Richard J. Cross III, a speechwriter for former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. who became a Republican renegade after leaving the State House, has died. He was 51.
Police said he was found dead Thursday afternoon in his home in the 1900 block of Thames St. in Fells Point. A spokesman for the state medical examiner’s office said Friday that the cause of death had not been determined. Police said there were no signs of foul play.
Mr. Cross’ sister, Gina Cross, said friends noticed that he hadn’t been posting on Facebook or showing up at a favorite restaurant, which raised concerns. Building managers checked his apartment.
Raised in Towson and Timonium, Mr. Cross attended St. Paul’s School and the Johns Hopkins University.
Ms. Cross said that from an early age, her brother loved to read, write and follow politics. She said that as early as middle school, he loved to watch returns come in on election night.
He became a Republican stalwart who worked in the congressional offices of Mr. Ehrlich and Helen Delich Bentley during the 1980s and 1990s. He was Mr. Ehrlich's congressional press secretary from 1995 to 1998.
Mr. Cross later worked as communications director for the Downtown Partnership before going to work at the State House after Mr. Ehrlich was elected governor in 2002. He stayed through the four years of the administration but later became critical of Mr. Ehrlich, writing that the former governor’s failed 2010 run against Gov. Martin O’Malley was “the most poorly conceived and executed campaign for governor of Maryland in recent memory.”
“Richard was a good writer and played an important role in the Ehrlich administration,” the former governor said in a statement. “Richard had a very quirky personality but will be missed.”
Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican who worked with Mr. Cross in the Ehrlich administration, released a statement: “As a former colleague, I am very sad to hear of Richard’s passing. The First Lady and I send our prayers and condolences to his loved ones.”
The politician Mr. Cross was closest to over the years was Mrs. Bentley, the gruff five-term congresswoman from Baltimore County and godmother of the Port of Baltimore. He joined her staff as an intern in 1986, and was later promoted to writer and press aide. He left her staff in 1989 but remained her friend until her death in 2016.
Michael Kosmas, who worked for Mrs. Bentley and eventually became her chief of staff, said that when Mr. Cross came to work for her, Mrs. Bentley quickly spotted his writing ability.
“Helen knew right away that he was extremely gifted and painfully shy,” Mr. Kosmas said. He said Mr. Cross had a “great, dry sense of humor” but showed it only in writing. Mr. Kosmas said Mrs. Bentley made it her mission to bring Mr. Cross out of his shell and “did a great job of that.”
“Helen Bentley’s having a hell of a speech written for her right now,” said Mark Newgent, a longtime friend of Mr. Cross who now works for Mr. Hogan as liaison to the Board of Public Works.
“He came of age when [Ronald] Reagan was president, and he was a huge fan of Richard Nixon,” Mr. Marks said. Mr. Cross collected Nixon memorabilia and made a political pilgrimage to the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in California.
Aaron Tomarchio, a longtime friend from Republican politics, said Mr. Cross’ vocal defense of Mr. Nixon, who resigned amid the Watergate scandal, seemed to be part genuine admiration for the former president’s intellect and domestic policies, and part enjoyment at playing the provocateur.
“It was part of that dark humor,” Mr. Tomarchio said.
In recent years, Mr. Cross was a frequent contributor to The Baltimore Sun’s opinion page, often writing about Maryland Republican politics. His most recent article appeared in September. He also wrote a political blog called Cross Purposes and was a regular commentator on Dan Rodricks’ Roughly Speaking podcast.
After leaving the State House, Mr. Cross became increasingly estranged from the Republican Party establishment. In 2013, he wrote that he had quit the state party and registered as unaffiliated, but Mr. Marks said he remained a Republican at heart.
Mr. Tomarchio said he reflected the views of many Republicans who cut their teeth on the more moderate politics of the 1980s and 1990s and feel out of place in the more conservative party of today.
“In many ways, Richard was our voice in expressing it more vocally to the public,” Mr. Tomarchio said.
In an August 2016 Sun article, Mr. Cross described himself as “a lifelong political animal and a longtime Maryland Republican” who drafted a speech for delivery at the Republican National Convention for “Benghazi mom” Patricia Smith, attacking Democrat Hillary Clinton for her alleged role in her son’s death. But Mr. Cross wrote that he could not support GOP nominee Donald Trump and saw no better choice than to vote for Clinton.
“The prospect of voting for Hillary Clinton is uncomfortable to me, as if Dr. Van Helsing were compelled to vote for Dracula,” Mr. Cross wrote. “But the only prospect more terrifying than voting for Hillary Clinton is not voting for her.”
Mr. Cross’ sister said the article shocked his Republican friends.
“His true friends came around,” she said.
"Richard was certainly a Republican one could talk with in comfort and security that he didn’t believe Democrats were the spawn of Satan,” said Herbert Smith, professor of political science at McDaniel College. “Reasoned political discourse is indeed lessened by this loss."
After leaving the State House, Mr. Cross worked a year and a half for Republicans on Capitol Hill, then went into the private sector doing government public relations work. He left his most recent employer, the COLA laboratory accreditation organization in Columbia, in March. His sister said he had been doing freelance writing since then.