Maryland Senate Majority Leader Rosalie Abrams (D-Baltimore) can still remember the legendary Baltimore political boss James H. (Jack) Pollack writing her off during her first campaign with the snide question, "Who gonna vote for a Jewish housewife?
But enough people did so, in that 1966 election, to elect Abrams to the Maryland House of Delegates from her northwest Baltimore district. In 1970, she was elected to the state Senate, where she became the leader of her party.
Abrams still can smile about that fledgling candidacy 14 years ago, when she remembers how she "ran a campaign out of the kitchen -- a direct-mail campaign, a textbook campaign, the kind they said could never work."
Abrams had gravitated naturally to politics as she grew up in a household that was a gathering place for local politicians. Sunday-night discussions there always revolved around politics she says.
Educated as a nurse, she became interested in how politics affected medical care and began doing volunteer work for politicians at an early age. By the mid-1960s, Abrams -- then a candidate for her PhD in political science -- decided she was "no theorist" and was tired of working for other people's campaigns.
"I decided to run myself," she says.
Since then, some of her proudest legislative achievements include bills she sponsored to modernize procedures for emergency commitments to state mental hospitals and to change the legal procedures used when a criminal defendant pleads not guilty by reason of insanity.
This year she believes the most significant bill of the session is the governor's proposal to add $67 million to basic state aid to education, some of it to increase state state assistance to poorer counties.
It will equalize educational opportunities for children," she said. "The accident of where you live ought not determine the quality of education you get."
Abrams was thrust to prominence in 1978 when then-Democratic candidate for governor Harry Hughes asked her to chair the state party, and again in 1979 when she was named Senate majority leader.
She sees herself as a "liaison" between the senate and the Hughes administration, as a coordinator of the Senate's work and a force to keep legislation moving. That role is worlds away from the vote-trading (some would say arm-twisting) function that predecessors such as former Sen. Roy Saten performed as the governor's voice on the Senate floor.
"Of course it's a different role," she said recently. "I can't hold people's. bills hostage. The president of the Senate and Gov. Hughes both feel the legislature is independent, and I think that's good to a great extent."
This year her role as majority leader placed Abrams at the center of an embarassing furor, when rumors of an administration "plot" to unseat her as majority leader spread through the legislature.
Before the session started in January, one of the governor's aides called Abrams to ask if she sould be interested in taking over the secretary of state's job -- a move that would have required giving up her Senate seat and the majority leadership.
Hughes has said since that the whole thing was a "misunderstanding" and Abrams now says, "It's old business, finished business."
With a wave of her hand, Abrams explained, "I find it difficult to keep grudges against politicians and that may be a weakness. But my role is to bring people together, and that is one of my strengths."