Wally Orlinsky

Dead at 63: Former City Council president was a tragic figure who squandered his early promise.

February 12, 2002

WALTER S. ORLINSKY started in politics as a 1960s boy-wonder state delegate. He was energetic, imaginative and idealistic, fighting for reforms in the Democratic Party and in the larger society.

Mr. Orlinsky, who died this week at 63, was an important member of a progressive alliance that built bridges across racial divides, calmed tensions after the 1968 riots and later helped infuse the city with a sense of urban renaissance.

With such rising activists as Parren Mitchell, Barbara Mikulski and Norman Reeves, he was involved in a movement to stop an expressway from destroying Fells Point, Federal Hill and sections of West Baltimore. With Mary Pat Clarke and Clarence Du Burns, he engineered a pioneering interracial political club.

Those were the glory days of Wally Orlinsky. Then something happened to that shining promise.

The longer he stayed in Mayor William Donald Schaefer's shadow as the City Council president, the more frustrated - and bored - Mr. Orlinsky became.

Mr. Orlinsky's disrespectful jabbing contributed to his rocky relationship with Mayor Schaefer, who further marginalized him.

All this increased Mr. Orlinsky's political impotence. He had further ambitions, but he lacked the purposefulness to achieve them. When his career crashed in 1982, it was because of a penny-ante bribe he accepted from sludge haulers.

He pleaded guilty and was paroled after serving 4 1/2 months of his six-month sentence. But even though outwardly he was the same old Wally, nothing ever was the same again.

Even after a pardon from President Clinton, he could not escape the shadow of his past. Two years ago, Mr. Orlinsky said of his downfall, "You can't ever quite walk away."

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