Longtime Democratic ward leader Stack dies

When Chris Drumm be­came 63rd Ward Demo­crat­ic lead­er in the late 1980s, he asked pre­de­cessor Scott Beck­er for some ad­vice.

Drumm was told, “Sit next to Stack and do whatever he does.”

“It was good ad­vice,” Drumm re­called.

Drumm re­mem­bers Mike Stack Jr., the long­time Demo­crat­ic lead­er of the 58th Ward, as a funny and smart man who was a loy­al alum­nus of St. Joseph’s Col­lege and had a sharp polit­ic­al mind.

Stack died Ju­ly 13 of con­gest­ive heart fail­ure at Temple Uni­versity Hos­pit­al. He was 84 and lived on Southamp­ton Road in Somer­ton.

“A great man. Peri­od. He will be dearly missed,” said Drumm, who re­lin­quished his ward post in 2007.

Stack is sur­vived by his wife of 53 years, Fe­lice, a Mu­ni­cip­al Court seni­or judge and former school board mem­ber; chil­dren Mary Theresa Nardi, Mi­chael III, Patrick, Eileen Mirsch and Car­ol Pog­gio.; and grand­chil­dren Tom, Joe, Meg, Justin, Katie, Pat, Car­oline, Mi­chael, Vin­cent, Vic­tor­ia and Gi­anna.

Stack was born in West Phil­adelphia, He at­ten­ded Trans­fig­ur­a­tion of Our Lord Gram­mar School, West Cath­ol­ic High School, St. Joseph’s Col­lege and the Uni­versity of Pennsylvania Law School (Class of 1954). He spent two years in the U.S. Army. His fath­er was a two-term con­gress­man in the 1930s.

Over the years, he prac­ticed law, worked as a deputy state at­tor­ney gen­er­al, was a trust­ee on the Board of Pris­ons, served as gen­er­al coun­sel to the Phil­adelphia Park­ing Au­thor­ity and Phil­adelphia Hos­pit­al Au­thor­ity and taught an Amer­ic­an gov­ern­ment class at St. Joseph’s Uni­versity night school.

While liv­ing in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., he worked for Pres­id­ent Lyn­don John­son’s anti-poverty pro­gram and taught at Geor­getown Law School, where one of his stu­dents was fu­ture con­gress­man and Phil­adelphia May­or Bill Green.

In 1966, he worked for the cam­paign of Milton Shapp, who lost the race for Pennsylvania gov­ernor. In ’67, he joined the re-elec­tion cam­paign of May­or James Tate, who edged a young dis­trict at­tor­ney, Ar­len Specter.

In 1970, he be­came lead­er of the 58th Ward Demo­crats. In the rough-and-tumble world of Phil­adelphia ward polit­ics, he bor­rowed a phrase from South Phil­adelphia con­gress­man Bill Bar­rett: “Today’s en­emy is to­mor­row’s friend.”

In 1973, Stack made his one and only run for pub­lic of­fice. May­or Frank Rizzo backed him in the primary for dis­trict at­tor­ney, but he lost to Em­mett Fitzpatrick.

Among the politicos vis­it­ing Stack’s house were former May­ors Rizzo and Wilson Goode, former U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd of Con­necti­c­ut, former U.S. Rep. Bob Bor­ski and a son of former Pres­id­ent Jimmy Carter.

Stack resigned as ward lead­er in 2007, as­sum­ing the title of ward lead­er emer­it­us, and was re­placed by his son Mike, a three-term state sen­at­or. The ward in­cluded di­vi­sions in Bustleton and Somer­ton.

His pas­sions in­cluded por­trait paint­ing and writ­ing. He au­thored six non-fic­tion books on a vari­ety of top­ics.

The book Close Per­son­al Friends of the May­or mir­rors the ’67 Tate/Specter race. His writ­ing style, some said, re­sembled that of “City Hall Sam,” who writes a weekly column for the Phil­adelphia Pub­lic Re­cord.

A sev­enth book, Ward Lead­er, which takes a look at the wacky world of Phil­adelphia ward polit­ics, is al­most ready to be pub­lished.

Sev­er­al years ago, a key ward func­tion — col­lect­ing nom­in­at­ing pe­ti­tions for can­did­ates — led to Stack and a couple of com­mit­tee people be­ing in­dicted in an elec­tion fraud case. They were charged with for­ging pe­ti­tions for a City Coun­cil race, but a judge ruled that the pro­sec­u­tion did not bring the case to tri­al in a timely man­ner. Ap­peals courts up­held the de­cision.

Stack con­tin­ued to prac­tice law late in life but was be­set with prob­lems as­so­ci­ated with dia­betes and his heart.

His fa­vor­ite activ­it­ies in­cluded trav­el­ing, play­ing movie trivia and or­gan­iz­ing a gi­ant treas­ure hunt every East­er week­end at his home in Stone Har­bor, N.J.

“He loved when every­body was down the shore to­geth­er,” his son Mike said. “He was al­ways giv­ing the grandkids paint­ing les­sons.”

The young­er Stack de­scribed his fath­er as his ment­or and a wise “ar­tis­an of polit­ics” who deftly nav­ig­ated the feuds and turf wars.

Whenev­er someone ap­proached him with a prob­lem, he didn’t even take time to re­spond verbally.

“He’d start di­al­ing phone num­bers,” his son said, and usu­ally the prob­lem would be solved.

The sen­at­or, who is a law­yer, tried a couple of cases with his fath­er.

“He was second to none in be­ing able to solve leg­al prob­lems and com­mu­nic­ate with a jury,” he said.

Mike McAleer, who has been Demo­crat­ic lead­er of Ward 66-B for 35 years, coun­ted Stack as a good friend with a great sense of hu­mor.

“When I was in a polit­ic­al jam, I’d call him. He gave me a lot of ad­vice in my ca­reer,” said McAleer, who works in Sen. Stack’s Park­wood of­fice. “He was a pretty straight shoot­er and a hel­luva fam­ily man. He was usu­ally right on the money with polit­ics.”

Frank Con­away served 25-plus years as Demo­crat­ic lead­er of the 57th Ward. He re­calls Stack as an as­tute polit­ic­al ob­serv­er who dis­pensed good ad­vice, like a doc­tor with a good bed­side man­ner.

“I nev­er heard him raise his voice in a polit­ic­al set­ting,” he said. “He ap­peared to be very calm all the time. There’s not too many of them around, but he was a gen­tle­man.”

Like Stack, Mike Mee­han is a law­yer and a long­time Somer­ton res­id­ent. Un­like Stack, Mee­han is a staunch Re­pub­lic­an whose fam­ily has run the loc­al party for dec­ades.

Polit­ics, though, did not di­vide them.

“It’s a very sad day for Somer­ton. He was a fix­ture there,” Mee­han said. “He was a friend and will be sorely missed.”

Former state Rep. George Ken­ney, an­oth­er long­time Somer­ton res­id­ent, knew the long­time ward lead­er as “Mr. Stack” for four dec­ades. He de­scribed him as a great neigh­bor, storyteller and pa­rish­ion­er at St. Chris­toph­er Church.

Ken­ney, a Re­pub­lic­an, of­ten talked polit­ics with Stack, whose stor­ies in­cluded a 1974 con­gres­sion­al primary that saw the ward lead­er help U.S. Rep. Josh Eil­berg crush a young Somer­ton man named Chris Mat­thews, who now hosts Hard­ball on MS­N­BC.

“We had a lot of laughs to­geth­er,” said Ken­ney, now dir­ect­or of com­mon­wealth and fed­er­al af­fairs for Temple Uni­versity.

Some of those laughs came at sug­ges­tions that Stack would put up weak can­did­ates against Ken­ney. Many people in both parties in­sisted the two had a long­stand­ing secret deal.

“I nev­er thought so, and neither did he, but every­body else thought so,” Ken­ney said. “I nev­er dis­cour­aged people from think­ing that, and neither did he.”

View­ings for Stack were held Sunday night and Monday morn­ing be­fore a fu­ner­al Mass at St. Chris­toph­er.

In lieu of flowers, me­mori­al con­tri­bu­tions can be made to Spon­sor a Needy Stu­dent Fund, c/o St. Chris­toph­er Church, 13301 Proc­tor Road, Phil­adelphia, PA 19116 or Cranaleith Spir­itu­al Cen­ter, 13475 Proc­tor Road, Phil­adelphia, PA 19116. ••

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­ing@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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