ANNAPOLIS – The words “People Before Profit,” written in graceful script, float across state Sen. Paul G. Pinsky’s computer screen. A drawing of Nelson Mandela solemnly watches from the wall.
The long, scraggly hair that Pinsky’s mother always told him to cut has disappeared, but the 1960s ideals remain, mixed with a reverence for people and a bit of religion.
His colleagues say Pinsky’s blend of morals, ethics and politics make him one of the most liberal members of Maryland’s Legislature.
“He’s liberal in his beliefs and he makes no bones about it,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.
Pinsky prefers the word “progressive,” calling himself the lawmaker who “most consistently fights for fundamental changes.”
He has pressed unsuccessfully in recent years to raise the minimum wage and to make it easier for independent candidates to get their names on the ballot.
“Liberal covers a multitude of sins,” the Cheverly Democrat explained. “When rubber meets the road, [others] back off.”
The 47-year-old Pinsky has never been known for backing off. After leaving New Jersey for George Washington University in the 1960s, he marched through Washington, D.C., opposing the Vietnam War and the apartheid in South Africa and supporting women’s rights.
Mark I. Pinsky once joined his younger brother. Pinsky alerted his parents.
“We said if we got arrested for protesting the war, at least we’d be together,” the legislator said. “The two brothers would take care of each other.”
Pinsky’s protesting days extended past that decade. An early picture of him and his wife, Joan Rothgeb, was shot in the 1980s at a national labor demonstration, with Pinsky holding a bullhorn.
State Del. James C. Rosapepe, D-Prince George’s, said although Pinsky might not march now, he loves forming coalitions.
Pinsky agreed: “I’ve always believed in grassroots empowerment. When 7,000 people get together, they can really change things.”
He still takes his politics to the streets, knocking on 5,000 doors each campaign and publishing a biannual newsletter.
His efforts to reach his constituents seem to work. He easily won his 1994 Senate bid, capturing 63 percent of the vote in the general election and 74 percent in the primary.
Robin Bailey, Pinsky’s administrative assistant, said constituents appreciate Pinsky’s strong opinions and honesty. “We get more positive comments than negative,” she said.
Cheverly Councilwoman Julia Mosley said Pinsky is fair, responsive and has kept the 22nd District well informed.
“We don’t always agree,” Mosley said. “But I always find Paul to be open-minded. You can be on opposite sides of an issue, but that’s all wiped out for the next issue.”
Politics have seeped into much of Pinsky’s life. The birth of his first daughter took place as Pinsky’s first bill – on a Medicare issue – hit the House floor.
His wife called his office. “They said, `I’m sorry. He’s in a session,’ ” she recalled. “And I said, `I’m sorry. I’m in labor.’ ”
The Gray Panthers, who were with Pinsky supporting his bill, now consider themselves the girl’s surrogate grandparents.
Years have passed, another daughter was born, and Pinsky has left the House of Delegates for the Senate. But little else has changed. Pinsky still often introduces bills that he knows have no chance of passing, simply to raise an issue.
Pinsky recently introduced a bill to raise Maryland’s minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.70 over two years. “I’m not optimistic it’s going to pass,” he said.
He was right. The Senate Finance Committee killed the bill this year with an 8 to 3 vote.
But Pinsky feels he still had an effect. “Someone’s got to be the leading edge,” he said. “I think you have to raise the issue, fight the fight.”
That wasn’t the first time Pinsky lost while trying to bring liberal views to the forefront.
An unsuccessful Pinsky bill from 1996 would have taxed corporate executives’ incomes at a rate more than 20 times greater than the tax on the salaries of the companies’ lowest- paid employees.
Another Pinsky bill, which would reduce the number of signatures needed to put independent candidates on the ballot, was approved by the Senate this session and is awaiting votes in the House. It was killed in 1995 by the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee.
Despite Pinsky’s commitment to causes, colleagues say he never automatically rejects others’ opinions or bills.
State Sen. Clarence Blount, the chairman of the Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee, on which Pinsky sits, described him as a studious, attentive member. “That doesn’t mean he won’t ask the hard questions,” he said. Still, Blount was quick to add, “The independence doesn’t get in the way of being a team player.” -30-