Pikesville’s own Jewish advocate, Del. Shelly Hettleman of District 11, is excited to work on judicial issues in her new position as Baltimore County’s representative in the Maryland Senate.
Hettleman will continue to represent her district, in this new position, through the end of the term in 2022.
The Baltimore County Democratic Party announced Jan. 23 that Hettleman, 55, was its choice to fill the District 11 Senate seat vacancy in the General Assembly. This position was previously held by Sen. Bobby Zirkin, who announced his resignation in December 2019. The vote was formally consented Jan. 28, and the recommendation was sent to Gov. Larry Hogan, who approved the choice Jan. 30.
“I actually found out today,” Hettleman said Jan. 30. “We were on the floor for a number of hours voting on veto overrides, so I found out when I walked into my office. My office knew before I did.”
Hettleman was not the only person considered for the position, said Tara Ebersole, chair of the Baltimore County Democratic Party.
“Shelly did have tremendous support from the community and public, which may have been part of the reason,” Ebersole said. “They were probably also looking for specific issues she would support. There are a number of variables.”
Hettleman’s new role will be different from her role in the House of Delegates in that she’s been listening to budget hearings for the last six years, which is different from the judicial hearings she will now hear four days a week. Hettleman has introduced bills that she hopes to work on in the Senate, but her new role means she will work on different subject matters. The two pieces of legislation she is most passionate about are assistance to older adults in assisted living and a bill on overdose prevention, which “enables local communities if they choose to tackle the opioid crisis to have another tool.”
Her position has allowed her to work with great colleagues, she said, such as Zirkin. While Zirkin spoke about his weariness with political polarization when he retired, Hettleman is not concerned with that because she said she has a good relationship with both Republicans and Democrats.
Hettleman has also been closely involved with the Jewish community. She was the first program director of CHANA, a counseling, helpline, and aid network for abused women in Baltimore. She also worked with the Baltimore Jewish Council as director of government relations in the early 1990s to represent the organized Jewish community in Annapolis. She still partners with BJC on some bills, particularly for older adults.
“She’s a great advocate for BJC priorities and the Jewish community and for a better Maryland,” said Sarah Mersky, BJC deputy director. “This year we have particular bills to help our aging community, so that if they go to living facilities, making sure there are regulations around those. But in general the soon-to-be senator has worked with us on everything. She’s in the health appropriations committee and very supportive of our budget items and overall a great advocate for the district.”
“Shelly has been an amazing advocate for her constituents, for the Jewish community, and for all of Baltimore County and Maryland,” agreed Howard Libit, BJC executive director. “She has been a tireless champion of many issues important to all of us, and we look forward to working with her in her new position in the Maryland Senate.”
Hettleman said she enjoyed working with different faith communities at BJC.
“I loved working with the ecumenical community, loved developing relationships with different faiths, a Lutheran church, and the Muslim community. I got to know a number of legislators that are still here,” Hettleman said.
Hettleman also worked for The Associated as a senior planner. She also helped launch Weaving Women’s Words: Baltimore Stories for the Jewish Women’s Archives, a national nonprofit project that assembles oral histories and exhibits.
“I know the Jewish community especially well and its growing diversity,” she said, and she enjoys representing “a big chunk of the Jewish community” but does not claim to reflect everyone’s views. She also will host Hadassah in a few months for a lobby day to observe the session, “and I’ve spoken on legislative updates before the group. I’m a lifetime member.”
“I moved to Baltimore when I was 7, lived in Baltimore for a big chunk of my life, more in the county but I also lived in the city,” she said. “It’s my home, I grew up in the district, know it fairly well, had a family there. It’s certainly a community that has been wonderful.”