Marine ranks in legislature thinning


The few. The proud. The Marines.

They've got their own collective birthday (Nov. 10). They've got their own patron saint (Gen. Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller Sr.) And they've got their own legislative coterie.

The Maryland Marine Corps Caucus, started quietly about a dozen years ago, is a small clique that meets once a year in Annapolis to bring together legislators -- and more recently former lawmakers -- who served in the corps.

But the few good men are becoming fewer and fewer.

"The shocking thing is way the ranks have dwindled," said Del. John S. Arnick, a Baltimore County Democrat who served from 1956 to 1959. "At one point, we had like 16 former Marines in the legislature. Now we're down to five."

And that shrinking exclusive pool couldn't staff a squad.

Nevertheless, the caucus is holding its annual reception and dinner March 9 at O'Brien's on Main Street. For $100 a pop, the invited guests will wine and dine and hear this year's speaker, James H. Webb Jr., the former Navy secretary, decorated Marine officer and author of "Fields of Fire."

Proceeds benefit "Toys for Tots," the Marine Corps-sponsored program that provides Christmas presents to underprivileged children.

The big guns in the caucus both hail from Anne Arundel County: John A. Cade, the gruff and outspoken Senate minority leader who served after World War II and again during the Korean conflict, and Sen. John C. Astle, a former Vietnam combat chopper pilot.

The remaining alumni still in the legislature are George W. Owings III, a Calvert County Democrat who served four years in the corps as a sergeant during the Vietnam War, and Del. James F. Ports Jr., a Baltimore County Republican who did a four-year hitch as a sergeant from 1978 to 1982.

And that's it, owing to the hits that the caucus took last year. Three members chose not to run again, and a fourth lost a re-election bid.

Members of the caucus who recently exited the legislature are James C. Simpson, a former Democratic state senator from Charles County; J. Ernest Bell II, a former Democratic delegate from St. Mary's County; and Louis L. DePazzo, a former Democratic delegate who is now a Baltimore County councilman. Democrat John D. Jefferies, a former delegate from Baltimore, lost in the September primary.

Membership over the years has been expanded to include "anybody with the combination of politics and the Marine Corps" -- but primarily ex-legislators, Mr. Arnick said.

Among those caucus members are Maryland Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, a former Democratic state senator from Calvert County who was a Marine during World War II, and John N. Bambacus, a former Republican state senator from Allegany County who is now the mayor of Frostburg.

Other jar-head legislators from yesteryear who are expected when the caucus convenes include three representatives of the judiciary: Gerard F. Devlin, a former Democratic delegate, now a Prince George's district judge; Raymond E. Beck Sr., a Republican former state senator, now a Carroll County circuit judge; and John C. Coolahan -- the "Lion of Halethorpe" -- a former state senator and retired district judge who ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary for Baltimore County executive last year.

Though originally limited to lawmakers, the group also includes politically connected bureaucrats and businessmen who are ex-Marines.

Among them are such heavyweights as H. Furlong Baldwin, chairman of Mercantile Bankshares Corp. and a citizen member of the General Assembly's Spending Affordability Committee, and A. B. "Buzzy" Krongard, chairman and chief executive of Alex Brown Inc., Baltimore's silk-stocking brokerage and investment banking firm.

Semper fi.

Clubhouse history

For a thumbnail history of Baltimore's political clubhouse days, don't miss the March issue of Baltimore magazine.

Frank DeFilippo, once Gov. Marvin Mandel's press secretary and now a political commentator and prognosticator, lays out what amounts to a genealogy of the city b'hoys and their once-powerful Democratic political clubs.

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