In praise of Wally Orlinsky

February 18, 2002|By Barry Rascovar

Friends, Baltimoreans, countrymen, lend me your ears;

I come to praise Wally Orlinsky, not to bury him.

The good that men do lives after them;

the evil is oft interred with their bones.

So let it be with Wally.

WITH APOLOGIES for taking great liberty with Shakespeare, that's the way we ought to remember Walter S. Orlinsky. Much has been made of his colorful quirks; his loud, brash personality; his creative, restless intellect.

Much, too - too much, really - has been made of his federal conviction and imprisonment on bribery charges. Wally knew he'd done wrong. He tried to repent by giving back to the community for the rest of his life.

All this misses a central point: Wally Orlinsky played a pivotal role at a crucial moment in Baltimore's history.

He was a guiding light in the creation of Baltimore's first successful biracial political ticket. Mr. Orlinsky not only believed in racial equality, he never stopped trying to make it a reality.

The New Democratic Coalition of the 2nd Councilmanic District, NDC-2 for short, broke the white, racist stranglehold that had existed up until the late 1960s in central and eastern Baltimore.

It was Mr. Orlinsky, then a member of the House of Delegates, who put together, in the aftermath of the 1968 riots here, what came to be known as the Clarke-Dalton ticket for the General Assembly. It swept out the old guard and inaugurated a new kind of enlightened, integrated politics in which issues dividing the races could be openly discussed and addressed.

A generation of broad-minded urban politicians was dispatched to Annapolis. It opened the door to a biracial approach to City Council politics, too. NDC-2 formed a coalition with the African-American Eastside Democratic Club that won voters' support for an integrated council slate. Among its successes: Clarence Du Burns, who would go on to become Baltimore's first black council president and its first black mayor.

Such steps gave hope to urban residents, who needed some optimism after the destruction wrought by the riots.

NDC-2's victories laid the groundwork for the election a year later, in 1971, of William Donald Schaefer as mayor. He, too, had faith in Baltimore. He provided the "do it now" spunk that revived a sagging city.

Fast-forward to 2002 and Wally Orlinsky's legacy can be seen in the urban esprit de corps of the O'Malley administration, with its rock-solid commitment to a biracial city that works. In many ways, the current mayor and the ex-council president were kindred spirits - brash, outspoken, unconventional big thinkers dedicated to shaking up the status quo and the "box people."

Mr. Orlinsky laid the groundwork. He was there when Baltimore's revival as an integrated political community began. He helped make it happen.

So let us not dwell on his human frailties, his shortcomings or his missed opportunities. Let us celebrate and remember Wally Orlinsky for what he achieved:

He was among the noblest Baltimoreans of them all . ...

His life and the elements in him were so mixed

That Nature might stand up and say to all the world,

"This was a man!"

Barry Rascovar, a former columnist and deputy editorial page editor of The Sun, is a communications consultant in Baltimore. He can be reached at brascovar@hotmail.com.

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