The day started at 7:45 a.m. with a trip to Annapolis, but Montgomery County Executive Sidney Kramer would not be going home early.

Later, the county government was honoring 17 of its longtime workers, and Kramer wanted to be there. Rockville was inaugurating a new mayor, and Kramer should be there at the county seat. Montgomery's minority community was honoring a black county official, and Kramer needed to be there. Also, the Democratic Party elite were gathering to raise money for Maryland's senior senator, Paul S. Sarbanes, and Kramer, the county's titular party head, had to be there.

Kramer touched all the bases. Also, he launched the county's lobbying effort in Annapolis that day, presided over two hours of budget deliberations, had lunch with the executive of a major firm considering a move to Montgomery County, suggested a compromise in a landlord-tenant dispute in a county building, worked out his calendar for the coming weeks and chatted by phone with the county school superintendent.

Kramer kept in touch that day with sources of power, official and unofficial, in this county of 675,000, gave his personal attention to some of the details that fuel the billion-dollar government he heads, and tried to lay some groundwork for the months ahead.

It was a day that could serve as a mirror to the first year of the Kramer administration, in which an experienced Maryland politician has used his traditional skills to court varied constituencies, overcome potential opposition and achieve favorable compromises.

By most accounts -- from his backers and detractors, friends and workers, family and politicians -- the 62-year-old Kramer, a self-made millionaire and product of almost two decades in state and county politics, has had a very good first year, picking his battles carefully and winning them.

Kramer takes much pleasure in looking back over the year, and his enjoyment is reflected in what his staff says is a relaxation in his stiff, al- most banker-like demeanor. He jokes more frequently, and his sharp humor sometimes seems unexpected. Trim and well-groomed, the bespectacled Kramer seems to be energized from the past year.

His staff and friends worry that he is overextending himself and have warned him not to get so involved in the minutiae of his office. One staff member said: "He is very much involved with what is before him right now, believing taking care of the details will take care of the future. He should have more of an eye on the future, the big picture."

Kramer's governance, on a wave of political goodwill unprecedented in the recent history of relations between the executive and the County Council, is a mix of his businessman's attention to detail, his gentlemanly ability to bring people to consensus and his mastery of hardball politics.

Since he was sworn into office Dec. 1, 1986, after having won a bruising Democratic primary over former council member David Scull, Kramer has prevailed, albeit sometimes at the last minute, in all of the significant issues that have confronted the council. Some of those battles involved controversies that had eluded resolution for years. But in each case, Kramer got his way.

The $170 million trash incinerator would be built at rural Dickerson instead of the more heavily populated Shady Grove; the county's 700 full-time firefighters would become county employes; Kramer's choice for the Planning Board would be seated; the schools would have to make do with $20 million less than they requested; Silver Spring would be opened to major new development.

Also, Kramer managed to pull off the county's first tax increase in six years with barely a whisper of protest.

"He has had an extraordinary batting average," said Bruce Adams, a County Council member who has opposed Kramer as often as he has supported him.

Although some political observers say that much of the credit belongs to the County Council, Kramer's successful navigation through the mine fields of Montgomery politics has helped make him, without question, the strongest Democrat on the local scene, and it has given him the potential to become the most powerful executive in the county's 17-year history of council-executive government.

The victories, though, have come at some political cost, making enemies of residents who opposed his Silver Spring and Dickerson initiatives and fueling the charges of his harshest critics that he is more attuned to the needs of the county's business and development community than its social needs.

"Business and traffic, roads and economic development. That's all we hear. I wonder, have we lost our hearts?" said Jenny Sue Dunner, a longtime civic activist.

His push for a massive redevelopment of Silver Spring has given pause to some who see that initiative, along with his efforts to lure other business to the county, as a repudiation of his campaign promise for balanced growth.

"I think he told people he was committed to balanced development in the county . . . . He is now leading the charge for development," said Betty Anne Krahnke, a former Planning Board member and unsuccessful Republican candidate for the council.

And there are decidedly frayed relations with the school board, which smarted over not getting its full budget request last year, and with the county's NAACP, which led the opposition to his choice for the Planning Board in what proved to be a painful controversy.

Kramer's political strength comes from the alliances he has on the county level, with the all-Democrat, seven-member County Council and the Democrat-controlled Montgomery delegation to Annapolis. It is enhanced by the network of personal contacts he forged with state power brokers while in the state Senate, high on the list being his relationship with Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

Schaefer's now infamous question earlier this year -- "Where does Montgomery County belong?" -- and his irritation with Kramer for complaining about the level of state school funding caused some initial concern that state-county relations would be rocky, with the county having the most to lose. Kramer quickly went out of his way to let the governor know he was willing to compromise -- to a point -- and their relationship is marked by a mutual respect and affection, according to associates of both men.

"He knows how to work with people and how to compromise," Schaefer said in a recent interview. The governor has followed through on Kramer's requests, including money for road and school construction and for a Montgomery MedEvac helicopter program.

Kramer, in turn, has learned when to stop pressing and to help fly the Schaefer flag in a county that went for his opponent, former state attorney general Stephen Sachs, in last year's gubernatorial primary.

In contrast to his two predecessors, Kramer has good relations with the County Council, whose members ran with him as a slate in the general election.

Some people say that Kramer's success stems not so much from his leadership as from a council that has performed responsibly and from important groundwork laid by former executive Charles W. Gilchrist, including winning increased powers for the executive.

"I think the key to the change is that the members of the council {who were} so busy attacking {the executive} are gone," said Neal Potter, a council member for the past 17 years. He was referring to former council members Scull and Esther Gelman, who were frequently at odds with Gilchrist.

Kramer is quick to agree, making a point to credit the council publicly and privately. "We have gotten a lot accomplished, more than even I would have thought possible for the first year. Yes, I am pleased and proud, but I don't kid myself that I did it alone," Kramer said.

Accomplishment is a word that recurs in Kramer's vocabulary, and it provides one key to how this self-contained man views himself and his job. The son of immigrant Jews from Eastern Europe, a child who did not speak English until he started school, Kramer now has a $750,000 house in Potomac and a condominium in Ocean City, Md.

As he shows a reporter his new house, he recalls the upper Northwest Washington apartment where he grew up. "Mom and Dad rented one of the bedrooms, so the five boys slept on a converted porch . . . . On cold mornings, you could see your breath," Kramer recalled of the days he rose at 3 a.m. to work in his father's wholesale meat store. Kramer would work until about 11 a.m. at the store and then go to George Washington University, where he was a pre-med student. He would get home at 11 at night, he said, and "then start over again." He said he got an ulcer in his twenties.

Once he told his parents that he did not want to be a doctor, he and his wife Betty Mae went into the car wash business, working side by side. A chain of car washes followed, then their successful venture into commercial real estate, which now includes a multimillion-dollar shopping center at New Hampshire Avenue and Randolph Road.

Unlike Gilchrist, his immediate predecessor, who was a familiar and comfortable figure after two terms in office, Kramer is a bit of a puzzle.

He speaks guardedly except when he talks about his three children and four granddaughters. His wife has proven an elegant and well-regarded first lady who, friends say, remains his closest confidant.

Kramer's political acumen is evident in the past year's key council votes: Most of the significant issues were decided in 4-to-3 votes, with Kramer obtaining the precarious fourth vote at the eleventh hour. The makeup of the majority differed in many cases, with Kramer sensing how to identify and win the swing vote.

"He knows how hard to push and at what point to relinquish the push, and to seek the compromise," said council member Isiah Leggett, who has supported and opposed Kramer on issues.

Council member William E. Hanna Jr., who was Kramer's toughest opponent on the Dickerson vote but his biggest backer in Silver Spring, said he appreciates Kramer's straightforward, honest approach. "He brings the council in early on decisions so there are no surprises, and he is willing to listen," Hanna said, adding that even when there is disagreement, there is nothing personal about it.

The bulk of Kramer's four-year term lies ahead, and it seems likely that he will seek a second. Some of the controversies of the past, such as school financing, will be revisited, and initiatives are on tap, including an expansion of the county's recycling program.

Also, there may be an evolution of his vision for the county, his confidants say. Said county Democratic Party activist Lanny Davis: "What is still there for Sid to do is to convey a message, a vision for the county that is his own."