A notable figure in public service and former member of the Montgomery County Council, Esther Gelman died June 6 at the age of 84.
For much of her life, Gelman was a key player in County politics. She served on the Council from 1974 to 1987, and sponsored important pieces of legislation such as comparable pay for women, accommodation for religious leave, prohibition of smoking in public spaces and establishing the Community Crisis Center for Women.
“She was one of the giants in our county, a person who I thought who was an excellent public servant,” said Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett.
In 1986, Gelman decided to forgo another term on the Council and decided to run for retiring Rep. Michael D. Barnes seat in Maryland’s 8th congressional district, eventually losing the Democratic primary to State Sen. Stewart Bainum Jr. Republican Connie Morella would go on to win in the general election.
The daughter of Jewish immigrants, Gelman was born in Baltimore in 1931. In 1952, Gelman graduated from the University of Colorado with a B.A. in history, English and philosophy.
She first began her public service in 1968 after working as a news reporter covering the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. Becoming familiar with the MNCPPC, Gelman then decided to try her hand at local planning and zoning.
From 1970 to 1974, Gelman served as a commissioner of the MNCPPC and member of the Montgomery County Planning Board working on the master and sector plans that helped shape the County.
Gelman took her experience on the Planning Board to the County Council. After she was first elected, Gelman became a major advocate for inclusive housing according to Leggett.
“I believe we literally stand on the shoulders of Esther Gelman,” Leggett said.
Gelman was the fourth woman to serve as president of the County Council, being elected to a one-year term in 1984.
During her time on the Council, Gelman became a major advocate for women’s issues in the County. In 1982, Gelman co-sponsored Bill 55-82 that mandated equal pay for men and women. Additionally in 1984, Gelman sponsored a bill to help improve daycare facilities.
Even after her time with the Council ended, Gelman remained a strong advocate and campaigner in local politics until her death. Both State Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-20) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-8) sought Gelman’s support for their campaigns.
“She was one of the few people I ever met that was so committed to Montgomery County, its present, its future,” said Montgomery County Council President Nancy Floreen (D-At Large).
Gelman is survived by her husband, Norman and her two daughters Judy and Sharon.