The Washington Post
Navigation Bar
Navigation Bar

Related Items
On Our Site
  • Aron's Career
  • Main Aron Page
  •   Aron's Tough Image No False Facade

    By Gregg Zoroya
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Saturday, September 3, 1994; Page B04

    Ruthann Aron has a love-hate relationship with her image, the one that has brought her from obscurity to serious threat in the Maryland U.S. Senate race.

    On the one hand, the 51-year-old mother of two is wary of critics characterizing her as abrasive or too forceful. "If you're assertive as a man, it's authoritative," she's quick to say. "As a woman, it's the B-word."

    On the other hand, the wealthy Potomac developer and self-styled marksman, with her .38-caliber Detective Special revolver, is clearly fond of being the tough outsider closing in on primary leader William E. Brock III, former labor secretary, in the Republican primary. Tossing the latest issue of Regardie's magazine in front of a reporter, Aron points at a snapshot profile of her that reads: "Ruthless! She kicks candyass Brock for inheriting his wealth and voting against 1964 Civil Rights Act."

    "I don't mind {it}," she says with a smile. "This is who I am. And if I were a wimp, they would say, 'Oh my goodness, she should go home.' "

    So Aron, a Montgomery County planning commissioner and lawyer, goes hammer and tongs after Brock -- a former Tennessee senator who wants to be the first person ever elected to the Senate from two states.

    She interrupts him at media luncheons. She calls him a "poster child" for the status quo. She aired a television commercial in April that attacked Brock, a move widely viewed as politically unconventional.

    And at debates, she can launch a finely honed diatribe -- citing documents and letters "in my files" -- scoring Brock for his: candy fortune inheritance, voting record on taxes, business disclosures, voting record on civil rights, fund-raising, voting record on Senate pay raises, Maryland residency and his more-recent overseas consulting work (which she labels congressional lobbying, though Brock denies it).

    Joyce Terhes, Maryland Republican chairman, must sometimes play traffic cop in a smoldering primary that is supposed to produce a unified party to unseat Democrat Paul S. Sarbanes.

    "Candidates have a tendency to become real aggressive and forget that the opponent is really the Democratic candidate and not each other," Terhes said.

    But her scolding only stokes the coals. Aron doesn't hide her disillusionment with the state party machine, which she says plays an "insider's kind of deal" promoting only handpicked candidates.

    "For a long time now, we {in the state Republican Party} have not been able to elect anybody statewide because we take this very narrow view as to who should run and how they should run," Aron said.

    Her strongest alignments are with the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which shops nationwide for strong challengers. Aron has won endorsement from Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato of New York, who handles fund-raising for the committee, and she said Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, chairman of the committee, was the decisive factor.

    "If Phil Gramm hadn't told me to run, I wouldn't have run," Aron said. "With his cute Texas accent, he smacked his hand into his palm and said, 'By God, I think we got one.' "

    Meanwhile, pollster Brad Coker said his Mason-Dixon/Political Media Research Inc. survey shows that although a majority of Maryland Republicans haven't made up their minds for the Sept. 13 primary, Aron is only three points behind Brock and closing. Moreover, Coker believes that because Aron is a political outsider, a woman, Jewish and a longtime Montgomery County resident, she has a better chance than Brock of drawing support from Republican women, persuading Democratic women and Jewish voters to cross over and pulling larger numbers from Maryland's most populous county.

    "I think {Brock} has less potential than Aron" to beat Sarbanes, Coker said.

    But others who have locked horns with Aron, particularly in business, say her toughness runs deeper than mere image, and they question her ability to give in the give-and-take world of politics.

    Immersing herself in the real estate development boom of the 1980s, Aron entered a world dominated by men and successfully completed seven commercial or residential projects in 10 years -- but not without bitter disputes. Twice, juries ordered her to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to partners who claimed to have been shortchanged in development deals. Aron later settled both cases out of court, once after a judge set aside a verdict and ordered a new trial.

    "She has characterized herself as a tough cookie {in her campaign}, and she is a tough cookie. When you deal with her, that comes across," said Washington lawyer Ira Wolpert, who helped win one of the jury trials. "In politics, that may not be an appropriate approach, because politics, as they say, is the art of compromise."

    Born Ruthann Greenzweig in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Oct. 24, 1942, she was raised with a younger brother in the Catskill Mountains resort area, where parents David and Freida Greenzweig for many years operated one of those stainless steel diners in Fallsburg, N.Y.

    Ruthann worked the tables for the Runyonesque customers, many from the nearby Monticello Raceway with copies of the Racing Form under their arms, talking fast horses and risky wagering.

    Aron said that perhaps the strongest influence in her life was a mother who was a voracious reader and a strong personality who insisted that success for her older child was there for the taking.

    Aron's younger brother, Neil Greenzweig, who has been estranged from his sister for many years, agreed that Freida Greenzweig played a large part in shaping Ruthann's personality.

    "I think my mother wanted to make a strong woman, and she achieved that," he said.

    The family broke apart during a bitter divorce. Ruthann Aron's father was found dead after an apparent robbery late last month, shortly after he learned that Aron was running for the Senate.

    Neil Greenzweig said his sister was a hard-working, ambitious teenager, well-behaved and always at the top of her class. She spent the summer in Israel in 1960, graduated from Cornell University with a degree in microbiology and met her husband, Barry, while doing research at New York University in 1965.

    He spotted her in the college cafeteria and asked to borrow part of her New York Times. As they both like to tell the story, she then took him upstairs to look at her microscopy slides. They were married within a year.

    Lean years followed as Barry Aron pursued his medical degree while Ruthann supported them teaching junior high science and doing market research. She also obtained a master's degree in education from New York University.

    Ruthann Aron loves to recount the story of a student who directed an obscenity at her. "I put him in his place with a bit of a swift touch of a yardstick," she said, explaining how she refused to apologize when the boy's parents complained.

    She uses the anecdote on the campaign trail, to underscore her toughness. "We have to reestablish in this country our values and standards and competition, not ... feel-good therapy," she says.

    Daughter Dana, 24, a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago, said those early years of struggle for her parents "built strength {of character} in both of them." Son Josh, 22, is an investment banker in New York.

    The family came to Montgomery County in 1973 when Barry Aron was an Air Force major stationed at Andrews Air Force Base. After he mustered out and established a urology practice (he now heads the medical staff at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital), Ruthann Aron obtained a law degree from Catholic University and took up real estate development.

    In 1980, the Arons built a colonial-style home on a two-acre tract in Potomac, valued now at $600,000. Ruthann Aron, whose taste in clothing runs to off-the-rack designer styles, often with a signature string of imitation pearls, has increasingly developed an appetite for country-western music and Reba McEntire, to her husband's consternation.

    Aron switched from Democrat to Republican in 1979 and became increasingly active in local civic affairs in the 1980s, serving as president of the West Montgomery County Citizen's Association and later being appointed to the planning commission.

    But it was her frustration with the government's handling of the savings and loan crisis that first turned her mind toward politics. In the Senate race, Aron has vowed never to vote to raise taxes or her salary, nor serve more than two terms. She said she would have opposed the new crime bill, favoring stiffer criminal penalties and less spending on social programs.

    "She is intense. She is focused," Barry Aron said. "She gets in people's faces in a very straightforward way, and she doesn't tap dance too much, and she tells them what she believes. ... And the funny thing is people listen and they say, 'Okay.' "

    © Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

    Back to the top

    Navigation Bar
    Navigation Bar