"We were somewhere with the family, and I just remember her looking around and saying, 'Why are so many people in our family fat?' " Rawlings-Blake says. "I thought, this — the way we were living — didn't have to be my daughter's reality. I could fix it."

Rawlings-Blake says she slimmed down after she got honest with herself about her eating habits, especially at evening meetings.

"I kept saying, 'I don't know why I'm not losing weight. I'm not eating breakfast. I'm not eating dinner,' " she says. "But I wasn't eating one dinner, I was eating five. By the time I made it from one event to another, I had eaten two days of calories."

Her sleeker look brings political advantages, says Councilman Robert W. Curran, who, like Rawlings-Blake, was first elected to the council in 1995.

"To be a good leader, you have to look good, too," Curran says. "I hate to say it, but that's part of leadership. I don't think she'd be the leader she is today if she hadn't gotten in control of her weight. She was able to take command of her own physicality, and then show she could take command of the city."

Rawlings-Blake says the exigencies of her job leave her little time to contemplate — or consciously construct — an image. But undoubtedly, the pressures of the role shape the mayor, as she, in turn, leaves her mark upon the city.

She has become accustomed to hearing her decisions vigorously debated and, at times, disparaged. She has stepped into the role of the city's chief ambassador, visiting the White House on several occasions and being selected for the advisory board of the National Conference of Mayors. But she must also serve as the city's voice in times of great grief — for example, consoling family members of the four police officers who have died in recent months.

On the evening she was sworn in as mayor, Rawlings-Blake found herself at Maryland Shock Trauma Center. An officer patrolling a Northwest neighborhood was struck by a bullet in the arm and needed emergency surgery. Rawlings-Blake visited the officer and his family while those close to her gathered for a dinner at The Wine Market celebrating her new office.

"Her whole family is there — her husband, her mother, her aunts and uncles, senior staff. And she wasn't there," Parthemos says. "We ate the dinner without her."

It was the first of many sacrifices that Rawlings-Blake would make in her new role, as she balanced her responsibilities to the city with her life as wife, daughter and mother. Family life has become an intricately choreographed routine, and she relies heavily on her husband and mother to bring structure to Sophia's days.

Family time

It's 7:30 p.m. on a recent Monday, and Sophia, bundled in a pink fleece jacket, tugs Rawlings-Blake toward a back booth at Alonso's on Cold Spring Lane. The mayor's mother, Dr. Nina Rawlings, settles into the booth and describes how Sophia has recently grown interested in family history, inquiring about great-aunts and great-uncles.

A bright and lively second-grader at Mount Washington Elementary, Sophia bubbles over on the importance of the food pyramid, the difference between horizontal and vertical lines, and the height and weight of the WWE wrestler known as Big Show.

"Can you eat another chicken tender, pretty girl?" Rawlings-Blake asks as Sophia trails off. Then, seeing the girl's eyelids flutter closed, she wraps an arm around her. "You can fall asleep on me."

As Sophia nestles in the crook of her arm, Rawlings-Blake explains that neither she nor her husband, Kent Blake, an intake coordinator at Johns Hopkins Hospital, have time to cook on weekdays. The family dines at Alonso's a couple of times a week.

"This is about as close to family dinner as we get" during the week, she says. Often her siblings, Lisa Rawlings, a program director at the University of Maryland BioPark, and Wendell Rawlings, who runs an engineering

company, as well as aunts, uncles and other members of their large, extended family gather here, playing word games with Sophia.

Blake, tall and soft-spoken, says he's grown accustomed to his wife's whirlwind schedule. The couple dated in college and then reunited several years later, after Rawlings-Blake had joined the council.

"He's extremely understanding," Rawlings-Blake says. "Because he's laid-back and takes life as it comes, he's not stressing me out."

A new mayor