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C. Fraser Smith: Judge Silver; well-loved ‘arranger’

The current transition in Maryland politics is the sort of opportunity Edgar Silver would have savored.

His Democratic Party lost big time in the recent election, to be sure.

But he would have been one of the go-to guys when it came to dealing with Gov.-elect Larry Hogan.

Edgar might have had an answer for the most popular post-election question:

“Who can get to Larry?”

Silver’s Republican Rolodex would have been less dog-eared than the Democratic one, but no one’s would have been better. And even if he had no good leads, he would have had plenty of advice for getting along with the new guy.

Silver, who died Tuesday at 91, was the ultimate “put-together” man in Maryland politics, the epic “arranger,” the conciliator political life always needs. Known as “The Judge” or simply Edgar, he was a bit of a throwback, a man who started out in the clubhouses of the big political bosses.

He was one of the most important and little-known men in Maryland political life for decades. Politics for him was that old standby: helping people.

Over time, he developed a legion of friends and a reputation: He was an honest broker.

Leaders don’t get along occasionally. You may have noticed. When former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke was struggling with the ever-cranky William Donald Schaefer, Edgar stepped in. In almost any situation, he could talk to both sides.

That talent makes government work — or gives it a chance — at the personal level.

Edgar had special credibility with the governor. He’d beaten Schaefer in a race for the House of Delegates in the 1950s.

“He was the only one who could look at Schaefer and say, ‘I beat you,’’’ said former state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell Sr. just before Thursday’s service at the Sol Levinson & Bros. Funeral Home on Reisterstown Road.

The “put-together man” had, in a sense, “made” Schaefer, to use the political term for arranging a job or assisting with a career. Silver did that by introducing Schaefer to Irv Kovens, the bank-rolling kingmaker of Baltimore. Edgar later talked Schaefer into running for governor — or liked to think he had.

The Judge famously liked everybody and never wanted anything from the (occasionally powerful) people he helped. They were all human beings. And they were all voters, one of his granddaughters said at his funeral. Plenty of laughter.

“He was a good man,” said Bromwell, “whether you were up or down.”

Of course, he made friends outside of politics as well. One of his rules, his granddaughter said, was if you have a problem, always go to the top. She called him one day to report a power outage. A few moments after the call, the head of Baltimore Gas and Electric was on the phone, asking if he could help. More laughs.

The Judge supplemented what he was born knowing with hours on the phone: counseling, trading information, staying in touch. If you had a problem in Maryland, you were well-advised to call Edgar. That’s what he wanted — to be called.

He enjoyed being in the middle of things — and making things work.

Frank DeFilippo, the political columnist who was press secretary for former Gov. Marvin Mandel, said Silver showed up in the statehouse regularly with instructions to Mandel from Kovens:

“‘Don needs a convention center. Don needs an aquarium. Don needs a subway.’ And Marvin would make it happen.”

When the late state Sen. John Coolahan was waiting to see if he’d get a judgeship, Edgar ran into a Schaefer emissary on his way to deliver the good news to Coolahan. Edgar, as the story goes, got on the phone immediately to break the news himself.

As a judge, Silver was occasionally in trouble with his superiors on the bench. Hadn’t he gotten a little too close with some of the political leaders? Wasn’t he spending a little too much time on politics?

Edgar was undeterred: The complaints were not so voluble, he said, when he was promoting pay increases for the judiciary.

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst at WYPR-FM. His column appears Fridays in the Daily Record. His email address is fsmith@wypr.org.