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Todd Portune '80 | Stephanie Cole Rawlings '92


Doing the Right Thing


When Stephanie Cole Rawlings '92 was elected to the Baltimore City Council at age 25, just a few months out of the University of Maryland Law School, she was the youngest person ever voted into that office. But in Rawlings' book, her youth and short resume were beside the point. "I had 10 more years of political experience than most of the other people [running]," says the Democrat, now 30, with characteristic brashness. "I had trained my whole life for it."

Indeed, Rawlings came up at the knee of a longtime pol: her father, Maryland State Delegate Howard P. "Pete" Rawlings, who chairs the powerful State House Appropria-tions Committee and is a major force in Baltimore politics. She remembers campaigning for her dad at the age of 7, hoisting up campaign signs while someone taller attached them to a wall or telephone pole. Years later, she attended political events as her father's companion when her pediatrician mom couldn't make it. In the summer of 1990, before her junior year at Oberlin, where she majored (naturally) in government, she won a four-year term on Maryland's Democratic State Central Committee, the organizing body for the Democratic Party. In 1994, she won her seat again.

"I grew up seeing people around the kitchen table, getting stuff done for our community," says Rawlings. "Whether it was my mom making people feel better or my dad making people's lives better, I knew what I did as a profession had to be more than a job. It had to have some impact."

It has. Last year, during a hotly contested Democratic primary campaign, Rawlings persuaded her father to endorse Baltimore's new Democrat mayor, Martin O'Malley. Stephanie set up a meeting between her father and the young councilman, which many credit with securing the elder Rawlings' endorsement, a significant factor in electing the white O'Malley in majority-black Baltimore. Stephanie Rawlings has continued that special relationship: As vice president of the council, she represents the mayor during debates of his legislative agenda there.

A major part of that agenda is controlling crime in Baltimore, America's second-most violent city after Washington, D.C. It's the issue Rawlings, also a part-time public defender in Baltimore, cares about most. After O'Malley ran on a platform of aggressive policing to bring down the crime rate, he appointed a black police commissioner to carry out the plan, something the community supported. However, when the police commissioner resigned, leaving his deputy, a white man, in charge, Baltimore community activists "came out from everywhere," she says, voicing fears that police would brutalize young black men in the name of stamping out crime. It is that type of racial politics and grandstanding that Rawlings rejects.

"Some people are just interested in being heard, being seen, making a stink. But that's easy," says Rawlings. "It doesn't take much to make a sign. What takes work is getting what you want done." And that's what Rawlings says she will continue to do, in the tradition that she inherited from her parents and found reinforced at Oberlin. "So far, I'm not jaded enough to lose the idealism that is pumped into the food at Oberlin," she says wryly. "Whatever makes people care enough to be active and think they can do better, is found at that school."

Dan Berger '54, an editorial writer at The Sun and a longtime family friend, says Rawlings is "an up-and-comer" who could, one day, be mayor of Baltimore. Rawlings herself declines to speculate on her political future, other than to say she'll serve as long as she's elected and urge others to get involved as well.

"Unless you participate in the process, you don't exist," she says. "It's not a spectator sport--you're either in it or you're not. And if the system isn't addressing your needs, whose fault is that?"

Alicia Brooks Waltman is a freelance writer based in Silver Spring, Maryland.