ANNAPOLIS – Delegate Howard Peters “Pete” Rawlings, one of the state’s most powerful legislators, died early Friday morning of complications from cancer, his staff said.
Rawlings, D-Baltimore, helped shape Maryland’s financial policy for over a decade as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and more than two decades as a lawmaker. He was the first black chairman of a state budget committee.
He died at 4:19 a.m. at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, where he had been receiving treatment for almost two weeks. He was 66.
“He was a great man,” said House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel. “There might be somebody that will come in and take his position as a legislator, (but) there will be nobody that will replace Pete Rawlings.”
“He was a giant, in Annapolis and in the state,” agreed Republican Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele. “His presence will be felt here, throughout these halls, for a long, long time.”
Steele spoke on behalf of Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who was in New York Friday.
Rawlings left his mark on state budget and education policy and also played a major role in last session’s debate over expanding gambling.
He “understood the budget probably better than anyone,” Busch said.
Despite radiation treatments during his lengthy battle with cancer, Rawlings played active roles in almost every General Assembly debate, Busch said.
“He’s watching over us,” Steele said. “I’m sure that in his own way, he’s going to manage to get a bill passed this legislative session.”
“He was an exceptional human being who was blessed with a superior ability to understand very complicated issues and develop good public policy,” said former House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr.
Rawlings was born in Baltimore on March 17, 1937, and grew up in public housing, attending Baltimore public schools. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Morgan State University and a master’s in mathematics from the University of Wisconsin. He also pursued Ph.D. studies at the University of Maryland College Park and taught math at Baltimore City Community College.
“He had a real passion for education,” Busch said. “I sincerely believe that he gave that credit for his success and the success of others in capturing part of the American Dream.”
To that end, Rawlings championed reforms at Morgan State and in Baltimore City and Prince George’s County school systems, despite opposition from some constituents.
But Rawlings wasn’t all business.
“He had an absolutely fabulous sense of humor,” recalled Fred Puddester, Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s budget secretary and Gov. William Donald Schaefer’s deputy budget secretary.
Rawlings once spouted quotes from the book “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus” with a straight face for three straight days of conference committee meetings, Puddester said.
“It was just quintessential Pete,” Puddester said, calling it “the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.”
“I can tell you from working with Chairman Rawlings for 17 years that his family always came first,” Busch said. “One of the things that Pete cherished most was his new granddaughter, and I know that was special for him — to make sure that he saw her come into the world.”
Rawlings is survived by his wife, Baltimore pediatrician Dr. Nina C. Rawlings; his three children, Lisa Rawlings, Wendell Rawlings and Baltimore City Councilwoman Stephanie Rawlings Blake; and Blake’s daughter Sophia.
Funeral arrangements are incomplete.