Frank A. ‘Flip’ DeFilippo, columnist who wrote of the ‘comic opera’ world of Maryland politics, dies

Frank A. ‘Flip’ DeFilippo, columnist who wrote of the ‘comic opera’ world of Maryland politics, dies

Frank A. DeFilippo, who wrote of the “comic opera” world of Maryland politics, died of pneumonia Dec. 9 at Gilchrist Center in Towson. The Village of Cross Keys resident was 93.

“He was a colorful character with a clever wit that shined through in his newspaper commentaries,” said Barry Rascovar, a former Baltimore Sun reporter, editor and columnist. “Flip was a wonderful storyteller who never took politics too seriously.”

Born in Long Branch, New Jersey, and raised in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, he was the son of Vito DeFilippo, a Bethlehem Steel worker, and Nancy Fulginetti. He earned a degree at Mount St. Mary’s University and served in the Navy as a trumpeter.

“I didn’t want to shoot people,” he told Splice Today in 2015. “So I enlisted in the Navy school of music and played in their band for four years in the French Riviera.”

He was an associate editor at the Baltimore Catholic Review before joining the Baltimore News-Post, later the News American, in 1961.

His 1967 two-part series, “Who Runs Baltimore” detailed how the city’s business community was intertwined with a small group of banks, law practices and corporations.

Writing in Maryland Matters more than 50 years later, Mr. DeFilippo said the series was about “the people and the institutions that made the town tick at a time when it was among the largest in the nation, an ethnic rust-belt manufacturing city that was governed by a WASP elite.”

The series began: “Describe them by any name – the Power Elite, the Status Seekers, the Organization Men, the Establishment – an inbred and exclusive clique of 133 businessmen and lawyers controls Baltimore, its government, its commerce, its culture, education and social institutions.

“The men at the mountaintop, calling the shots, included a couple recognizable to the public, the others unfamiliar names and faces. Thomas B. Butler, board chairman of Mercantile Bank & Trust, barely known except within his charmed circle of peers. Lawrence Cardinal Sheehan, a hometown success story and visible presence, leader of a half million Catholics and head of a huge financial and real estate institution, the Archdiocese of Baltimore,” he wrote.

“Frank … was an old style low-key journalist who covered people and hung out with them afterwards. He therefore had impeccable sources,” said Stanley Heuisler, former editor of Baltimore Magazine.

“His story on interlocking boards and schools and religious institutions in the secret power establishment truly blew the lid off Baltimore because it both confirmed prejudices that rich and connected folks really ran things and it blew open their expensive and carefully-crafted duck blinds of privacy,” said Mr. Heuisler. “Flip was respected as a big shot but remembered as a nice guy.”

“Few people have tracked the evolution of a city’s establishment with more attention to detail and consequences than Frank A. DeFilippo,” wrote Thomas B. Edsall this September in the New York Times.

Mr. DeFilippo went on to write about politics for the Hearst Headline Service in Washington.

He covered the 1968 Republican National Convention in Miami when Maryland’s Gov. Spiro Agnew was selected as Richard Nixon’s running mate. He also covered the contentious 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel named him press secretary in 1969.

Barry Rascovar, who covered Maryland politics for The Sun, recalled the day Gov. Mandel told Mr. DeFilippo to announce his divorce: “Flip was the Mandel aide who appeared in the State House press room late on the Friday before the July 4 holiday and said, ‘Here’s your Fourth of July firecracker.’”

Mr. DeFilippo returned to The News American as a political columnist in the 1980s and covered the repercussions of the 1985 savings and loan failures, among other topics.

He also covered politics for Channel 2 WMAR, appeared in WJZ TV’s “Square Off” for 20 years, ran a WCBM radio talk show and had 22 years on air with WBAL’s Ron Smith. He also wrote for The Evening Sun and the City Paper.

“He was always a gentleman when he served as WBAL Radio’s political commentator while I was news director,” said Mark Miller. “I once had to take some show prep material to him at home. It was a weekday, early afternoon, when I made my way to his townhouse in McDonogh Township. I rang the doorbell, and Frank answered, dressed in his usual dapper attire, with a cocktail in hand.

“I said, ‘You’re getting an early start.’  Frank replied, ‘Politics and alcohol are brothers from different mothers.’  And then, he invited me in, and I joined him for one. His favorite line, repeated in nearly every appearance on the air, was, ‘You don’t go to war with a newspaper that buys ink by the barrel.’

Hans F. Mayer, former Maryland Economic Development Corp. director, said: “Frank could be acerbic but he was also gracious. He had a sharp mind and his memory was incredible.”

He stopped writing for Maryland Matters in 2021. In a closing essay, he wrote, “I left Mount St. Mary’s College in 1959 with a degree in English and a portable typewriter, and I’ve been writing ever since.”

Funeral services are private.

Survivors include his daughter, Daniella Garran, of Barnstable, Massachusetts; and a granddaughter. His marriage to Beverly Epstein ended in divorce.

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