- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 24, 2006

The photographer who shot Maryland’s last six governors is retiring, and he’s got stories to tell.

“I’ve had a great career,” said Tom Darden, who since 1972 has photographed governors from Gov. Marvin Mandel to outgoing Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. “God has really been good to me.”

Mr. Darden, 62, has seen most of the big moments in Maryland political history in the past three decades, and he’s even been part of some. When President Clinton visited the State House in 2000, he stopped and complimented Mr. Darden on his tie.”And I want it,” the president told Mr. Darden, fingering the “save the rain forest” neckwear given to Mr. Darden by a girlfriend.

“When I wouldn’t give it to him, he said, ‘Yeah, but you don’t understand. I want it,’ ” said Mr. Darden, a lifelong Democrat. “He got mad … Bottom line, I wouldn’t give it to him. He was very arrogant about it.”

Mr. Darden tried to tell Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, where he could buy the same tie and give it to Mr. Clinton “to earn brownie points,” but Mr. Glendening “didn’t pick up on it.”

“He didn’t speak too much to his, so to speak, minions,” Mr. Darden said of Mr. Glendening, the least favorite of the six governors he photographed.

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican who lost his re-election bid in November, is Mr. Darden’s favorite. Mr. Mandel, a Democrat, is a close second.

“I don’t care about how a politician votes,” Mr. Darden said, during an interview in the recreational vehicle in which he will travel for three months, beginning in January.

“All I care about is how they treat people.”

“I truly do not believe there will ever be another governor in the history of Maryland who will believed [more] in people and wanted to get things done [more] without being nasty and being the guy in front, the showboat,” Mr. Darden said of Mr. Ehrlich.

Mr. Ehrlich would often stop to talk to tour groups at the State House without telling them he was the governor, Mr. Darden said.

Mr. Darden said Mr. Ehrlich was the only governor to ever ask for his opinion about an official matter. Riding back from an event at the City Market in Annapolis, Mr. Ehrlich said, “I don’t know, Tom, what do you think we should do?”

Mr. Darden said he didn’t think it was his place to say.

Now, however, he speaks his mind when the governor asks for his opinion.

Mr. Ehrlich laughed recently and told Mr. Darden that he was “brutally honest,” after Mr. Darden was quoted in a recent newspaper article about working for the Democratic Glendening administration.

“I was quoted as saying my eight years under Glendening was ‘hell.’ Yes it was, but not all because of Glendening,” Mr. Darden explained. “He had people under him who felt like they owned the government.”

Still, Mr. Glendening “didn’t want anybody to be recognized other than him” and loved to be on TV and in the newspapers, Mr. Darden said.

Once, at an event touting an anti-smoking campaign in raestaurants, Mr. Glendening berated Georges Benjamin, the state’s health secretary, because Mr. Benjamin’s name was above his on a “Smoking Stops Here” banner, Mr. Darden said.

Mr. Darden, born and raised in Annapolis, did contract photography for the state beginning in 1972. In 1983, he became a state employee.

Mr. Darden, now a twice-divorced father of one daughter with two grandchildren, graduated from Annapolis High School. His first work for the state came while he was a hot metals printer at the Annapolis Capital newspaper.

One of the Capital’s photographers, Lee Troutner, had gone to work for the state and began giving Mr. Darden extra assignments.

“I started hanging out with Lee, and it evolved from there,” Mr. Darden said.

Mr. Darden ranked Gov. William Donald Schaefer as a close third behind Mr. Ehrlich and Mr. Mandel.

“Until Ehrlich came along, I thought Schaefer was God’s gift to humanity,” he said. “Schaefer was the neatest man. He hated committees and studies, and his motto was ‘Do it now,’ and by God, he meant it.”

Mr. Darden ranked Democratic Govs. Harry R. Hughes, Democrat, and Gov. Blair Lee, Democrat, as his fourth- and fifth-favorite governors, ahead of Mr. Glendening.

Mr. Darden loved Mr. Mandel for his low-key but intense approach.

“His style was kick back, quiet, never raise his voice, but when he said something, you better do it, or you’re not around,” Mr. Darden said.

Mr. Darden’s favorite Mandel story was about his last day on the job, when he slipped out a secret door in his office to avoid reporters.

“I think it was kind of cute,” Mr. Darden said.

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