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In Memoriam, Peter N. Marudas, respected political strategist and adviser to three Baltimore mayors and a U.S. senator
By Jacques Kelly*
Peter N. Marudas, recalled as an astute political strategist who worked calmly behind the scenes for three Baltimore mayors and a U.S. senator, died of heart failure Nov. 20 at his North Baltimore home. He was 84. Mr. Marudas, a mainstay of Maryland’s Democratic political scene, worked to elect former U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes and was later his chief of staff. “He was a brilliant political analyst who was able to develop a great strategy,” said former U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski. “He had an ethical personality and came out of the heritage of [President] Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal and John Kennedy’s New Frontier.”
Former Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke recalled that Mr. Marudas was not well known because he was not an elected official.“But Pete was a great public servant. He believed strongly that government could help people,” said Mr. Schmoke, who tapped Mr. Marudas for his administration.
Born in Detroit, he was the son of Nicholas P. Marudas, a small-business owner and salesperson, and Lula Leventis, a homemaker. He was a 1955 Mackenzie High School graduate and ran track at the school.
Mr. Marudas received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in 1960 and a master’s degree in journalism from the same school.
He spent his childhood summers in Baltimore, where an uncle operated a Light Street dry-cleaning business and another uncle had a Curtis Bay restaurant.
Attracted to politics as a teen, Mr. Marudas watched Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic nominee for president in 1952, campaign that year in Detroit.
Mr. Marudas met his future wife, Irene K. Semerly, while they were students at Michigan. He moved to Baltimore and joined the staff of The Evening Sun in 1963. Mr. Marudas initially covered police in Howard and Carroll counties, and was soon assigned to cover Baltimore’s City Hall.
In 1967, late in the administration of Mayor Theodore R. McKeldin, he took a top job in the mayor’s office. Mr. McKeldin later complimented him by saying, “If only I had had him earlier in my career.”
Mr. Marudas was described in a 1972 Sun profile: “If any reporter thrived in a job it was Marudas. He quickly found something in common with everyone in City Hall and with everyone who visited there.”
He forged a strong friendship with Mr. McKeldin’s successor, Thomas J. D’Alesandro III, and held a similar trusted post as the mayor’s confidant and No. 2 person.Friends said he mastered the Byzantine-like world of Baltimore’s precinct politics. Mr. D’Alesandro, speaking in a Sun article in 2001, said of Mr. Marudas: “He could read people. He could sense sincerity or baloney. He was almost like my alter ego. I sort of found in him somebody who thought like I thought. … And [he] never had a hidden agenda. You knew you were getting a real honest critique.”
Kalman “Buzzy” Hettleman, with whom Mr. Marudas worked on three occasions, said, “He was lovable. If there was a Greek ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ it would be Peter. He was the most optimistic human being. He was always upbeat and he brought people along. “Peter was steeped in the culture of the people and nations. And, of course, he drew on the Greek traditions. But he was just a special human being. He brought out the best in everyone. People glowed and felt enriched by Peter. He did not have a polarizing bone in his body.”
Mr. Hettleman discussed how Mr. Marudas worked in a campaign: “He had a good intuition and feel for people. He could talk to a taxi driver or a restaurant diner. He had great instincts and judgment. He had soul and a feel for people.” He recalled Mr. Marudas’ ability to judge politics. “We’d sit in a room and you’d hear from the pollsters and the campaign media people, and Peter always had a distinctive and different viewpoint,” Mr. Hettleman said. “He would add a dimension born of his extensive knowledge of U.S. and world history in ways that pollsters don’t always understand. … He had a longer vision of things than just beyond the moment.”
After Mr. D’Alesandro declined to run for reelection as mayor, Mr. Marudas became Mr. (Paul) Sarbanes’ chief of staff. He had met Mr. Sarbanes as a reporter when the latter was executive director of the Baltimore Charter Revision Commission.
He was actively involved in the campaign when Mr. Sarbanes, then a state delegate, successfully challenged veteran congressman George Fallon in the 1970 Democratic primary for the 4th District seat.
Mr. Marudas played a role six years later when Mr. Sarbanes defeated former Sen. Joseph Tydings in the primary for the U.S. Senate and went on to win the seat from Republican incumbent J. Glenn Beall Jr.
U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes, a son of the late senator, said: “Peter was without question my father’s most trusted adviser over a period of years. Whenever my father was to make a decision about his life’s trajectory, Peter was the first he consulted.” Mr. Sarbanes also said, “Peter was an indomitable spirit. An optimist, he saw the glass half full. He was deeply intellectual and had a knowledge of history wherein he could take current events and put them in a broad context.”
A 2001 Sun article described Mr. Marudas’ style: “Kind, thoughtful, generous and politically astute. For nearly 35 years, Marudas has brought his particular, perhaps unique, political acumen to Baltimore, Maryland and national politics.” The article recalled Mr. Marudas’ manner of talking: “His conversation veers happily from local to national to international politics like a bumper car in an amusement park.”
Mr. Marudas continued as chief of staff until 1988, when he joined Mr. Schmoke’s administration as intergovernmental liaison. In 1994 he returned to Sen. Sarbanes as chief of staff. Mr. Marudas retired in 2001.
In addition to his wife of 59 years, a former Franklin High School teacher, survivors include two sons, Nicholas P. Marudas of Atlanta and Kyriakos P. Marudas of Baltimore; a brother, Thomas N. Marudas of Baltimore; and two grandchildren.
This obituary was first published in the BALTIMORE SUN, on November 26, 2021