Leonard R. Skolnik, former chairman of the city Board of Liquor License Commissioners and political kingmaker, dies

Leonard R. Skolnik, former chairman of the city Board of Liquor License Commissioners who was active in Democratic politics and had been a developer and apartment manager, died from heart failure July 12 at Sinai Hospital. The longtime Mount Washington resident was 85.

“Lenny Skolnik cared about people. He cared about Baltimore,” said retired Baltimore County District Court Judge Robert J. Steinberg, a friend of more than 50 years. “He cared about honest good government and was an expert at it.”


Leonard Ronnie Skolnik, son of Russian and Romanian immigrant parents, was born in Baltimore and raised on Francis Street near Druid Hill Park. His father, Jack Skolnik, and his mother, Elise Skolnik, were grocers, and the family lived above their store.

Mr. Skolnik, an avid football and basketball player, was 14 when he began his studies at Baltimore City College High School and graduated two years later in 1952. After high school, over the objections of his parents, he traveled to Israel where he lived on a kibbutz for a year.


After returning to Baltimore, he attended the old Baltimore Junior College for six months when he dropped out to take a job as a counselor at Camp Moshava. He then resumed his academic studies at the University of Baltimore where he earned an associate degree in accounting.

After working for an automobile dealership and realizing it wasn’t for him, family members said, he made a living for a time playing hearts, bridge and pinochle.

He then went to work for Baltimore developer Morton “Morty” Sarubin in property and project management. From 1974 to 1981, he managed the Uplands Apartments, which was a 1,000-unit apartment complex on Edmondson Avenue that sprawled over 45 acres.

Mr. Skolnik then oversaw the development and subsequently managed Fox Chase, a 2,100-unit apartment complex in Alexandria, Virginia, that was also owned by Mr. Sarubin.

After leaving Mr. Sarubin, he worked for 15 years for the National Housing Partnership which became AIMCO, where he worked for two years until retiring in 1996.

In 1961, he married the former Sandra “Sandy” Morrison, who later became the executive director of the Maryland Committee for Children and head of the Baltimore City Board of Election Supervisors. In 1965, they settled into a home on Everton Road in Mount Washington where they lived for decades.

The couple shared a love of Democratic politics and were founders and active members of the old 5th District Reformed Democratic organization. They also helped chair campaigns for former state Sens. Rosalie S. Abrams and Barbara A. Hoffman.

“I learned clubhouse politics beginning as a teenager in Lenny Skolnik’s house. Everton Road was the birthplace of the 5th District Reformed Democrats — FDR,” Judge Steinberg said in his eulogy. “Our members have become legendary: Barbara and Donald Hoffman, Rosalie Abrams, Ben Cardin, Tom Waxter. We packed Lenny’s living room. Never an officer, never a candidate, Lenny orchestrated every alliance, designed every ticket and oversaw every campaign. Why? Because he loved it.


“Leonard created the alliance between Clarence Blount’s Five in Five Democratic Club and FDR. In the 1970s, we swept to victory in the old 5th District with the first integrated ticket ever elected in Northwest Baltimore.”

Judge Steinberg said in a telephone interview that “candidates ignored his advice at their peril. Others reaped the benefits of his political instincts and wisdom.”

Mr. Skolnik played a pivotal role in Martin J. O’Malley’s campaign for mayor.

“It was Leonard who decided Martin O’Malley was the best man for mayor when he was an underdog in a crowded primary the first time he ran citywide. The endorsement was delivered on the front lawn of Barbara and Donald Hoffman’s home,” Judge Steinberg recalled in his eulogy. “Leonard did it!”

In 1997, Mr. Skolnik was appointed to the Board of Liquor License Commissioners, and served as chairman until stepping down in 2003.

When a rash of underage drinking by nearby college students took place at a number of York Road bars in 1999 near Belvedere Square, the liquor board determined that the students were using false IDs or fake driver’s licenses that may have been purchased or borrowed from a friend.


“Everybody has twins out there,” Mr. Skolnik told The Sun in an interview. “Amazing.”

“He got a kick out of fining people for selling liquor to minors when of course he as a boy would drink himself,” according to a biographical profile submitted by his family.

“But all his power doesn’t impress Leonard half as much as the fact that his position allows him to do something he never thought possible: make lawyers shut up at liquor board hearings,” noted Baltimore magazine in 2000 when they named Mr. and Mrs. Skolnik a local power couple. “’ I say, ‘Overruled,’ he crows. “‘And they listen to me! That’s a riot.’”

They had protested against racism in housing, fought for civil rights, and attended the 1963 March on Washington where they stood on The Mall and listened to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

“We were dyed-in-the wool marchers,” Mrs. Skolnik told the magazine. “There wasn’t a thing we didn’t march for, or against.”

She died in 2007.


The couple enjoyed spending time at a second home they owned in Falling Waters, West Virginia.

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A devoted folk music fan, Mr. Skolnik, who enjoyed listening to Pete Seeger and the Weavers, was also a devotee of classical music.

Judge Steinberg said that Mr. Skolnick “was fiercely loyal to his friends.”

“Leonard Skolnik turned stumbling blocks into steppingstones,” Judge Steinberg said in his eulogy. “Leonard Skolnik was courageous because his principles overcame his fears. Simply stated, Leonard Skolnik’s life was a moment of the conscience of man.”

“But Leonard had what it took in terms of character and intelligence,” according to the biographical profile. “He understood that a person should be nice and genuine. You shouldn’t think you know everything; you should listen when people talk because you’d learn something. Common sense and book learning, as he would say, go hand in hand. Well, these are the derekh eretz Jewish ethical credentials that mark a good man. Leonard was, and his memory is for a blessing.”

He was a member of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.


Services were held July 15 at Sol Levinson & Bros. in Pikesville.

Mr. Skolnik is survived by a son, Adam D. Skolnik of Canton; his daughter, Baltimore District Court Judge Rachel E. Skolnik of Mount Washington; and three grandchildren.