Julian L. “Jack” Lapides, an independent-minded former Maryland state senator who battled governors, his colleagues and highway builders during his decades in office, died of cancer early Wednesday at Symphony Manor in Roland Park. The longtime Bolton Hill resident was 89.
“Jack was never afraid to be on the losing side of a vote so long as he was on the winning side of history,” said former Gov. Martin O’Malley. “He was a person of integrity in all his years of public service and demonstrated the courage of his convictions. He had a progressive vision for what we could become together.”
Often called the “conscience of the Maryland Senate,” Mr. Lapides was a mixture of traditionalism and style — he was an ardent neighborhood preservationist — and liberal on issues of civil liberties and civil rights.
“Jack and I considered ourselves worthy opponents,” said former Baltimore City Council member Mary Pat Clarke. “Jack was highly competitive. ... And when we stopped fighting, I enjoyed the heck out of him. I respected him and I loved him.”
Ms. Clarke also said, “Jack was an unusually interesting person in terms of personality. He was positive and acceptive and interested in everybody else.”
The former senator’s competitive nature was well known in Annapolis. They said he could be outrageously blunt.
“Jack was tough and he was one-of-a-kind,” said a colleague, former State Sen. Laurence Levitan. “And there was nobody better on the Budget and Taxation Committee than Jack Lapides. Jack was on top of everything and was a terrific legislator. He was on the conservative side on fiscal issues but he was always there for Baltimore City.”
Stewart W. Bainum Jr., a former state senator with whom Mr. Lapides served in Annapolis, said: “Jack was flamboyant. He didn’t hold back. He let you know where he stood. He showed his passion in no uncertain terms.”
His independence in the General Assembly was well known.
“He’s been the odd man out in more legislatures than he can remember,” said a 1987 article from The Baltimore Sun. “He’s fought one-man stands as often as Clint Eastwood. He’s been a curiosity of stubborn principle in an amphitheater of scratch-my-back-and-we’ll-all-get-along compromise.”
He opposed state financing for the sports stadiums in downtown Baltimore, as well as urban renewal programs that wiped out neighborhoods. He was a leader of opposition to an interstate highway in the city and goaded municipal officials into the dollar house homesteading program on Stirling Street in Oldtown.
In 1973 he introduced and helped win passage of Maryland’s Full Financial Disclosure Act. He also sponsored legislation for the public disclosure of Maryland racetrack financial records.
He also fought strip mining and co-sponsored the 1967 Air Quality Control Act.
While in the state Senate, Mr. Lapides chaired the Joint Budget and Audit Committee and the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics. He was a member of the Budget and Taxation Committee and the Public Safety, Transportation, Economic Development & Natural Resources subcommittees. Mr. Lapides was also a member of the Capital Budget Subcommittee, Pensions Subcommittee and the Legislative Policy Committee.
Born and raised in Baltimore, he was the son of Doris Racusin, who operated a corner store at Mount and McHenry streets after the death of her husband, Solomon Morris Lapides, a union organizer and clothing cutter at Lebow Brothers men’s suits factory.
He recalled selling Becker’s pretzels, Echols ice cream, Schmidt and Koester’s bread, 19-pound bags of coal and kerosene by the gallon for families who heated their homes with portable stoves.
“We never had an electric cooler,” Mr. Lapides said in a 1999 Baltimore Sun article. “The iceman delivered blocks of ice for the Coke box. It was my job to chop the ice and drain the cooler.”
In 1999, at the time of his mother’s death, Mr. Lapides recalled getting lessons in ethics from her. “She was a stickler about rationing and weighed out sugar in brown bags,” he said in the article. “She never charged one cent over the [Office of Price Administration] limit.”
Mr. Lapides was a graduate of Baltimore City College and moved with his mother to Bolton Hill in the 1950s. He went to Johns Hopkins University for a year and found he could not afford the tuition. He completed a bachelor’s degree at Towson University.
He taught at Catonsville High School and served in the Army from 1954 to 1956, then spent a year in Iceland.
Mr. Lapides taught and sold mutual funds and graduated from the University of Maryland School of Law in 1961. A year later he was first elected to the Maryland House of Delegates.
He won a Maryland Senate seat in 1966 and served there until 1994, when a redistricting plan cost him his seat.
A year later he ran for comptroller of Baltimore City.
Always a dogged campaigner, he walked Baltimore’s streets and rang doorbells to make himself known outside his old district. He lost more than 20 pounds in the process but told friends he loved meeting so many people along the way.
When he lost to newcomer Joan Pratt, he cited the lack of a Baltimore Sun endorsement.
He then returned to his legal private practice and worked in the fields of trusts and estates until this year.
He was a close ally of former city councilman and later Circuit Court Judge Thomas Ward, and built a political base in the Mount Royal Democratic Club.
“He’s been the odd man out. Lapides makes a point of blowing whistles on back-room dealmakers, a technique that earned him a place in Maryland history back during the scandal-scarred tenure of Gov. Marvin Mandel,” said a 1982 Washington Post profile. It was Lapides, ranting and raving about “this venal piece of legislation,” who in 1972 filibustered to death a horseracing bill that later was linked to the political scandal that toppled the former governor.”
“Jack Lapides was an extraordinary person. His successful championing of environmental and public disclosure laws was way ahead of its time,” said George Johnston, a former legislative intern who was later the Venable law firm’s chief operating officer. “He led the efforts to ban strip mining in the state, which would have allowed such mining within sight of the Frostburg dormitories.”
Mr. Johnston also said: “Long before it was fashionable, Jack was a rare force for more transparency in government. ... On the Senate Budget and Tax Committee he also watched the state’s purse very carefully, vigilant against unnecessary spending.”
“When I sought his support for a bond bill to facilitate the Urban League’s purchase of its Orchard Street headquarters, he proved a tough sell,” Mr. Johnston said.
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“But politics was only a part of Jack’s legacy,” Mr. Johnston continued. “His long, wonderful marriage to Linda Fishman, their mutual love of collecting children’s books, his extensive philanthropy, his leadership of the American Antiquarian Society and his synagogue, his competitive devotion to tennis and poker, his devotion to his family, his myriad friendships encompassing the most diverse people possible — all were parts of who he was.”
Mr. Johnston, who visited Mr. Lapides after his cancer was diagnosed, said the staff at Symphony Manor remarked that the facility had never had a patient who received more visitors.
“He was the best of friends — supportive, generous, steady — someone who genuinely cared about people,” Mr. Johnston said. “All with an enormous sense of humor — about himself, others, life in general. An example of self-deprecation and modesty, notwithstanding his many notable accomplishments. A giant to many but one who never would have used that word to describe himself.”
Fred Hill, a former Baltimore Sun reporter and State Department official, said in an email, “He was a brilliant lawyer, a fair and hard-working political leader with the highest ethical standards, respect for the rule of law and the public interest, all undergirded by a deep respect for history and literature, a most pleasant demeanor, and that rarest of qualities, a delightful sense of humor.”
Mr. Lapides is survived by his wife of 57 years, Linda Fishman, a former Enoch Pratt Free Library staff member.
Graveside services will be held Monday at 10 a.m. at Chizuk Amuno Arlington Cemetery, 4300 N. Rogers Ave.