Friday, February 1, 2008

Marilyn Praisner: Passing of a Titan

Perhaps you have heard about the recent passing of Montgomery County Council Member Marilyn Praisner. I write this post in praise of a legend of county politics, a true titan of public service who will never be forgotten.

Mrs. Praisner has represented District 4 (East County) since 1990. She is the longest-serving woman in the history of the County Council. But she was far, far more than that. She was a former member of the school board, a long-time chair of the council’s Management & Fiscal Policy Committee and a long-time member (and recent chair) of the critical Planning, Housing & Economic Development Committee. Those positions and her long tenure made her one of the county’s most influential voices on budget issues, cable policy, technology, education and land use.

But one of the things I always remembered when dealing with her was her long service in the Central Intelligence Agency, starting as an analyst and moving into the senior ranks. That gave her an unusual skill set for a politician. Mrs. Praisner was the one policymaker who read every page of every report and grasped every single detail. Nothing got past her. She could not be fooled or bluffed. If you were going to see her about an issue, you had better do your homework! Because chances are, she would know your subject better than you did.

Time and again, I saw her use that encyclopedic mind and relentless style to grill the unprepared. I’ll never forget her interrogating State Highway officials at the annual Road Show meetings. The purpose of those meetings was to allow the state officials to brag about all of the road construction work they were doing in the county. But Mrs. Praisner would have none of that. She stood up, armed with a bookful of documents, and flayed the bureaucrats about every project in her district. She wanted to know about every lane design, every curb, every paint line and every traffic cone and exactly when each step was going to be completed. And woe to the hapless bureaucrat who didn’t know the answers to those questions!

But there was another side to Mrs. Praisner. She was a civil and courteous public servant who enjoyed intelligent debate. She insisted on decorum but she liked ideas. She responded diligently to communications and requests. I did not live in Mrs. Praisner’s district but that did not stop her from answering my emails and considering my proposals. If you treated her with respect, knew your facts, did your best to answer her questions and told the truth, Mrs. Praisner was your friend.

She was a woman of incredible intelligence, great fairness, and most of all, unquestioned honor. Nobody was smarter, tougher, harder-working or more honest. She was a towering figure in our county. There will be other people who follow in her position as the District 4 County Council member. But no one – no one – will do a better job than Marilyn Praisner.

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