The Baltimore Grill: Barbara Mikulski

Our own Senator Barb on saving Fells Point, the power of kindness, and getting Ben Cardin to first base. (It’s not what you think!)

Max Weiss -

The Baltimore Grill: Barbara Mikulski

Our own Senator Barb on saving Fells Point, the power of kindness, and getting Ben Cardin to first base. (It’s not what you think!)

Max Weiss -


Our usual Grill question, "Did you ever consider leaving Baltimore?" was a mere formality here. To the dyed-in-the-wool Baltimorean—who moved her way up from social worker to the Dean of female senators—there's no place like home.

Where did you go to school?
I attended Baltimore's Institute of Notre Dame (IND), an all-girls Catholic school in Baltimore, and the same school as our great Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Then I went on to get my Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from Mt. St. Agnes College. It was at those institutions that I received not only a good education, but an emphasis on leadership for women and the lessons of putting values into action. I was taught by nuns, many who had graduate degrees, and who were important role models. They taught me that I could be smart, effective, and womanly. I also got my Masters of Social Work in Community Organizing from the University of Maryland School of Social Work.

What book or film most changed your life?
One of my favorite movies (and books) is To Kill a Mockingbird. When I saw the movie it was the first I had ever seen that gave an authentic voice to a child. It taught me about the power of kindness. It taught me that there is nothing wimpy about kindness. And that is something I have taken with me as a social worker, as a community activist, as a Congresswoman and as a U.S. Senator.

Who is your favorite Baltimorean, living or dead?
Enoch Pratt, who created the entire library system for Baltimore to ensure that all people, regardless of background, race, or class, could have access to books. One of the first ones was in Canton. It changed lives—including mine.

What is the best advice you ever got?
Attending Catholic school, I was inspired by the Christopher social movement. Their motto, "It's better to light one candle, than to curse the darkness," became one of my guiding principles.

What is the biggest mistake you've ever made?
Voting to support President Bush's move of FEMA to the Department of Homeland Security. To this day, I still want to see it returned to an independent, cabinet-level rank run by professionals.

What's the bravest thing you've ever done?
Standing up to the political bosses and the Baltimore power brokers to fight against a proposed 16-lane highway that would have destroyed neighborhoods and torn the city apart. It threatened communities across the city, white and black. I knew we needed a plan and a way to organize. So I helped bring people together on both sides of the city to build coalitions that would increase our power and communicate with the people of the city that we had to save our neighborhoods.

When were you most tempted to leave Baltimore?
No–absolutely never! I have lived in Baltimore all of my life, and I would never want to live anywhere else. In what other city can you find so many different landscapes in close proximity? From my home in Baltimore, I could easily go to the beach, fish in the Chesapeake Bay, hike in the Appalachian Mountains. These beautiful natural areas are a precious part of Maryland's heritage and they need to be preserved so that future generations of Marylanders can enjoy them just as much as today's Marylanders do.

Who would play you in the movie of your life?
Regrettably, Cher has retired so I'd have to settle for Kathy Bates or Sally Field.

You're the co-chair of Hillary Clinton's campaign: Do you think America is ready to elect a female president?
America is absolutely ready to elect a female president, and I think we have been for awhile. I believe Senator Clinton is the woman for the job. She will bring us together around the smart solutions to America's problems and get this nation back on track—ending the war in Iraq, providing educational opportunities for our children, addressing our health care crisis, restoring our standing in the world and addressing our increasing deficit.

What advice would you give young women going into politics today?
Go for it—I did! And always remember that politics is local.

What do you think when you drive through Fells Point and Harbor East and see all that development?
It's exciting—it sure beats a 16-lane highway. There are new businesses and residences, but forever a community.

Is there any place in D.C. to get a decent crab cake?
Nobody makes crab cakes like they do in Maryland. And there's no better recipe than my dear mother's. Her recipe, made with fresh Maryland crabmeat (of course) is out of this world. In fact, I love the recipe so much that I want everyone to be able to enjoy it—you can find it on my website here.

Have you hazed rookie senator Ben Cardin yet?
Ben's no rookie, he's been a major leaguer for some time now. Sure, when he was first elected I played Coach Barb and helped him get on first base, but he knows how to bring it home. Now, we talk every day to meet for our dug-out chatter to work together as Team Maryland.


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