Cardin, Benjamin Louis

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CARDIN, BENJAMIN LOUIS (1942– ), U.S. congressman. Cardin was born in Baltimore. His father, Meyer Cardin, served as a Baltimore city judge for more than 40 years. The Kardinskys had come to the United States from Lithuania in 1902. His uncle Jack, the first attorney in the family, received his law degree in 1918. That year he legally changed the family name to Cardin. Ben Cardin grew up in Baltimore's Lake Ashburton area, where his parents maintained an observant, kosher home. The Cardins belonged to an Orthodox synagogue, where Meyer served as both president and chairman of the board.

Following his graduation from public high school, Ben Cardin entered the University of Pittsburgh, where he majored in political science. He received his B.A., cum laude, in 1964, and immediately entered the University of Maryland School of Law. In 1966, a full year before receiving his law degree, the 23-year-old Cardin was elected to represent a suburban Baltimore district in the Maryland House of Delegates. To the people of his district Cardin's election was not a total surprise; the seat had previously been held by his uncle. In 1979, at age 35, he became the youngest speaker in the history of the Maryland House. As speaker, Cardin was recognized for his decency, fair-mindedness, and political instincts.

Cardin then set his sights on a seat in the United States House of Representatives. Running as a Democrat in an open primary in Maryland's Third District, Cardin swamped his closest opponent, garnering 82% of the vote. In the House, Cardin received assignments on Judiciary and Public Works. During his first term he compiled a solidly liberal voting record, and took pains to speak out about the plight of individual Soviet Jewish refuseniks. Working quietly behind the scenes with the party leadership, Cardin was rewarded with a seat on Ways and Means Committee at the beginning of the 102nd Congress. He was concomitantly appointed to the House Committee on Official Conduct – Ethics. After the Republicans gained majority control of the House following the 1994 elections, Cardin's Democratic colleagues chose him to oversee the logistics of moving the party from majority to minority status. The editors of the well-respected Almanac of American Politics said that Cardin, "perhaps more than any Democrat in the House… has worked skillfully on bipartisan legislation at a time when few were sufficiently clever or independent to pursue such initiatives."

The Cardins belonged to Beth T'filoh, an Orthodox congregation in Baltimore.


K.F. Stone: The Congressional Minyan: The Jews of Capitol Hill (2000), 51–54.

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Cardin, Benjamin Louis

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