Michael Stack Jr.; Philly lawyer, powerful political consultant

Posted: July 14, 2011

WHEN STATE Sen. Michael J. Stack III lost his first try for the office at the age of 24, he took it pretty hard.

"I was moping around and my father said, 'Who are you mad at?' " Stack said. "I named some politicians I thought had let me down, and he said, 'Send them all thank-you notes. You're going to need them in four years.' "

That kind of political advice was what made Stack's father, Michael J. Stack Jr., an invaluable political consultant not only for his son, but for anyone seeking public office in Philadelphia.

Mike Stack Jr., lawyer, teacher, author and, as Democratic leader of the 58th Ward in Northeast Philadelphia, one of the city's most powerful politicians, died yesterday. He was 84 and lived in Somerton.

One day, presidential prospect Jimmy Carter came into his law office and said he understood that to get anywhere in Philadelphia he had to see Mike Stack.

Mike was polite to him, as he always was with everybody, but threw Carter's card in the wastebasket when he left.

He might have been governor of Georgia, but to Mike he was just another in a long line of supplicants seeking Mike's favor.

But after Carter was elected president, Mike was photographed riding in the presidential limousine with him.

Sen. Stack said he was always known as "Mike Stack's kid."

"Somebody would introduce me as Sen. Stack and add, 'He's Mike Stack's son.'

"He was the guy you had to know if you wanted to achieve things in Philadelphia," the senator said. "He opened many doors for people.

"He absolutely loved his family, he loved the city and he never stopped loving politics. He still got a thrill when I told him about meeting with the mayor or the governor. He found it entertaining to the very end."

When Mike Jr. was described in a news story as the "powerful Northeast ward leader," he had a poster made up bearing the words, "Powerful Northeast Ward Leader" over a caricature of his face - "with a twinkle in his eye."

He had an Irish wit that wouldn't quit.

Mike took to heart the Biblical invocation to love your enemies. When any politician was down, rebuffed by the party, scorned, even jailed, no matter what Mike's relationship had been to him, he would make it a point to visit him.

Some were surprised. "I thought I never got along with you," one told him.

"What's that got to do with it?" Mike would respond.

Mike came from a political family. His father, Michael J. Stack, was a congressman in the '30s, the early years of the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration. He often butted heads with FDR, whom he didn't like very much, and left Congress in 1936 after two terms. He died in 1969.

Mike Jr. graduated from West Catholic High School in 1945, Saint Joseph's University in 1951, and the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1954. He married Felice Rowley in 1958. She is a Municipal Court senior judge and former member of the Philadelphia Board of Education.

Mike was an Army veteran who served in Germany, France and Belgium from 1945 to 1947.

He was an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University Law School in the '60s, and was an instructor in American Government at Saint Joseph's.

He held a number of positions over the years - deputy state attorney general, general counsel of the Philadelphia Parking Authority and the Redevelopment Authority, director of the state Community Action Program (Lyndon Johnson's war on poverty), among others. He also managed the campaigns of numerous Democratic political candidates.

He was the author of six books, mostly thrillers, self-published, and was completing work on his autobiography, "Ward Leader," at his death. His family intends to see that it's published.

Lawyer John M. Elliott, who was a student of Mike's at Georgetown, wrote the book's prologue in which he described Mike as a "Philadelphia original."

"He was a constructive force in civic and political life in Philadelphia for over half a century," Elliott said. "He was a very great human being."

Mike's daughter, Eileen Mirsch, said her father was "the most wonderful man alive. Irish to a fault. He was very supportive of us. He had three words of advice to give us: 'Go for it!' "

Mike only recently gave up his ward leadership, and was seeing law clients until a few months ago.

He also is survived by another son, Patrick; daughters Mary Theresa Nardi and Carol Poggio, and 11 grandchildren.

Services: Funeral Mass 11 a.m. Monday at St. Christopher's Church, Proctor Road. Friends may call at 6 p.m. Sunday and 9:30 a.m. Monday at the church. Burial in William Penn Cemetery.

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