Thomas A. Cardinale 1938-2008

Berlin mayor took joy in job

Political newcomer `loved the people of this town'

May 05, 2008|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,Sun reporter

Berlin Mayor Thomas A. Cardinale, a Baltimore native who was nearing the end of his first term as the top official of the growing Worcester County town, died of a heart attack Saturday. He was 69.

Mr. Cardinale was born in Little Italy. He was one of 11 children growing up in an Orleans Street rowhouse. After earning a teaching degree at the University of Maryland, Mr. Cardinale taught graphic arts and printing classes in Baltimore City and Baltimore and Howard counties.

He raised his family in the Baltimore area, and enjoyed frequent summer trips to Ocean City.

It was during one of these visits that Mr. Cardinale and his wife, Mary Kay, detoured over to Berlin, a quiet town of 4,000 a few miles from the resort known for its crowded beaches and greasy french fries. In Berlin they felt at home, said Kelly Miller, Mr. Cardinale's stepdaughter.

The couple built a home there in 2001, and shortly after they moved in, Mr. Cardinale kept busy building a shed and gazebo. Though he had never expressed much interest in politics, Mrs. Cardinale said, he became active in their neighborhood association when flooding occurred.

After visits from Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest and the Army Corps of Engineers, the flooding problem in their subdivision was fixed. But, Mrs. Cardinale said, flooding problems remained throughout town. And Mr. Cardinale thought it was time for a change.

"Something just sparked him," Mrs. Miller said. "He just decided he'd run for mayor, make some changes."

In 2004, having lived in the town only three years, he challenged incumbent Rex Hailey and won more than 75 percent of the vote.

Mr. Cardinale didn't waste much time getting to know his constituents. Days after his election, he was walking down the town's main streets, notebook in hand, introducing himself to shopkeepers and asking them about their concerns. It was a technique he had picked up from his friend Del. Bennett Bozman, who represented the Eastern Shore for 15 years until his death two years ago.

"I've never seen anyone who took such immense joy and pride in serving as the mayor," said William "Gee" Williams III, the Berlin Town Council's vice president and acting mayor. "He really enjoyed serving people and getting to know them one on one."

Gov. Martin O'Malley - the former mayor of Cardinale's original hometown - had gotten to know his counterpart from Berlin and mourned his death yesterday, said his spokesman, Rick Abbruzzese.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with Mayor Cardinale, his family and friends, and the people of Berlin during this very sad time," Mr. Abbruzzese said.

Mr. Williams said Mr. Cardinale reveled in the trappings of being a small-town mayor - he loved the ribbon-cuttings, the community forums, the public events. A registered Republican, Mr. Cardinale represented and cared about everyone, Mr. Williams said, and often was visibly upset if he couldn't make his constituents happy.

In Berlin, like many small towns, the job of mayor comes with full-time hours but part-time pay. Mr. Cardinale received a $5,000 stipend that didn't come close to covering the long hours he worked.

"He loved it, and he was very much a people person. He loved the people of this town. It didn't matter what color you were, if you had lived here forever, or had just come, he loved them all, and they loved him," said Mrs. Cardinale, his wife of 22 years.

At the time of his death, Mr. Cardinale was working on a growth plan for Berlin. Like many towns on the Eastern Shore, Berlin has been discovered by developers, and residents are torn between shoring up their tax base and keeping the quaint town the way it is.

Berlin has never lost a mayor during a term, Mr. Williams said.

Mr. Williams will be mayor until Oct. 14, when there will be an election to determine his successor. Mr. Williams said he is unsure whether he will run for the permanent post. Right now, he said, he and the rest of the town are focused on mourning Mr. Cardinale.

"He tried to make everyone happy, every day," Mr. Williams said. "He had a big heart, but unfortunately not a strong one."

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. Wednesday at St. John Neumann Catholic Church on Beauchamp Road, near Ocean Pines. A viewing will be held one hour before the Mass and also from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. tomorrow at the Burbage Funeral Home in Berlin.

In addition to his wife and stepdaughter, Mr. Cardinale is survived by a daughter, Christina Arnold of Parkton; two stepsons, Howard Harrison of Ellicott City and Kelly Booth of Glen Burnie; two other stepdaughters, Cindy Hare of Crofton and Stacey Simpson of Newark; three brothers, Pasquale Cardinale of Kingsville, Joseph Cardinale of Timonium and John Cardinale of Belcamp; three sisters, Minnie Thornton of Fallston, Margaret Ruiz of San Antonio and Theresa Dragunas of Jarrettsville; 12 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

His marriages to Mary Francis Tanks and Sandra Cardinale ended in divorce.

rona.kobell@baltsun.com

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