He's still running, though not for office Interview: The man who served seven consecutive terms in the Maryland Senate is still busy, busy, busy serving the community.

Catching Up With Julian Lapides

October 26, 1997|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,SUN STAFF

Behind the wheel of his Ford Taurus, Julian Lapides zips through Baltimore like a bus driver 30 minutes behind schedule.

Two years have passed since he left a seven-term career in the Maryland State Senate to run unsuccessfully for city comptroller, and he seems busier than ever. He drives like a man trying to make up for lost time.

"I've divided my life into thirds," he says. "At 31, I finished college, law school and the service and was elected to the House of Delegates in '62. Then I ran for the Senate seat in '66 and served for seven consecutive terms -- for a total of 32 years in the General Assembly. So, with my law practice, that's the second period of my life.

"I'm hoping I'm going to have 33 years in the next segment. I want it to be 31, 32 and 33," he says. "And that's more than enough for anybody."

Well, he might as well try for 100. He'll be 99 if he lives out his last 33.

"I don't know if I'm going to make it," he says. "But I think we really have an obligation to keep going and keep giving. I can't even contemplate retiring."

As always, he's involved in numerous good works and community endeavors. But in his latest venture since being rudely rejected by Baltimore voters, he has returned to school. He's a candidate for the master of liberal arts in the Johns Hopkins University's continuing education program.

"The thing that surprises me about the course is that I thought it would mainly be older people," he says. "In fact, I'm by far the oldest person in my class. Seventeen women and one guy, besides me. All seem upwardly mobile. All seem half my age or less."

He's not exactly creaky with age. He's buoyant and energetic -- as his political colleagues no doubt remember him during his Senate days. He's lean and looks considerably younger than his 66 years might suggest. He still plays tennis once or twice a week. Out of his car, he lopes along like a man late for about three appointments.

At Hopkins, he was surprised during a discussion about the American dream. His younger classmates thought they would not do nearly as well as their parents.

"Golly," he says, "I know hundreds of people who have. I'm someone who has lived and achieved and realized the American myth.

"My mother was widowed when I was 8 years old, and she opened a small grocery store in Southwest Baltimore at Mount and McHenry streets."

His mother, Doris Racusin Lapides, was 31 when his father, Solomon, died in December 1939, leaving her with three small children: Julian, his brother Joseph and sister Myrna, "and very little money."

"We lived over the store for a number of years until after I went into the service in the '50s," he says. "My mother bought a house on John Street in the '60s. We jokingly say that we moved to the suburbs when we moved to Bolton Hill in '64."

Lapides still has the boyish quality of a young man who wants to do the right thing so his mother thinks well of him.

His first course in the MLA program is Minorities in Modern American Literature. He'll do presentations on John Steinbeck, Karl Shapiro, a former Baltimorean, and H. L. Mencken, the quintessential Baltimorean.

Lapides loves the city, and he has deep roots here. His great-great-uncle Elias Eisenstein was in the tobacco trade and dealt with Mencken's father, a cigar maker.

Preservation man

"We're making the whole Lapides trek," he says, wheeling into Lemmon Street from Schroeder. "Have you seen these Lemmon Street houses?

"They're one of the things I've been interested in," he says. "I've always been interested in preservation, virtually my entire political life. I just go bananas over these houses. I just wonder why other people don't see it."

Local preservationists have been battling to save five brick alley houses on Lemmon Street they say were built before the Civil War for Irish immigrants who worked at the B&O Railroad's Mount Clare shops.

"The city had three lawyers for two days in court fighting a group that wants to restore these five houses," Lapides says, indignantly. "This is the kind of thing the city should be bending over backward to support."

And he's only tangentially interested: "I just made a small contribution. I'm not actively involved in that, other than I'm terribly supportive."

He's been doggedly supportive of preservation efforts virtually his entire adult life, from the defense of Fells Point against the incursion of an expressway to the restoration of Stirling Street and the original Baltimore "dollar houses." A founding member of the Society for the Preservation of Federal Hill and Fells Point, he's still their pro bono legal counsel.

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