RIP Esther Gelman

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Esther Gelman died this morning after a long illness. Esther was one of the giants of Montgomery County politics over the past 50 years. A completely brief and truncated biography from the Montgomery County Historical Society:

Esther P. Gelman was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1931, and graduated cum laude from the University of Colorado in 1952 with a B.A. in English, History and Philosophy. In 1951 she married Norman I. Gelman, with whom she had two daughters.

Councilwoman Gelman began her political career in 1960 through involvement with the local Democratic party and various civic and neighborhood organizations. As correspondent for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (MNCPPC) from 1968 to 1970, she reported on the activities of the Commission and of the Montgomery County Planning Board, and served as Commissioner of the MNCPPC from 1970 to 1974. Mrs. Gelman was elected to the Montgomery County Council in 1974, and served as both its Vice-President and President. A member of many Council committees, she sponsored legislation in such areas as comparable pay, religious leave accommodations, smoking prohibitions, and the establishment of the Community Crisis Center for abused women.

Ms. Gelman was active in the Maryland Association of Counties (MACo), the Metropolitan- Washington Council of Governments (COG), and the National Association of Counties (NACo). Her many awards include the 1984 American ORT Federation’s Golda Meir Award for Distinguished Education and Humanitarian Service, the Montgomery County Government Spousal Abuse Award, and the President’s Award from the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce, and several citations from such organizations as the Montgomery County Health Services Planning Board, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the Hebrew Academy of Greater Washington. A member of many civic organizations, including the Jewish Council for the Aging and the Women’s Political Caucus of Montgomery County, she was made a Life Member of Hadassah, Pioneer Women, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

In 1986, she declared her candidacy for a seat to represent Montgomery County in the U.S. House of Representatives, but was defeated in the primary.

What happened after 1986 is pretty fascinating too. Esther, along with the late Dorothy Davidson, were instrumental in helping Chris Van Hollen win his 2002 House primary over Mark Shriver.

If you wanted to get involved in Montgomery County politics, Esther was an indispensable resource and spirit guide. I met her in 2006, and was honored to be her friend. She spoke freely and passionately about whatever was on her mind, and you rarely had to wait long to hear her opinions. She was sharp, she was cantankerous, she was opinionated, but she was also lovable, loyal and dedicated to what she saw as being the best interests of Montgomery County.

We will not see anyone quite like Esther Gelman any time soon. I already miss her and our conversations over deli sandwiches in Potomac. My sincerest condolences to her husband of 65 years, Norm Gelman, her two daughters, and the rest of her family. May her memory be a blessing.

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