Since Lederer was taken off life support in January, Bobo has come to visit "almost every day.

"I just kind of stand by his bed and talk to him," she said. "I was talking to him the other day … and I said, 'Zach, how do you do it? How do you stay so positive?' "

Overcoming defeat

It's possible he may have learned some of his outlook from Bobo herself, who embraces Eastern practices like acupuncture and meditation, and has weathered ups and downs throughout her career.

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At one point expected to run for governor, Bobo faced heartbreaking political defeat in 1990, when she was edged out of the county executive seat by Chuck Ecker, Howard's first and only Republican county executive, by just 500 votes.

The loss was the result of displeasure over Bobo's slower growth decisions as executive, which prohibited development in environmentally sensitive areas and required infrastructure to be planned for and approved before development began.

A strong anti-incumbent wave also crashed on elections that year, which Bobo said she didn't anticipate.

"I knew I was making political enemies by [restricting growth]," she said. "And I knew it was going to cost me votes. ... What I wasn't counting on was that an anti-incumbent wave was coming through, and four county executives lost that year."

But Bobo, who was at the time divorced and helping to put two kids through college, said losing her re-election campaign ended up opening some unexpected doors.

"It was very hard losing," she said. But, "the really good news about it — I don't think there's a prayer in the world that I'd be married to [former Howard County Council member Lloyd Knowles] now if I had won that election, because I was so focused on my career. So it turned out to be more than a good trade. Life is funny."

And, she added, taking some time off from politics helped to refocus her priorities.

"Politics has never been my life, never," said Bobo, who graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in literature and later earned a law degree. "I have a deep interest with spending time with friends, many of whom are not involved in politics at all; I love to travel; I love to read; I'm interested in spiritual movements and gardening — and so I was fortunate not to have gone the path of making my whole life around politics, and it stayed that way ever since.

"So yeah, it was a hard thing to do," she added. "But to learn how to get over that and let go of it, it really turned out to be one heck of a life lesson."

'True to her convictions'

When Bobo was first elected to the House of Delegates representing Columbia's District 12B in 1995, many thought she would quickly rise through the ranks.

"People thought I was going to be on a trajectory," she said. But her opposition to some bills early in her State House career, such as one using taxpayer money to build a stadium for Baltimore's newly adopted Ravens and another deregulating the gas and electric industry, left her in the minority.

Bobo said she didn't want to betray her principles. "People kept asking me and pressuring," she recalled. "And I said no way."

State Sen. Edward Kasemeyer, a Democrat who has served with Bobo in District 12 throughout the whole 19 years she's been there, called her "a person who is true to her convictions."

Bobo "stands up for what she believes in, doesn't in any way compromise her beliefs [and is] very sincere," he said. "Whatever she says she does, and she's been a real pleasure to work with."

Reflections, and looking forward

As Bobo prepares to step down, she has been reflecting on her career accomplishments. And lately, she said, she has been worried about the growing divide between rich and poor in the state and country.

As a member of the Commerce and Government Matters Committee for many years, Bobo pushed to regulate new bank practices — such as payday lending, check cashing and debt management — that were just starting to become common.

"I think that was my biggest accomplishment," she said. But, "now, in the last six years, a lot of it has been, if not reversed, diminished."

Bobo, who chaired the Land Use and Ethics Subcommittee until two weeks ago, is also concerned about the influence of money on the political process.

"It's getting worse, with more and more and more money coming from big-monied interests," she told constituents at the town hall. Though she said she's mostly been unsuccessful at trying to place greater restrictions on campaign contributions, she was able to pass a bill restricting all forms of businesses from bypassing the campaign contribution limit — though it was passed as part of legislation that raised the overall limit on campaign contributions.

And as for development in Columbia, Bobo is cautiously optimistic.

"It's crazy to stop change," she said. But she hopes that new development will be accompanied by infrastructure, and that downtown Columbia and the lakefront will remain open to everyone.

She said she plans to stick around to see it all evolve: She and Knowles will remain in Columbia.

"We don't want to live anywhere else," she said.