Columbia Democrat Liz Bobo's long political career will come to an end in 2014.
Bobo, 68, a former Howard County executive now serving as a state delegate from District 12B, announced last week in an email to constituents that she does not plan to run for re-election when her term ends in 2014.
"The way our grandson, Zach (Lederer), is living his life with such joy, courage, generosity and gratitude in the face of brain cancer has had a profound impact on me," Bobo wrote in the email. "This has led me to take a close look at how I want to live the remainder of my own life, and I now know that after two more years in the Maryland legislature, my work in public office will be finished.
"I place a strong value on public service and am deeply grateful for the opportunity I have had to serve," she added. "I have met and worked with so many good dedicated people who are striving for a more peaceful, loving, and just world."
Bobo has served in the state legislature since 1995. Before that, she served as county executive from 1986 to 1990 and on the County Council from 1977 to 1986. Bobo was the first and only female Howard County executive.
"Looking back over the past 35 years in public office, I have many treasured memories, some disappointments, and no regrets," Bobo wrote. "I value and cherish every day, week, month, and year, at both the local and state level of government. Your support and trust have been invaluable to me."
Current County Executive Ken Ulman, a Columbia Democrat, thanked Bobo for her service.
"Liz Bobo was a pioneer in Howard County and Columbia and made a lot of the decisions that helped us become the great county we are today," Ulman said "She was one of the forces that helped Howard County embrace the values of diversity, opportunity and acceptance that I hold so dear."
Sen. Ed Kasemeyer, who serves alongside Bobo in District 12, said that while his political views sometimes differed from Bobo's — "She's probably somewhat more liberal than I am on the political scale" — they had a great relationship.
"I'm really going to miss her a great deal," he said.
So, too, will District 12A Del. James Malone, who, like Bobo, has served in the state legislature since 1995 and been a member of on the Environmental Matters Committee.
"Liz Bobo has a very special place in my heart," Malone said. "Am I saddened? Absolutely," he added. "There's nobody who represents her constituents like Liz Bobo. Just the history of everything she's done for Columbia and Howard County speaks for itself."
'At peace' with decision
In an interview, Bobo said she made her decision this summer, shortly before the special session on gambling expansion, which she did not attend because she was on vacation with family.
One of those family members was Lederer, who inspired the pose called "Zaching" after he emerged from brain surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital earlier this year and put his arms up and flexed in a muscle pose.
Bobo said she's been pondering retirement for a while, but the decision "became very clear recently with the time I'm spending with Zachary.
"Some people are very surprised and some aren't," she said of her decision. "But the important thing is I'm at peace with it."
Howard County Democratic chairman Mike McPherson said he was "a little surprised" by Bobo's announcement.
"I'm disappointed to see her step down," said McPherson, who lives in Bobo's district, not far from her Harper's Choice home.
"I think she's been an excellent delegate. I think she's been very concerned about her constituents and she's been responsive and responsible."
Columbia resident and activist Alan Klein, however, said he was not surprised.
"I'm saddened but not surprised," he said. "She's had a long run, a worthy career …She's been someone who exemplifies what it means to be both a public servant and a leader."
Klein commended Bobo for standing by her beliefs, "not just being a sheep following the winds of whatever. ... She was consistently herself, didn't let appearances or the flavor of the week or even party loyalty get in the way of what she needed to do."
In her last two years in office, Bobo said she'll continue to champion the interests she has in the past, including the environment and campaign finance reform.
Columbia resident and ecologist Mark Southerland said he's worked with Bobo on several environmental issues in Annapolis.
"I can think of no one who has been a stronger advocate for environmental issues than her, at any level of government," he said. "She's going to be missed but hopefully she'll continue to be a voice out there."
Though supporters say Bobo has always been willing to stand up to political leadership and special interests in the General Assembly, she said now she'll have more freedom to do so.
"People are so frequently accused of doing things for political reasons. ... My votes are not going to change, but there's going to be a certain kind of freedom I think that doesn't exist when you're going into another campaign," she said.
Whoever is elected to replace Bobo, "they're going to have a giant to follow," longtime Columbia resident Ethel Hill said. "Liz has had a very long and illustrious career in this county. I remember Liz when she was a community activist and was appointed to fill a seat on the County Council."
Hill, who became the first black to serve on the Howard County Board of Appeals after Bobo appointed her in 1982, said Bobo "certainly is going to be missed" in politics.
Bobo said she does not have specific plans for retirement, but she intends to remain active in the community.
"I don't know what I will do but I assure it won't be watching soaps and eating Bonbons," she said.