Like her new boss, Republican Gail Bates has a self-deprecating sense of humor.
"I'm the eldest of the children and grandchildren in my family, so that's how I became pushy," she says. "I was really spoiled."
"Pushy" is not how friends describe her. They use words like "tenacious" and "committed." By whatever name, it is the ability to get things done that County Executive Charles I. Ecker believes his newestadministrative assistant possesses in abundance.
"I know the kindof work Gail does," Ecker says. "I can depend on her. She has a niceway about her. She doesn't offend people."
She certainly doesn't offend Republicans. They gave her a "life achievement award" at theirLincoln Day dinner last Sunday. Twice a member of the local Republican Central Committee and a former committee treasurer, she has also managed the last two campaigns of County Council member Charles C. Feaga, R-5th.
Fellow Republican and former Chamber of Commerce president Joan Athen calls Bates' appointment "the highlight of the new administration as far I am concerned. Gail is one of us who has worked in the trenches. This is remuneration for the things she enjoys doing and will be excellent at. We're very proud of her."
Feaga agrees, saying, "Gail exemplifies Republicanism."
She certainly looks the part.
Last week she was wearing a gold elephant pin on a bluish-green cocktail dress that she called "Ecker teal" because it matched the color of Ecker's campaign literature.
On her desk, elephant figurines dance with each other and a gold elephant roars on the cabinetbehind her. She makes no apologies for her partisanship.
"For thepast 10 years, we have not had a two-party system" in the county andRepublicans have not played a significant role in local government, she says. "Given half the opportunity, we could have done a really fine job. I'm delighted now to have that opportunity. A lot of us have been on the outside looking in."
Republicans may not be looking inmuch longer. Bates' primary responsibility is to study the makeup ofthe county's boards and commissions and recommend people to fill vacancies.
"Yes, I want Republicans on boards and commissions," she says. "Staffing (them) with Republicans has not been a priority in thepast 10 years. I know a lot of Republicans who applied and were never even considered."
Still, filling boards and commissions with Republicans is not her first priority, Bates says. "The main criteria iscompetence -- finding people who have the time, energy and qualifications to do the job. You don't necessarily get the best people when politics is playing a part."
Regardless, Bates will ask the local GOP central committee to give her their recommendations. She says she will "probably" ask the Democratic Central Committee for names also, and will "certainly" be looking to citizens' groups and church groupsfor names.
Born Christmas Eve 1946 and named after actress Gail Russell, the Washington, D.C., native might have more appropriately been named for actor Gale Storm to reflect her whirlwind activity.
"I have an inability to say no," Bates says., "I uphold whatever commitments I make. If I lose a little sleep, I lose a little sleep."
She has run fund-raisers, co-chaired a campaign school, and written a precinct manual for the party in addition to managing Feaga's campaigns and serving on the party central committee.
She also teaches Sunday school, served as chairman for her sons' soccer club and was a leader in the evening youth program at her church for years until her sons joined the program. "They needed a breather from Mom," she says.
Bates describes herself as having "not quite boundless energy." Every year, she plays host to a Christmas dinner for 70 family members. She also gardens, loves to cook, and until recently made all her own clothes.
A rabid Redskins fan, she plays host to a party every time they are on television -- complete with war paint, T-shirts, and a recording of "Hail to the Redskins," which she plays every time they score. "I love to have fun. I really get crazy," she says.
She also gets serious. After graduating from Bladensburg High School, she attended Frostburg State College for two years before transferring tothe University of Maryland. Originally a math major, she graduated in 1968 with a degree in home economics education. She taught math fortwo years and home ec for two years, she says, "then quit to have kids and stay home."
A friend who knew she was "good with numbers and likes people," recommended she go to work for an income tax preparation firm. She worked there five years, preparing tax returns the first year and teaching others how to prepare tax returns the remaining years.
That experience led her to decide to become a certified public accountant. She returned to school, picked courses that would help her pass her CPA exam, and maintained a perfect 4.0 average. "When the teacher assigned five accounting problems, I did 10," she says.
Six months later, in November 1981, she was a certified public accountant working for the Maryland Farm Bureau when she nearly lost her life. While traveling on state business the following summer, she wasinvolved in a head-on collision in Carroll County that left her witha dislocated right hip and a broken left arm.
After 2 weeks in the hospital, three months in a wheelchair and two weeks on crutches, she decided that she did not want to spend another summer away from her children and started her own accounting practice, doing just enough she says, "to play politics and buy the clothes I want."
Her greatest strength, Bates says, is an "ability to do whatever it takes to get the job done" combined with a "genuine love and interest in people."
She says her friendliness is sometimes misunderstood. "Sometimes I'm too quick with my sense of humor -- sometimes I make jokes too quickly. And sometimes, I speak too quickly out of turn and say something that I'm sorry for, even though I didn't have mean intentions."
Bates says she will continue her accounting practice but scale it down while working as Ecker's second assistant. She will work three days a week for the next several months, Ecker said, drawing three-fifths of her $41,368 a year salary.