Marcus Samuel Marx, 82, worked behind the scenes in Anne Arundel politics

April 21, 2003|By Ariel Sabar | Ariel Sabar,SUN STAFF

Marcus Samuel Marx, a trash hauler whose quiet influence over Anne Arundel County politics earned him the nickname "the silver ghost," died of a heart attack Friday at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore. He was 82. Known his whole life as Buddy, he had lived in Annapolis for nearly a half-century before moving to Pikesville a few years ago.

Easy to spot with his wispy mane of prematurely gray hair, Mr. Marx was an enigmatic figure in Anne Arundel County politics in the 1960s and early 1970s. He often told reporters that he was "just a garbageman." But politicians knew better. Gubernatorial hopefuls, circuit court judges and county officials turned to him for his extensive roster of contacts and his skill as a street-level political troubleshooter.

He reached the apex of his influence as the chief political adviser to Joseph W. Alton Jr., a backer of the county's charter movement who was elected in 1965 as its first executive. Mr. Alton once called Mr. Marx "The Man of Many Moves" - a lobbyist, negotiator, operative and fund-raiser who only nominally was the county's director of inspections and permits.

It didn't seem to matter that Mr. Marx, a liberal Democrat, was advising a Republican.

"He is so valuable because he knows so many people in the county - an incredible cross-section that includes not only the politicos but club women, teachers union officials and even the rabbi at the local synagogue," an aide to gubernatorial candidate Theodore G. Venetoulis told a Sun reporter in 1978. "In a week's time, he can turn out 300 people at any event."

But in 1975, Mr. Alton was imprisoned for accepting kickbacks from county contractors. Mr. Marx left the administration to become campaign manager to John H. Downs, a one-time Democratic County Council chairman who was after Mr. Alton's seat. But Mr. Downs weathered his own scandal and lost by a landslide before suffering fatal injuries in a car wreck the next year.

By the late 1970s, Mr. Marx had largely abandoned politics to focus on Refuse Removers Inc., the fast-growing Annapolis trash-hauling company he helped found in 1971. He built it into one of the state's largest before selling it to a British company in 1992 and retiring.

Mr. Marx was born in New York City and studied at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and the New York Maritime Academy before serving on a Navy destroyer in the Pacific during World War II. He married Helen Ochs in 1948 and moved to Annapolis, where his brother-in-law lived, the next year.

He opened a retail store, The Fabric Mart, on Main Street. But he never really liked the business and closed it in the mid-1960s to immerse himself in the county's political world.

His daughter, Barbara Brocato of Baltimore, said yesterday that her father was propelled by his activist leanings - he was a "progressive liberal," she says - and by the thrill of puzzling out knotty problems. "He loved strategy," she said. "He loved to be the quiet force behind the power."

When asked about those who saw him as a mysterious and shadowy force - "the silver ghost" of Arundel Center - Mr. Marx would respond with a modest declaration of good intentions. "I know it sounds corny," he told a reporter in 1978, "but I like to see good government."

But in the 1970s, his insider status drew scrutiny to his business dealings. Mr. Marx had won trash-hauling contracts at city housing projects while serving on the Annapolis housing authority. He also secured a large majority of the hauling business at new apartment and townhouse developments that had received building permits from Mr. Marx's office.

Investigations by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the county personnel board fizzled when Mr. Marx resigned from the housing board and county government. Mr. Marx maintained he had done nothing wrong.

In 1961, Mr. Marx's wife died, at age 36, of a brain tumor. Subsequent marriages to Kathy Krause Schmick and Joan Sherbow ended in divorce.

Services and burial are scheduled for 11 a.m. today at Kneseth Israel Congregation Cemetery in Annapolis.

In addition to his daughter Barbara, he is survived by his daughters Nancy Marx and Michelle Marx, both of Annapolis; two granddaughters; and his companion, Judy Greenfeld of Pikesville.

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