Robert S. Knatz Jr.

Longtime Baltimore County Activist Was Aide And Mentor To Numerous Political Leaders, Including Pelosi And Hoyer

December 17, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Robert Steuart "Bobby" Knatz Jr., who was active in Baltimore County politics for nearly 60 years and was a trusted aide to numerous county executives and to a U.S. senator, died Saturday of complications of prostate cancer at his Reisterstown home. He was 80.

Mr. Knatz, the son of an automobile salesman and a homemaker, was born and raised in Owings Mills.

He was a 1946 graduate of Franklin High School and earned a bachelor's degree in history in 1950 from the University of Maryland, College Park.

Mr. Knatz's interest in politics began early in life and was honed by his father, who was active in county politics and was an unsuccessful candidate for county commissioner in 1946 as a member of the H. Streett Baldwin ticket.

In 1950, during his senior year at Maryland, Mr. Knatz filed for election to the House of Delegates from Baltimore County, even though he hadn't yet turned 21. He did reach the qualifying age in time for the September primary that year.

Running as an independent, Mr. Knatz explained in an interview with The Evening Sun at the time, he realized he had little hope of receiving the support of either of the county party factions.

"My action was motivated by a sincere desire to aid the Democratic Party and to further good government," he told the newspaper.

"However, I am a realist and must admit that I would be extremely surprised should the leaders of either faction demonstrate their interest in good government by supporting one so brazen enough to file without asking or even consulting them," he said.

Mr. Knatz lost the election, and after graduating from college, he served in the Army's Counterintelligence Corps from 1951 to 1953.

Returning to civilian life, Mr. Knatz went into the insurance business, and after selling the agency, established the Robert Knatz Real Estate Co. in Reisterstown.

He also remained active in county politics and was a member of the Fourth District Democratic Club.

In 1959, Mr. Knatz was named clerk of the Baltimore County Board of Supervisors of Elections, a position he held for two years before being appointed assistant to the county's director of public works.

Several months later, he was appointed secretary to Baltimore County Executive Christian H. Kahl, and he remained in the position until Spiro T. Agnew's election as county executive in 1962.

From 1962 to 1968, Mr. Knatz served as special assistant to U.S. Sen. Daniel B. Brewster, and among his responsibilities was supervising several young staffers, who included Nancy Pelosi, now the speaker of the House of Representatives, and Steny H. Hoyer, now House majority leader.

Mr. Knatz later served as a member of the Baltimore County Liquor Board from 1987 to 1991, and was appointed by then-County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III in 1995 as an alternate liquor board member.

Because of his community and political activism, Mr. Knatz was called "The Mayor of Reisterstown" by friends and admirers.

Mr. Knatz was a special assistant to Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. until May, when he stepped down because of failing health.

"He was a wonderful guy and for whom I have very warm feelings. We go way back to my teen years when I was handing out brochures for the Fourth District Democratic Club," said Mr. Smith.

"During his career, Bobby went from the streets of Reisterstown to the halls of Congress. He was a respected political leader, and with his death Monday, another piece of the county's political history has passed away," Mr. Smith said.

Mr. Smith said that when he first ran for Baltimore County Council in the 1970s, he consulted with Mr. Knatz.

"I discussed political strategies and approaches, and he loved to say, 'I'm the driver for candidate Smith,' because he drove me many days of the week," he said. "And on those trips between campaign appearances, he talked constantly and telling so many stories that helped build my confidence."

And when Mr. Smith returned to his car, he was greeted by his welcoming adviser and driver.

"He'd tell me, 'You were just great.' He built me up and when I needed it, he'd slide in a little advice. He really was great for my morale," he said.

Tom Toporovich, former secretary to the Baltimore County Council and a Dundalk community leader, is another old friend.

"He was one of those people who had one of the longest and most distinguished careers in public service in Baltimore County," said Mr. Toporovich.

"He was one of those rare people that you could always trust and rely on what he had said," Mr. Toporovich said.

Tiger Marshall, owner of Captain Harvey's, the Owings Mills seafood and crab house where Mr. Knatz dined several times a week, said, "Bobby was a staunch Democrat who believed in helping people, and he helped a lot of people. He knew everyone, knew all of the founding families, and knew the history of the area."

Mr. Knatz's son, Bradley "Brad" Knatz of Uniontown, said his father made his last political appearance a month ago.

"It was in Middle River, and he was there in a wheelchair and walker," his son said.

Mr. Knatz, who lived on Main Street for years, was a member of the Reisterstown Lions Club for 52 years and was a charter member of the Reisterstown Jaycees. He was also a member of the Has Beens, an organization of former Baltimore County political figures.

He was a longtime member of Pleasant Hills United Methodist Church.

Services will be at 10 a.m. today at Eline Funeral Home, 11824 Reisterstown Road.

Also surviving are a daughter, Lauren Knatz of Glenville, Pa.; and two grandchildren. His marriage to Orvalee Peeling ended in divorce.

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