James Pine, politician, dies at 85 He was Balto. Co. power for 16 years

January 23, 1998|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

James A. Pine Sr., a power in Baltimore County Democratic politics for 16 years before he was swept from office by reform-minded voters in 1974, died of cancer yesterday at his Baldwin home. He was 85.

Mr. Pine was elected to the Maryland Senate in 1958, and in his first eight years in office was the county's only senator, a position he used to run a powerful east side political organization that doled out jobs and other political favors.

In a 16-year career in the Senate, Mr. Pine also achieved an impressive list of accomplishments before he was defeated by Donald P. Hutchinson, then a 28-year-old Democrat running against his former political mentor on a reform platform.

As chairman of the Senate Economic Affairs Committee, Mr. Pine persuaded the University of Maryland to situate a campus in the county, a campus that is now the University of Maryland, Baltimore County; to win state matching funds to enable Franklin Square Hospital to construct a building in Rosedale and move from the city; and to secure increased state funding for community colleges.

He also helped create "vanity" vehicle license tags as a way of raising more money for education, said Robert Romadka, an Essex lawyer, friend and former county Democratic Party chairman.

Mr. Pine "was the ultimate power broker and a fun man to be around," Mr. Hutchinson said yesterday. "He really spoke for the politics of all Baltimore County."

Mr. Hutchinson, a former county executive who is president of the Greater Baltimore Committee, got his start in Mr. Pine's political organization but split with him over political corruption in the 1970s that sent a county executive to prison.

Mr. Pine's "power went beyond just the Democrats," said former County Council secretary Thomas Toporovich, a Dundalk resident and longtime political observer. "Jim Pine was the political leader of the county, period. Nothing got done in Baltimore County without Jim Pine's permission."

"We called Jim Pine 'Tall Timber' because he always knew how to get what he wanted for his district. He was a very entertaining speaker who always brought humor to the floor," former state Sen. James Clark of Howard County said yesterday.

'An aristocrat'

State Sen. Clarence W. Blount of Baltimore said, "He was an aristocrat of the Maryland Senate and a gentleman extraordinaire. He was a sage and set the standards that have made the Maryland Senate the august body that it is today."

Mr. Pine, a native of West Virginia, began his political career when he was appointed legal counsel to the county commissioners.

He had attracted the attention of the county's political leaders when, as a young lawyer, he won a court case against Baltimore that forced improvements in the city-owned Back River sewage-treatment plant. The plant was reviled because of the offensive odors and pollution it produced, according to the book "A History of Baltimore County," by Neal A. Brooks and Eric G. Rockel.

He resigned as the commissioners' legal counsel in 1953, when he had a falling-out with the county's political boss, Michael "Iron Mike" Birmingham, and ran unsuccessfully for county commissioner in 1954.

Mr. Pine was appointed magistrate of the Cockeysville Police Court, a post he held until 1958, when, having made amends with Mr. Birmingham's organization, he was chosen to run for state Senate and won. He later became a foe of Mr. Birmingham, who was the first county executive.

When Mr. Pine went to Annapolis, it was a time of tremendous change in Baltimore County.

The county was growing rapidly and had just won home rule, which meant more laws could be enacted locally by an executive and County Council elected to replace the three-commissioner form of government.

In the next 16 years, Mr. Pine played a key role in the county's rapid growth and in the scandal-driven end of old-fashioned organizational politics.

The county's population more than tripled from 1940 to 1960 and continued to grow rapidly.

World War II brought thousands of people, including Mr. Pine, from rural areas to the county, and especially to the east side, for jobs in the steel mills and aircraft factories. They became the backbone of the dominant east side political machine.

Rapid growth

The white exodus from Baltimore in the 1950s and 1960s created great demands in the county for development and for the roads and utilities needed to support it. The growth was explosive, as ++ demonstrated by the 66 schools built in the 15 years before 1961. Hundreds of square miles of farmland was bulldozed for homes, stores, roads and offices, and county government came under intense pressure to pave the way for profitable developments to accommodate the new residents.

Because of Mr. Pine's strong relationships with governors and other powerful legislators, and because of his grasp on the county's political organization, he was more effective than today's team approach is, Mr. Hutchinson said.

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