John S. Arnick, 72, longtime state delegate from Dundalk


John S. Arnick, a Dundalk lawyer and former Marine who was elected nine times to the House of Delegates and had been its majority leader in the 1970s, died of lung cancer yesterday afternoon at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He was 72.

Mr. Arnick had resigned from the legislature in April to accept an appointment by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to the Maryland State Board of Contract Appeals.

"John was a personal friend and a hard-working colleague in the House of Delegates, a job he did well for the better part of the last 40 years," Mr. Ehrlich said yesterday. "He was deeply committed to public service, and his dedication will be missed."

Colleagues remembered Mr. Arnick as a shrewd, articulate legislator, a quick wit and a behind-the-scenes Annapolis problem-solver who wore custom-tailored suits and drove fancy cars.

"He was a man of strong convictions," said state Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., a fellow Baltimore County Democrat. "He was well known for his knowledge of the law."

"He was a man of his word," said Louis L. DePazzo, a former Baltimore County councilman. "He fought for his clients, and he fought for his friends. You could depend on him to do what he said."

"He was a very opinionated man," said former Baltimore County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen. "It was clear where he stood on issues."

Born in Baltimore and raised on Dunhill Road in Dundalk, he was a 1951 graduate of Calvert Hall College High School and earned a bachelor's degree in industrial management at the University of Baltimore. He served in the Marine Corps from 1956 to 1959, then returned to UB and earned his law degree in 1962.

Mr. Arnick later described his military training and high school education as being invaluable to surviving controversy and adversity in politics.

"I'm not certain who had better punches, the drill instructors or the brothers at Calvert Hall," he told a reporter in 1994 after staging one of his electoral comebacks.

"But I also derived a lot of strength from my parents, both of whom worked in a factory and pipe mill all of their lives for us," he said of himself and his sister.

In the mid-1960s, Mr. Arnick was ushered into State House politics by Roy N. Staten, an old-line Dundalk political boss who had been Senate majority leader.

He was elected to the House in 1966, and by early 1969 was chosen as chairman of the Baltimore County delegation.

Mr. Arnick was completing his third term, including eight years as majority leader, when he rolled the political dice and lost in a bid for a state Senate seat in 1978. He won election to the House again in 1982, and was twice re-elected -- surviving a contested 1990 Democratic primary for the District 7 seat by a mere six votes.

He stepped down in 1993 for an appointment as a Baltimore County District Court judge, and gave up his law practice -- a move that proved temporary when a dispute erupted.

A Maryland Senate confirmation vote that was expected to be a formality turned into a slugfest amid allegations that Mr. Arnick had made vulgar and sexist comments about women during a dinner meeting with two female lobbyists a year earlier.

For 10 days, the 1993 General Assembly was paralyzed over the question of whether the Senate should confirm the judicial appointment of Mr. Arnick, who had taken his seat on the bench. Articles in The Sun reported that most lawmakers supported their old friend and seemed stunned by the public outrage over his nomination.

Mr. Arnick resigned the judgeship amid the dispute.

The Baltimore County Democratic Central Committee returned him to the legislature in October 1993, weeks after Edward G. "Nipper" Schafer -- who had been named by the committee to fill Mr. Arnick's vacated seat in the House of Delegates -- died of a heart attack during a softball game in Towson.

In a sometimes rambling address to the committee members filling the vacancy, Mr. Arnick apologized for his remarks to the women -- comments that he called "a 30-second chunk of my life."

"I've apologized once before, and I will apologize a second time here tonight," he said. "I offer no excuses. I tried to explain those 30 seconds, but there were those who just didn't want to listen."

After the politicians embraced Mr. Arnick, Dundalk-area voters followed suit to keep him in the House for three more terms, in the elections of 1994, 1998 and 2002.

"As you all know," he told fellow legislators at the beginning of the 1994 session, "I've been in and out of here more times than Billy Martin managing the Yankees."

Mr. Arnick credited his electoral success to his habit of stopping by a Dundalk coffee shop each morning.

"People really know me because I do things like go to the Dunkin' Donuts every morning," Mr. Arnick told a Sun reporter. "I meet a teacher, a cop, a construction worker, a doctor. We talk and, if I can, I help them. Around here, actions speak louder than words."

In recent years, Mr. Arnick unsuccessfully championed a ban on driving while chatting on cellular phones.

"He was the authority in the House on rules and procedures," said Baltimore County Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder. "The speaker of the House looked to John whenever there was a hangup on some technicality."

Mr. Arnick had last worked at his new Board of Contract Appeals office May 1, his family said. He felt ill on May 5 and collapsed at his home.

Funeral plans were incomplete.

Survivors include his wife of seven years, Joanne Tribble; two stepdaughters, Suzanne Kaplan of Timonium and Erin Tribble of Oakland, Calif.; and a sister, Eleanor Craig of Dundalk. Marriages to the former Janet Eckman and Joan Nielsen ended in divorce.

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