Election adviser to Md. officials

A son of activists, he managed many successful campaigns

Arthur W. Murphy

1950 - 2008

June 15, 2008|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Sun Reporter

Arthur W. Murphy, a pioneering election consultant and campaign manager who was a member of one of Baltimore's most prominent political families, has died of complications from multiple sclerosis. He was 57.

Mr. Murphy, the brother of former Baltimore mayoral candidate and leading defense lawyer William H. "Billy" Murphy Jr., died Friday night at Lorien Mays Chapel hospice in Timonium after a long struggle with the disease. Family members said the lifelong Baltimore resident continued to follow politics to the very end, listening to his favorite cable news shows on MSNBC even after he lost his eyesight.

"We have politics in our DNA, and he got a double-dose," said niece Rebecca Murphy, who followed her uncle into the political consulting business.

One of five children of prominent civil rights activists William H. Murphy Sr. and Madeline W. Murphy, Arthur Murray spent almost 40 years in the political trenches starting in 1970, when he managed his father's breakthrough victory in a race for a judgeship on Baltimore's then white-dominated Municipal Court.

Over the years, he would go on to run many winning political campaigns in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. Among his clients were former Virginia Govs. L. Douglas Wilder and Chuck Robb, who later was a U.S. senator, and state Sen. John A. Pica Jr.

Mayor Sheila Dixon said yesterday that she had known Mr. Murphy for a long time and that he helped on several of her campaigns.

"He's been a great political adviser and analyst," Dixon said. "I know he had been struggling with MS for several years now. Now he is out of pain and he will be recognized."

Billy Murphy said yesterday that his brother had an "incredible" record in the campaigns he managed, including his own successful run for a Baltimore judgeship in 1980.

"He won 85 percent of the campaigns that he ran," the former judge said.

Mr. Murphy's own venture into electoral politics did not fare as well. In 1998, he lost a race for clerk of the city Circuit Court to Frank M. Conaway.

Laura W. Murphy, one of his two sisters, said Mr. Murphy was born at home in Cherry Hill because his mother refused to go to any of Baltimore's then-segregated hospitals.

Mr. Murphy attended Cherry Hill Elementary School and Polytechnic Institute before graduating from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa. He went on to attend the University of Maryland Law School for two years before giving up his studies.

"He just didn't like it. He loved politics," said Laura Murphy, former director of the American Civil Liberties Union legislative office in Washington.

Mr. Murphy was known for his computer savvy at a time when other political operatives were relying on pens and index cards.

"He mastered that technology early in the game and grew with it," said Michael Cryor, chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party and a friend of many decades. "He was not afraid of it at a time when we were all very reticent."

Billy Murphy said his brother was a student and proponent of a technique called "prime voter analysis," which emphasized identifying the voters who were most likely to go to the polls and concentrating on winning them over. It would become a standard technique, and Arthur Murphy's skill at using then-emerging desktop computer technology would help make such analysis available to candidates at the local level who previously could not afford it, Billy Murphy said.

"It saved everybody a lot of money and made campaigns more efficient," he added.

In recent years, Arthur Murphy was a partner in the Democracy Group, an Annapolis-based political consultancy where he was known as an expert in direct-mail campaigns.

"He was amazing at designing campaign literature. He had a great graphic arts talent," Laura Murphy said.

She said that, over the years, Mr. Murphy had worked for the Afro-American newspaper, the National Presbyterian Church and Vote D.C. - a group backing full congressional representation for the District of Columbia. He also was active in many nonprofit groups, including the Maryland Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Laura Murphy said Mr. Murphy enjoyed travel and in recent years organized trips to Jordan that brought together Christians, Muslims and Jews to broaden cultural understanding.

Mr. Murphy was frequently sought out by political reporters for his expertise in Baltimore politics. Billy Murphy noted that his brother died the same day as NBC Washington Bureau chief Tim Russert, with whom he talked frequently and shared a zest for politics.

Russell Frisby, a former chairman of the state Public Service Commission, said Mr. Murphy was a bright man who dispensed frank political advice.

"He was always able to give a political sanity check - even when you didn't want to hear it," Mr. Frisby said.

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