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Council Tie Can't Match the Great Deadlock of '64-'65


The Baltimore City Council's deadlock 10 days ago in choosing a replacement comptroller was a minor skirmish compared to the factional politics of the 1960s.

The council was so deadlocked then that members risked losing a vote if they left the meeting to go to the bathroom.

After Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean resigned, the council reached an impasse July 15, ending with a 9-9 tie vote (and one abstention) after a battle between opposing groups led by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Council President Mary Pat Clarke.

But for nearly a year from 1964 to 1965, the City Council failed to achieve a majority in voting to replace one of its members who died.

Traditionally, when a member died in office, the legislative body would extend councilmanic courtesy to the other members from the district -- voting for whomever the remaining district council members chose as a successor.

But the council ignored tradition when 3rd District Councilman George W. Arthur died in October 1964.

His death from a stroke left the council with 20 members and upset the delicate balance of power that had favored one 11-member faction over a 10-member group.

The vacancy left the political bosses who controlled the factions jockeying to put their candidate in place.

"Whoever gained the additional vote would have the majority and, therefore, would have control of all the committee appointments and all the patronage positions in the City Council," said Thomas D'Alesandro III, council president at the time and later mayor.

After a relatively polite meeting to eulogize Mr. Arthur, the council deteriorated into a standoff.

The council split down the middle, with the former majority faction supporting Mr. Arthur's widow, Margaret Arthur, and the other faction voting for Joseph Manning, executive secretary of the Independent Grocers Association at the time.

Before the rules were changed to require at least 11 votes for a majority, all members of the factions had to be present at votes or risk losing. Even taking a bathroom break was a risk.

Once when a councilman left the meeting to go to the bathroom, a member of the rival faction rushed to nominate Mrs. Arthur. A Manning supporter had to run out to bring the member back in time to vote.

Several weeks after Mr. Arthur's death (his chair was still draped in black), a group of women who said they were being paid $10 each came to the meeting carrying signs reading, "Keep Pollack Out of the 3rd District. Vote for Joe Manning." James A. "Jack" Pollack was traditionally the boss of the 4th District.

At one point, Mr. Manning offered to withdraw from consideration if Mrs. Arthur would agree not to ally herself with the faction controlled by Paul J. Reed, Mr. Pollack and other political bosses.

Despite Mrs. Arthur's claim that she was "not going to take any orders from anybody," the arrangement was unacceptable to the D'Alesandro faction.

After months of disagreement in the council, outsiders started to push for a solution.

A 3rd District taxpayer asked the courts in January 1965 to invalidate any legislation passed by the council while the 3rd District was represented by only three of four council members.

In February of that year, Baltimore representatives in the House of Delegates got into the act. They tried to pass a bill that would have required the mayor to fill a council vacancy if the council could not agree to a replacement after 30 days.

But nothing worked. The factions remained stubborn.

"From a public relations point of view, it got to be an embarrassing situation," Mr. D'Alesandro said.

Spurred on by the embarrassment and impending legislation, the council finally voted for a replacement on Oct. 11, 1965, one week shy of a year after Mr. Arthur's death.

In an agreement between Council President D'Alesandro, 3rd District Councilman Frank X. Gallagher, mayoral adviser M. William Adelson and Mr. Reed, the council elected Larry S. Best, a contractor.

Mrs. Arthur was compensated with a patronage clerkship in the City Council. Mr. Manning was made chairman of the Off-Street Parking Commission.

However embarrassing that year was, some members still recall the time as the good old days.

"There were political factions all through the city, and we had better results when there were political leaders," said John "Duke" Pica Sr., a 3rd District councilman in the faction that supported Mrs. Arthur.

Back then, "when you wanted something done, you went to a political leader, and he would bring it to the attention of the councilman, and if it was within reason," it was done, Mr. Pica said.

Mr. D'Alesandro said that while independence from factions and political bosses is an improvement, political decisions were easier in the old days.

"Sometimes you could be dealing with people who controlled two or three votes," but now "you've got to work a lot harder."

"It was an altogether different time," Mr. D'Alesandro recalled.

But the current City Council proved recently that history can in some ways repeat itself.

Tanya Jones is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun.

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