Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s surprise announcement on Monday that she would not seek a sixth term in the Senate in 2016 has thrown Maryland politics wide open. But whoever succeeds the much-admired, forceful and energetic Mikulski will find it difficult to break as much ground as the Baltimore native.
The longest-serving woman in Congress, Mikulski in 1986 became the first woman to be popularly elected to the Senate. Later, she became the first woman to join the Democratic leadership and then the longest-serving woman in the Senate.
Mikulski, 78, has been a strong liberal voice on Capitol Hill. As the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee until Republicans took control in January, she oversaw, among other things, U.S. funding to Israel. Last summer, as Israel was fighting the second Gaza war against Hamas, Mikulski’s committee approved $225 million in extra funding to Israel. At that time she wrote, “It’s crucial that Israel has the opportunity to defend itself while others are working on cease-fires or political solutions.”
A daughter of Baltimore’s Polish-Catholic community, Mikulski began her career as a social worker and community organizer, and she never forgot her blue-collar roots. As a politician, she focused on the rights of women, children, seniors, veterans, federal workers and the disadvantaged — never losing focus on her constituents and their local needs. And she has been a reliable and forceful advocate for issues of interest and concern to our Jewish community.
At the news conference where she announced her plan to retire, Mikulski admitted that the line was already forming to succeed her. “Maryland has a lot of talent, and they’ll be telling you about it within the next 10 minutes,” she said, provoking laughter. Reps. Chris Von Hollen, John Delaney and Elijah Cummings, as well as Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, have already topped handicappers’ lists.
We can only hope that Mikulski’s successor will be as attentive, understanding, strong and reliable on issues relating to Israel and of concern to our community as our dear friend has been. She will most certainly be a tough act to follow.