Stephen N. Abrams, 67

Stephen N. Abrams, outspoken Montgomery County school board member, dies at 67

Stephen Abrams served three terms on the Montgomery County school board.
Stephen Abrams served three terms on the Montgomery County school board. (Preston Keres/the Washington Post)
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By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Stephen N. Abrams, 67, a colorful politician whose candid, occasionally blunt observations enlivened Montgomery County school board meetings over two decades, died Aug. 1 at a Potomac nursing home. He had a brain tumor.

Mr. Abrams, a lawyer by training, served throughout the 1980s on the Rockville City Council, then jumped to the county school board, convinced that the Montgomery schools brand was key to the county's future.

He served three terms on the school board, from 1992 to 1996, 1998 to 2002 and 2004 to 2008. Over the past decade, he helped enact educational reforms that enhanced the national reputation of the county school system. He worked side-by-side with Superintendent Jerry D. Weast, and his support was partly responsible for Weast's enduring success in the job.

In public life, Mr. Abrams was equally well known for rhetorical duels on the dais. He feuded with some school board colleagues, spawning moments of spectacle on the otherwise collegial panel. In 2006, he and a fellow Republican had a highly publicized confrontation in a stairwell. This fed his reputation in local government for a sharp tongue.

His well-honed rhetorical skills, coupled with his political identity as a fiscally savvy Republican in a county filled with liberal Democrats, guaranteed fireworks whenever he entered a room. He could reduce an ideological opponent to scowling silence with a single sentence. (Mr. Abrams switched parties after the stairwell incident.)

In 2007, Mr. Abrams voted against a teachers' contract that guaranteed three consecutive raises of 5 percent each. He saw a downturn coming and told his colleagues, "I won't vote for a contract that I don't believe we legitimately can fund."

Mr. Abrams lost his seat the next year in an election shaped by labor endorsements. Then came the downturn, just as Mr. Abrams had predicted. The teachers gave up the third pay raise.

Mr. Abrams was instrumental in building the International Baccalaureate program in Montgomery schools in the 1990s. The European college-preparatory system helped schools such as Richard Montgomery High in Rockville gain national stature.

Stephen Nathaniel Abrams was born in Philadelphia on July 17, 1943. He came to Washington in 1969 with an economics degree from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. He received a master's degree in business administration from American University and was a 1974 graduate of the University of Baltimore law school.

He worked as a government lawyer in international programs such as the Inter-American Foundation and the U.S. Agency for International Development. He was a ranking administrator at the Agriculture Department under President George H.W. Bush and then a senior lobbyist for the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee. He later was an investment manager for various firms.

In his final years, Mr. Abrams turned his attention to Broadway, where he invested in a string of productions including the musicals "Avenue Q" and "In the Heights."

Survivors include his wife of 39 years, Judy Goldscheider Abrams of Potomac; two daughters, Elisia Abrams of New York and Jennifer Stier of Brooklyn, N.Y.; and one granddaughter.

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