By Barry Rascovar
Nov. 11, 2014–For well over half a century, Edgar P. Silver was the “unsung hero” of Maryland politics. Few in the public knew the name, but the politicos sure did.
consigliere to elected leaders. Trusted adviser to politicians — left, right and center. A judge’s judge. A friend to the end.
Known simply as “The Judge” to his legion of acquaintances, Silver, died today at the age of 91.
He mastered two long-forgotten arts — schmoozing and working the phones.
Silver’s Rolodex contained just about every important Maryland politician’s personal phone number. His days were spent with a phone to his ear and nary a stitch of paper on his desk.
Wealth of Knowledge
Politicians loved Edgar Silver, with good reason.
He was a fount of valuable advice and political know-how. You could confide in him your worst secrets knowing he’d keep it private. He would listen, commiserate and then offer comforting, practical guidance.
You could trust “The Judge.” He had rock-solid integrity. He respected your viewpoint. All he wanted to do was help you succeed.
He grew up poor near Druid Hill Park, his mother from Russia, his tailor father from Austria. Eighty years later he still recalled the anguish of accompanying his mother in the dark Depression days to a bank on Pennsylvania Avenue that held the family’s life savings — only to discover the bank could only pay out 10 cents on the dollar.
Young Edgar ran errands for folks on Eden Street. He made himself available to help neighbors in need. He liked people, and politicians. He started manning the polls at 15.
No wonder he won his first race for public office – defeating an unknown William Donald Schaefer. Three terms later, Silver was appointed to the bench (after he let reporters know he might run for the state Senate).
Silver’s Baltimore courtroom gained a reputation as the place where defendants got a fair shake, where they were treated kindly and respectfully. He’d even read the guilty parties that day’s menu at the City Jail so they’d know what to expect.
One time, he sentenced a robber to prison, then spotted the robber’s young brother. Silver had the lad sit on his lap while he explained what was going on. He didn’t want the child to think badly of judges or the criminal justice system.
What a guy.
Silver handled politicians the same way – with exquisite kindness and understanding. He knew how to use his extensive contacts to smooth over difficult situations, to play intermediary between officials, to offer solid advice.
Governors craved his insights. Senate President Mike Miller became a longtime family friend. Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski reveled in his sagacious suggestions. Elijah Cummings treated him almost like a second father.
On and on the list goes. Silver extended a helping hand and discerning suggestions to a wide range of friends – Peter Angelos, Lou Kousouris, Joe and Karin De Francis, Alan Rifkin, Judge Bob Steinberg, Judge Joe Murphy, and even occasionally to Cardinal William Keeler.
Civil Rights Champion
He also was the “unsung hero” of black lawyers seeking judgeships. Silver played a behind-the-scenes role in getting literally dozens of African Americans on the bench. Baltimore’s first black police commissioner got the job largely because of Silver’s intervention. He was a one-man civil rights movement.
When a young legislative aide to Schaefer, Alan Rifkin, started his own law firm, Silver agreed to assist – very briefly as a partner and then as “of counsel” Wise Man of what is now Rifkin, Weiner, Livingston, Levitan and Silver. He lent the firm credibility and integrity.
“The best is yet to come.”
That was Edgar Silver’s oft-repeated motto. He never looked on the dark side of a problem. He only saw brightness in people and in situations. And he knew how to laugh. He didn’t take anything too seriously for long.
He certainly played a big role in my life. After The Baltimore Sun cut its staff and offered me a buyout, I became a stateless person in search of a new career.
In stepped The Judge with suggestions and ideas. He and Rifkin gave me a desk and a computer while I figured out how to run a one-man communications/writing consulting firm.
Best of all, I got to chat at length each day with Edgar Silver, about politics and politicians and about life. This office dialogue went on for 12 years, and then continued with friendly lunches and phone conversations.
Once in a great while, an individual influences your life. His advice stays with you for eternity. It becomes a guiding light. Such was the case with Edgar Silver in my life – and in the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of others in Maryland.
What a difference he made.
Barry Rascovar’s blog is politicalmaryland.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.