Nos­tal­gic turn through High­land­town

On Elec­tion Day, Mikul­ski goes back to her be­gin­nings

Baltimore Sun - - ELECTION 2016 - By Natalie Sher­man nsh­er­man@balt­sun.com

Sen. Bar­bara A. Mikul­ski was wrap­ping up in High­land­town on Tues­day, get­ting ready to move to her next des­ti­na­tion, when a woman walk­ing to the polls am­bushed her from be­hind.

“I couldn’t walk by with­out giv­ing you a hug,” said Sis­ter Mary Ann Hart­nett, wrap­ping her arms around the fa­mously fierce and prickly his­tory-mak­ing politi­cian who won her first elec­tion in 1971 to the Bal­ti­more City Coun­cil and will re­tire in Jan­uary af­ter 30 years in the Se­nate.

“We’re go­ing to miss you in that Se­nate, girl, I tell you,” said Hart­nett, 77, who grew up a few blocks from Mikul­ski and was a few years be­hind her in high school.

The stop at the South­east An­chor Li­brary in High­land­town was part of a nos­tal­gia trip for Mikul­ski, a re­turn to the dis­trict where she launched her ca­reer. Dur­ing early vot­ing, Mikul­ski cast her vote there for Hil­lary Clin­ton, the first woman to be a ma­jor party’s nom­i­nee for pres­i­dent. Mikul­ski voted for the coun­try’s first Catholic pres­i­dent, John F. Kennedy, in the same neigh­bor­hood in 1960.

For Mikul­ski, who boasts the longest ca­reer in Congress of any woman, the mo­ment stood out as the first time in decades she wasn’t vot­ing for her­self.

“That was re­ally a feel­ing,” she said. “I felt like I should have been hold­ing a torch right then and there and handed it to some­body.”

Mikul­ski’s re­tire­ment comes amid a his­toric elec­tion year for women, though Mary­land will send an all-male del­e­ga­tion to Congress for the first time since 1971.

En­gi­neer Christina Mayo, 37, who was vol­un­teer­ing at the polls, said jok­ingly that Sen. Bar­bara A. Mikul­ski poses for a photo Tues­day in High­land­town with sup­porter Christina Mayo, 37, and Mayo’s 8-year-old daugh­ter, Zaria. she is “afraid” of a Wash­ing­ton del­e­ga­tion with­out Mikul­ski, who is known for her fights for women’s health and pay and for her suc­cess steer­ing money and other op­por­tu­ni­ties Mary­land’s way.

“I’m very cu­ri­ous what the new lead­er­ship is go­ing to bring and are they go­ing to add on or re­duce her ac­com­plish­ments,” Mayo said.

Mikul­ski, for her part, said she’s not wor­ried her re­tire­ment will leave a gap.

“When we worked on is­sues of gen­der, it was al­ways about an agenda,” she said. “Men of qual­ity sup­port women as we seek equal­ity, and I be­lieve Chris Van Hollen will be in that mode,” she said of the man who will be her suc­ces­sor in the Se­nate.

Born in 1936, Mikul­ski grew up in High­land­town, at­tend­ing Catholic schools and some­times work­ing at her fam­ily’s gro­cery store. She con­sid­ered go­ing into a con­vent but be­came a social worker in­stead, ris­ing to promi­nence in the bat­tles against a high­way planned to cut through his­toric neigh­bor­hoods.

Her 1971 win in the 1st City Coun­cil Dis­trict broke the hold of the old Demo­cratic ma­chine, which she re­called Tues­day as “pot­bel­lied guys who smoked cigars.” She was elected to the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives in 1976 and, 10 years later, be­came the first woman in U.S. his­tory who did not fol­low a male rel­a­tive into the U.S. Se­nate. She an­nounced her re­tire­ment last year.

For her last elec­tion as a seated politi­cian, Mikul­ski said she wanted to be in the place where she got her start. She planned to visit East Bal­ti­more polling places, have lunch at Samos Restau­rant in Greek­town, make calls for the Clin­ton cam­paign and watch the vote counts.

But the 80-year-old, who said it was time for some­one younger to lead, kept her con­ces­sion to sen­ti­ment brief.

She’s fo­cused on the lame-duck ses­sion, where she will stew­ard a fi­nal spend­ing bill through Congress and wants to see a vote on Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s nom­i­nee to the Supreme Court. She said she’ll spend some time prep­ping who­ever takes her seat — “not my seat, the Mary­land seat,” she cor­rected her­self.

“I’ve turned the page before, and it turned out pretty good,” she said, ges­tur­ing to one of her com­pan­ions Tues­day, Perry Sfikas, a for­mer aide who was elected to her one­time coun­cil seat and later served in the state Se­nate.

Hart­nett re­called the fight­ing spirit Mikul­ski brought to the de­bate team at the In­sti­tute of Notre Dame, say­ing such de­ter­mi­na­tion has been a con­stant in Mikul­ski’s ca­reer.

“She never got puffed up and re­moved from her­self,” Hart­nett said. “If Barb had been run­ning again, she def­i­nitely would have got­ten my vote.”

Mikul­ski said she has no re­grets about step­ping down.

“It was my honor,” she told Hart­nett. “Thanks for elect­ing me.”

NATALIE SHER­MAN/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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