ANNAPOLIS – After what he thought was a successful dinner with a community member during his campaign for the House of Delegates last year, Bobby Zirkin felt confident enough to order a beer.
That’s when the waitress carded him.
“It wasn’t very impressive,” said Zirkin, the youngest Democratic member in the House of Delegates.
At 27 years old and 5 feet 5 inches tall, Delegate Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin looks more like a legislative aide than a legislator.
Walking from the State House to the House Office Building to meet his parents before his inauguration last week, Zirkin exchanged greetings with passers-by and joked, “They think I’m an intern.”
But his youthful appearance was not a handicap in his campaign for the House of Delegates.
“Conventional wisdom was that I would come in sixth,” in the six-candidate field in District 11, Zirkin said. Instead, he unseated incumbent Democratic Delegate Robert Frank to represent the district in northwest Baltimore County.
Zirkin is not the youngest person ever to hold his post: Current Rep. Ben Cardin, D- Baltimore, was only 23 when he was elected in District 11.
“I’m a senior citizen compared to that,” Zirkin said.
He’s not even the youngest in the House: Freshman Delegate Christopher B. Shank, R- Washington, is 26 and Delegate Kenneth Schisler, R-Talbot, now 29, was first elected at age 21.
Zirkin’s mother, Barbara, said she always knew her youngest son would go into politics. She still has the tape of him giving a speech at Wellwood Elementary School, where he was school president in sixth grade.
Zirkin served as president of Pikesville High School and, in 1994-95, as president of the Young Democrats of Maryland. He worked on the Clinton-Gore re-election campaign in 1996, earning an invitation to speak at the Democratic National Convention about a Democratic youth bus tour he organized.
Zirkin is a member of a freshman class that House Speaker Casper Taylor, D-Allegany County, called the “whiz kids.”
Watching as his son took the oath of office last week, Barry Zirkin said that what Bobby has done is nothing short of astounding.
“He’s got passion like young people often do,” said Barry Zirkin.
One of his son’s greatest strengths, he said, is that he doesn’t know failure.
“It surprises him when something doesn’t work and it makes him mad,” which makes Bobby work even harder, his dad said.
Delegate Joseph J. “Sonny” Minnick, D- Baltimore County and chairman of the county delegation, said he is not concerned about Zirkin’s youth and inexperience. But he has advised Zirkin to take the first year to learn the system.
“Most people come down here with expectations of changing the world,” Minnick said. “They find out very quickly that change happens slowly.”
Zirkin has been assigned to the Judiciary Committee, but said his legislative interest is education. His top priority is reducing class size, and he said he is working on a bill that would limit classes from kindergarten to third grade to 18 students.
“Several states have taken a more comprehensive approach in putting caps on the amount of kids that can be in a class and as far as I can see, the research has shown that that has had the most dramatic effect on student performance of any initiative for some time,” he said. “That is what I’d like to see the state of Maryland do.”
Still, Zirkin seems to have taken Minnick’s advice to heart.
“You come down here with this grand scheme, this grand idea, but it’s not just the idea that needs to be worked, you have to work the whole political process,” he said.
But Zirkin, who graduated from Georgetown Law School in October, said he is not sure if politics will be a long-term career.
“I noticed about a hundred new gray hairs on my head this morning,” he joked. “So, we’ll see.”