A legislator for more than 34 years, John S. Arnick dies at 72

Colleagues recall tireless worker who stood by his decisions once his mind was made up

Friday, June 16, 2006

Longtime delegate John S. Arnick, who had recently been appointed to the state Board of Contract Appeals, died Tuesday of lung cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

‘‘He was truly the guy who walked with princes and paupers and treated them both the same,” said House Speaker Michael E. Busch, who counted Arnick as one of his mentors.

Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr. recalled Arnick on the Senate floor on Wednesday as a dedicated lawmaker who had a rigid persona.

‘‘When he believed in something, there was really no changing his mind,” said Stone (D-Dist. 6) of Dundalk. ‘‘His legacy will be great for this state.”

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. described Arnick as a legislator who earned the respect of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle.

‘‘It’s important to remember what party you belong to, but it’s more important to remember who your friends are,” said Miller (D-Dist. 27) of Chesapeake Beach.

In a statement, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) said: ‘‘John was a personal friend and a hard-working colleague in the House of Delegates, a job he did well for the better part of the last 40 years. In April, I was honored to appoint John to the Maryland State Board of Contract Appeals. He was deeply committed to public service and his dedication will be missed.”

Arnick worked tirelessly for working families in his district, Terry Lierman, chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party, said in a statement.

‘‘The devotion he engendered from the people of his Baltimore County district is a testament to John Arnick’s public service,” Lierman said. ‘‘Sometimes controversial, always direct and plain spoken, Mr. Arnick will be remembered fondly for his quick smile, his sharp mind and his strength and tenacity on behalf of working families.”

Arnick, 72, was a Dundalk lawyer who held several high-ranking positions in the House of Delegates. His career was marred in 1993 when he was charged with making sexist comments to two women lobbyists. The incident derailed his appointment to a District Court judgeship.

He had already resigned his House seat before the appointment, but that October, his successor died. The Baltimore County Democratic Central Committee appointed him back to the position.

Busch (D-Dist. 30) of Annapolis admired how he handled himself during the controversy.

‘‘He never blamed anyone else when the issue with the judgeship came up,” he said.

Arnick served in the House for 34 years, beginning in 1967. He twice served as majority leader and as chairman of the Environmental Matters Committee. He also spent two years as Judiciary Committee chairman.

He also was the House chairman of a joint committee on legislative ethics.

In 1978, Arnick ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate, and won his House seat back four years later. In 1990, he won a contested Democratic primary by six votes, The (Baltimore) Sun reported.

In Busch’s office are three copper medallions that Arnick had in his own office until he took the contract appeals position in April. The medallions depict Presidents Jefferson, Roosevelt and Kennedy. Arnick had them since he was first elected to the House. Busch said he will keep them to give to the next speaker of the House.

Arnick nearly became the Speaker of the House, Busch said. In 1973, then speaker Thomas Hunter Lowe left the House to become a judge in the Court of Special Appeals. As majority leader, Arnick was a likely successor.

But another East Baltimore legislator, Sen. James A. Pine, was in line to become president of the Senate when the General Assembly was to reconvene after the 1974 elections. Pine’s supporters convinced delegates to choose John Hanson Briscoe, a St. Mary’s County Democrat, to be speaker.

Pine, however, lost his re-election in 1974 and never became Senate president.

‘‘It typified John, like there was a cloud that appeared at inopportune moments,” Busch said.

In the past few General Assembly sessions, Arnick fought for limits on using cell phones by motorists. He said the phones were causing an ‘‘epidemic” of crashes.

Calling hours are set from 2 to 4 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. on Sunday and Monday in the Duda-Ruck Funeral Home at 7922 Wise Ave. in Dundalk.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at noon Tuesday in Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church at 7945 North Boundary Road in Dundalk, with entombment to follow at Oak Lawn Cemetery at 7225 Eastern Ave.
Memorial contributions may be sent to the Honorable John S. Arnick Memorial Scholarship Fund at Calvert Hall College, 6302 North Point Road, Baltimore MD 21219.
In addition to his legislative career, Arnick was a Marine and a graduate of Calvert Hall College and the University of Baltimore School of Law.

‘‘He loved every part of public life,” Busch said.

Arnick is survived by his wife, Joanne Arnick, stepdaughters Suzanne M. Kaplan and Erin N. Tribble, and a sister, Eleanor E. Craig.

Staff Writer Alan Brody contributed to this report.