben Cardin’s legislative expertise, something justifiably touted in post-retirement announcements, I have opted to provide personal insights into a wonderfully decent person and well-respected public servant. We can easily ignore the human side of politicians often viewed solely on the political stage.
Cardin’s departure leaves a much sought-after position in Maryland politics. Several Democrats have expressed interest in succeeding Sen. Cardin. I have no choice at the moment. I will seek more than raw ambition and unrealistic promises.
Cardin has 20 months left to serve in the U.S. Senate. While abandoning any worry about re-election fundraising and constant campaigning, he will continue to support Marylanders in his resolute, rational and wise manner.
In his announcement, he opined there was more to life than politics. He’s right. And sensible, as usual.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. After 44 years in Easton, Howard and his wife, Liz, moved in November 2020 to Annapolis, where they live with Toby, a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel who has no regal bearing, just a mellow, enticing disposition.