When a vacancy opened up on the University Park City Council in 1973, supporters of Ruth T. Lutwack tried to persuade the mayor to appoint her to the slot.
The mayor, who had crossed swords with Lutwack over a controversial children's park in the town, was quoted as replying: "The only way that lady will ever get to sit on this council is if she runs."
So in 1974, that is exactly what Lutwack did. Instead of running for the council, however, the former president of the powerful local women's club ran for mayor to, as she says, "fix his (the mayor's) wagon."
Surprising everyone, the mayor chortly thereafter announced that he planned to retire, pack his bags and go to Florida. To make it more difficult for Lutwack to win, however, he gave his political blessing to an incumbent council member who was running for mayor.
With the backing of the 175-member women's club, Lutwack defeated the former mayor's candidate by 40 votes.
Sitting at her desk, which is identified by a hand-knitted green and yellow nameplate, she says that her six years in office have been busy ones.
Lutwack, who is blonde and, when asked her age, will admit only to being "over 60," says that she has worked with the City Council to reorganize the local police department, recodify town ordinances, and defeat plans for a proposed Metro route and high-rise development, which many residents believe would alter the town's character dramatically.
"People call me up at all hours of the night, usually complaining about things I can't do anything about," says Lutwack. "For example, I've gotten several calls from people complaining about racoons in their chimneys. While I know we caught 30 raccoons last year, there isn't much a mayor can do in response to a call that comes in on a cold evening just before midnight." d
Lutwack is an all-purpose mayor for this town of 4,000 that is practically an appendage of College Park and has more than its fair share of rolling green lawns, college teachers, lawyers and doctors. She not only acts as mayor, but doubles as the office secretary, filing, answering the phone, and typing and copying City Council agendas.
"I really enjoy my work, but I wish I had started 10 years before I did," says Lutwack, who was a housewife for nearly 40 years before she was drawn into politics by her own civic activism.
She says that she will probably not run for reelection in 1982, opting instead to stay at home with her husband, a University of Maryland English professor who plans to retire within the next few years.
"I enjoy working with people and I think it would have been interesting to serve on the County Council," she added, a big smile enveloping her face.