Bold Democratic Activist Relished 'Enforcer' Role

(Family Photo - Family Photo)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Yvonne Shinhoster Lamb
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 4, 2008

Tough places never scared Marcia Krasnick, a 5-foot-2 Type A personality with a well-known "potty mouth," as her husband described it. She operated in politics like an enforcer and walked daringly into dank, dark and sometimes dangerous places as the first female deputy chief liquor inspector in Maryland.

Influential in Maryland state Democratic politics from the mid-1970s through the mid-'90s, Krasnick had no qualms about wangling money from reluctant residents, political operatives or members of Congress. When she was executive director of the Prince George's County Democratic Central Committee, she worked the phone into the wee hours of the night raising money to help elect a long list of local and state candidates.

Many times, she would come home from her day job, grab a Coca-Cola and her cigarettes, go down into her basement office and start making phone calls, said her son Jerald Krasnick, who once shared office space in the basement of their Greenbelt home with her.

He could hear her demanding money using language that would not be permitted in the newspaper. "It was a part of her language . . . the way she expressed herself," he said.

People who knew her respected her, whether they liked her style or not, because she could make things happen.

For instance, in the 1980s, when Mishkan Torah, the synagogue she attended in Greenbelt, needed to repair a leaking roof and air conditioner, someone suggested they hold a roast in her honor to raise money. She filled the room with people from all walks of life and a bevy of politicians with names including Hoyer, Sarbanes, Mandel, Glendening and Miller.

She charged everyone $100 a minute to tell stories about her and ended up taking in $103,000, one of the county's largest nonpolitical fundraisers, said her husband, Raymond Krasnick.

Krasnick, feisty and driven to the end, died April 5 at Johns Hopkins Hospital from complications of renal failure and diabetes.

Jerald Krasnick said his mother figured out early that kissing babies, walking in parades and hanging placards on doors was not enough to win elections. Money won elections, she said.

Krasnick also coordinated campaigns and organized poll workers while holding down a full-time job. She was the one in her neighborhood driving around with a bullhorn and a big sign on the family's station wagon.

Tommy Broadwater, a former senator from Prince George's, met Krasnick when he was starting out in politics in the early 1970s. She raised money for his campaign and "showed me the ropes," he said.

"She watched my back," added Broadwater, now a bail bondsman and businessman. "I was the only black in the Senate at that time, trying to make my mark for my people. . . . From the time I got started in politics and all the problems I had, she was there for me."

Krasnick also helped set the pace for relations between blacks and whites and conservatives and liberals in Prince George's, Broadwater said. She spoke out in favor of integration, busing and fair housing, he said, noting her sense of humor, seriousness and fair play.

Hardworking and straight-forward, Krasnick surprised Broadwater about 15 years ago when she went to his Seat Pleasant club, the Ebony Inn, in her role as state liquor inspector. Someone had complained that the club, which was seeking a liquor license, was too close to a church. Rather than just estimating the distance between the club and the church, Krasnick decided to measure it, Broadwater said.

"She was so into her job. . . . She was going to walk across the highway with a ruler."

Raymond Krasnick said his wife of 54 years didn't mind doing what it took to get the job done. While working for the Prince George's County Board of License Commissioners from 1980 to 1997, she had no fears about going to rowdy bars and dives that reeked of stale liquor and beer. Neither did she have trouble cracking down on places that sold alcohol to underage drinkers -- including her own daughter.

"As tough as those places were, she would walk in and say, 'Clean this place up,' " he said. "She absolutely liked walking in these places and intimidating them. She wasn't afraid. And nobody ever messed with her."

Among the places she ventured into was the Vous (or, formally, the Rendezvous Inn), a favorite hangout for University of Maryland students until it closed in 1997.

As a 1989 Washington Post story reported, for 17 years Krasnick visited the bar twice a week to uncover minors with fake IDs.

"One night, she got a call from a doorman saying that her underage daughter was there, claiming that Krasnick had permitted her to go in," the article said.

"I said, 'Oh really? You let her in, and you'll be a parking lot in the morning,' " Krasnick says. "Then I told them to put her on the phone."

Shani Beth Popow said she had never been so embarrassed. "She was like, "Don't make me compromise my position,' " Popow recalled.

Krasnick, a Brooklyn native, always worked hard for friends and family, her daughter said. In her younger years, she became a staunch advocate of preventing birth defects after the death of her infant son, Scott. When she finally retired in 1997, she knitted, played mah-jongg and enjoyed her five grandchildren.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company