Siblings Share the Floor in Annapolis

Maryland Sen. Rona E. Kramer and her brother, Del. Ben Kramer, are the first siblings to serve jointly since the 1970s.
Maryland Sen. Rona E. Kramer and her brother, Del. Ben Kramer, are the first siblings to serve jointly since the 1970s. (By Robert A. Reeder For The Washington Post)
By Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 11, 2007

Rona Kramer walked from the floor of the Maryland Senate to the crowd of lobbyists, lawmakers and visitors gathered in the hall outside. From across the floor, she heard a familiar laugh.

Her kid brother, Ben Kramer, was yukking it up with some fellow freshmen House delegates. "I recognized that laugh instantly," the state senator from Montgomery County recalled. "I've gotta tell you, it was wonderful."

Not since the 1970s when East Baltimore sent to Annapolis the colorful Dypsky brothers -- independent-minded Democrats who broke the city's political machine to win election and whose homes were their district offices -- has a pair of siblings served in the legislature simultaneously. The Kramers' political base is more Chamber of Commerce than Polish-born steelworker, as it was for the Dypskys. But then and now, blood ties create something special when you're plodding through the annual 90-day whirlwind of lawmaking in the capitol.

"Rona's an inspiration for me," said her brother, also of Montgomery, who came in second in an eight-way House of Delegates Democratic primary last fall after two unsuccessful runs for County Council. Rona is serving her second Senate term. "I saw how much she accomplished as a freshman. It was motivating."

The Kramers are entrepreneurs: Rona in shopping mall management, Ben in car washes and commercial real estate. But politics is the family business. The two are following in the footsteps of their father, Sid Kramer, the former state senator, county executive and self-made millionaire who lost a Democratic primary for reelection in 1990. They were raised on stories about the intercounty connector, the highway that would link Interstate 270 in Montgomery with Route 1 in Prince George's County. (Sid Kramer was an early supporter.)

Like their dad, the Kramers see themselves less as power brokers than methodical, behind-the-scenes legislators. The two talk about the respectability of public service and making a difference.

"There are those who will throw out bills to create a résumé," said Ben Kramer, 49. One of his colleagues, freshman Del. Roger Manno (D-Montgomery), has already put in a controversial gun control bill.

"I'm not rushing to put in bills, " Ben Kramer said.

In her first term, Rona Kramer, 52, earned her colleagues' respect as a diligent expert on the state budget. She's one of two women on the Senate's budget and taxation committee, a position of which she's proud. "Women in the legislature are still expected to take on women's issues," she said.

Even as kids, Rona and Ben were the closest of the three Kramer siblings, similar in temperament and in the shadow of high-achieving older sister Miriam, a graphic designer in Howard County. Rona and Ben are just as close today, politically and socially.

They're fiscal conservatives, a nod to their business backgrounds and an anomaly in the liberal Montgomery delegation.

They're both divorced, single parents who live a 10-minute drive apart -- Ben in Derwood, Rona in Olney. Between them they have five children, ages 14 to 19, four of whom are living at Ben's house during the legislative session. During her first term, Rona hired a tutor for her two girls and moved them into her hotel room in Annapolis.

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