Alexander Stark, 76, attorney, lawmaker, civil rights champion

August 08, 1993|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writer Staff writer Gregory P. Kane contributed to this article.

Alexander Stark, 76, an extraordinarily independent Baltimore politician and a civil rights champion long before it was popular, died of cancer Thursday at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Asked upon his 1975 retirement from the City Council to sum up his political philosophy, Mr. Stark said he liked to think of himself as a democrat with "a small d" as opposed to a liberal with "a large L."

As a member of the House of Delegates from the city's old 5th District, where he served from 1958 to 1966, he co-sponsored Maryland's landmark public accommodations bill that made it illegal to bar anyone from hotels, restaurants and other public places because of race. He led impassioned floor fights for the bill, failing twice before shepherding it into law in 1963. A Stark bill banning discrimination in state employment passed in 1961.

"He was a person who could put himself in anyone else's shoes; he felt very keenly about the basic oneness of all people," said Frances Stark, his wife of 47 years. "So many more people became our friends and stayed our friends because of this issue."

In the City Council, where he represented the Northwest's 5th District from 1967 to 1975, Mr. Stark became known to colleagues and reporters as "Mr. Good Guy," for instinctive, unerring support for causes of decency.

He co-sponsored a 1969 resolution condemning the Vietnam War and led the fight to ban the sale of unvented space heaters, which were causing fires in poor neighborhoods.

And in Baltimore's tough, patronage-driven world of machine politics, Mr. Stark became a political loner in 1962 when he broke with legendary Democratic boss Jack Pollack.

Mr. Stark had been very critical of then-Gov. J. Millard Tawes, a Pollack ally, and was booted off a Pollack-controlled ticket, winning re-election to the House of Delegates as an independent.

"My brother was too principled," Melvin L. Stark said. "He couldn't play the game the way the professional politicians played it. He could have gone much higher in politics if he'd gone along with the crowd."

l Alexander Stark was the second of four children born to an immigrant couple from Austro-Hungary, who established the Stark Handy Store in 1919 at Lanvale and Barclay streets.

The family lived above the soda fountain and general store, running the business until 1939, two years after Mr. Stark graduated from the University of Baltimore Law School.

"Alex was quiet but bright and curious as a boy," Melvin Stark said. "By the time he could read, he'd read everything in sight. He was reading the classics at 10. We had a big magazine rack in the store, and he read all of them."

Alexander Stark graduated from City College in 1934 and later organized Young Democrats for Jackson, for former Baltimore Mayor Howard W. Jackson. In 1941, he enlisted in the Navy, serving in the combat intelligence unit with the Pacific Fleet and while stationed in Honolulu. There, he met Frances Astrachan, a former reporter. They married in 1945.

"We were so interested in what the other was doing," said Mrs. Stark, who retired from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine as managing editor of the American Journal of Epidemiology. "He was so supportive of me."

Mr. Stark became city solicitor in 1949 and assistant state's attorney from 1952 to 1954.

"Beyond anything, he was a lawyer," Mrs. Stark said.

Mr. Stark was chairman of the senior attorney section of the Maryland Bar Association since 1991. At his death, he was a retired partner at Stark & Little.

Another of his General Assembly triumphs was the 1963 civil marriage bill, which allowed non-clergy to perform marriages in Maryland, the only state to require weddings to be performed by clergy. He also led a redistricting effort that resulted in more equitably drawn boundaries for the city.

After being defeated in a run for the Senate in 1966, he was elected to the council the next year.

"Alex was very independent and an intellectual, a wonderful free spirit who always seemed to vote for the public good and not necessarily his own," said Sen. Julian L. Lapides, D-Baltimore.

Services are set for 10 a.m. today at Sol Levinson & Bros. funeral home, 6010 Reisterstown Road, Baltimore.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Stark is survived by a son, Jonathan S. Stark of Timonium; two brothers, Melvin L. Stark of Washington and Sidney Stark of Baltimore; and a sister, Mildred "Mitzi" Nochumowitz of Baltimore.

The family suggested memorial donations to the scholarship program of the University of Baltimore Law School, 1420 North Charles St., Baltimore 21201.

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