The political life of Spiro Theodore "Ted" Agnew, who was swept into office in 1968 as Richard Nixon's vice president, ended five years later after pleading no contest to a charge of federal income tax evasion. Agnew was born in Baltimore and graduated from Forest Park High School. He began his college studies in 1937 at Johns Hopkins University, and later left to study law at the University of Baltimore. During World War II, he served with the 10th Armored Division in Europe, earning a Bronze Star, Combat Infantryman's Badge and four battle stars. After the war, he returned to Baltimore and finished his law studies. He established a law practice in Towson and even though he was a Republican, was appointed chairman of the Baltimore County Board of (zoning) Appeals, and "acquired a reputation of honesty in a job fraught with opportunities to accept bribes," reported The Sun at his death in 1996. Elected Baltimore County executive in 1962, Agnew, who was described as Republican liberal, supported the struggle for civil rights and public accommodation. With the support of blacks and liberals, Agnew was easily elected governor over his Democratic conservative opponent George Mahoney, in 1966. An open housing law, a state income tax on a graduated (rather than a flat) scale, water pollution control program, and the state acquisition of Friendship Airport, were some of the achievements of the Agnew years. African-Americans who had supported Agnew in the past were shocked after Bowie State College students staged a sit-in in 1967 at the State House, and he retaliated by refusing to meet with them and closing the college. The support totally evaporated after the 1968 murder of Martin Luther King Jr. and the subsequent riots that swept Baltimore, when Agnew sternly lectured and berated black leaders. Known as a strong law-and-order candidate which brought him to the attention of Richard M. Nixon, he was elected vice president in 1968. He resigned from the governor's office in 1969, before a special session of the state legislature, before taking up his vice presidential duties in Washington. Agnew stood before a federal judge in Baltimore on Oct. 10, 1973, and uttered the statement for which he has become known for the legal expression of "nolo contendere" or "no contest," to charges of income tax evasion, while he was governor. When his white marble bust was unveiled in 1995 in the Capitol in Washington, he said, "I am not blind or deaf to the fact that some people feel that this is a ceremony that should not take place." Agnew, who died in 1996, is buried in Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium.
Photo by Weyman D. Swagger
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