Republican Renshaw has a finger in numerous political pies


This election year, Lisa Garrison Renshaw keeps turning up like, well. . . .

"A bad penny?" she asks.

Not exactly.

The Baltimore area's parking czarina has been dabbling in politics again -- first by heading an attempt to put the question of term limits before city voters, then as chair of an independent fund-raising group backing Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey for governor.

Earlier in the year, Ms. Renshaw threw in with a group to form Join RSVP (Republicans to Secure Victory in Public Office), a political action committee created to put more pro-business women in office.

So why would the founder and president of Penn Parking Inc. -- a thriving 11-year-old company with 48 locations in Baltimore, Virginia and Washington, including management of all the parking for the Washington Metro -- get involved in such a folly as politics?

"Because I believe fundamentally if you believe in something, you should stand up, regardless of the potential hits or the potential for getting beat up," Ms. Renshaw said.

This from a woman who volunteers that "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" is among her favorite movies.

Ms. Renshaw -- a conservative Republican who turns 33 next week, the same day she moves into the new home she's building in Severn -- tried to get herself to Capitol Hill in 1992, when she served up a spirited primary challenge to the GOP's 1st Congressional District incumbent, U.S. Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest.

A virtual unknown and political neophyte -- she is viewed by some party regulars as not having paid her dues -- she ran second in a five-way race, capturing an extraordinary 30 percent of the vote.

That bid, which ticked off the state GOP elders, was her second foray into politics. The first was in 1990, when she briefly entered a House of Delegates race in Anne Arundel County, only to withdraw before the filing deadline.

"I have managed to make the Republican Party mad at me because I ran against one of their favorite incumbents. And I made the Baltimore City incumbents mad at me because I wanted to give the people of the city a choice when it came to term limits," she said.

"I'm not savvy to how it all works," Ms. Renshaw said, claiming a naivete to the intricacies of politics. "I just go through life and do the things that you should do and hope for the best."

Her political missteps aside, it's a philosophy that seems to have served her well in business.

Ms. Renshaw started her company in 1983, when she undertook an effort to revive a garage in the 1700 block of N. Charles St.

She worked without pay for three months, put in 18-hour days and lived in the back room of the garage with a cooler and a heater.

It was the beginning of the oft-told tale of Ms. Renshaw's entrepreneurial success.

"She's single-minded, shrewd, aggressive, ambitious, calculating," said David R. Blumberg, chairman of the Baltimore Republican Central Committee. "But if there's a war, I'd rather have her on my side than on the other one."

One area where she tried to follow her heart was a referendum proposal for two-term limits for the Baltimore mayor, comptroller and City Council members.

In August, the group she chaired, Marylanders for Term Limits, surprised city officials and community leaders by announcing it had gathered nearly 30,000 signatures, three times the number needed to put the question on the November ballot.

That issue blew apart last week, when a Baltimore circuit judge ruled the referendum unconstitutional and allegations surfaced that signatures appeared to have been forged, prompting a criminal investigation.

There is no indication that Ms. Renshaw did anything wrong, and no one is pointing the finger at her. She did, however, resign the chairmanship of the group.

These days, Ms. Renshaw's focus is on Mrs. Sauerbrey, whom she views as a potential savior of the state because of her proposal to cut taxes and shrink government.

Mrs. Sauerbrey, who accepted public campaign financing in her race against Democrat Parris N. Glendening, is limited to spending just under $1 million in the general election campaign. Citizens to Save Maryland, Ms. Renshaw's brainchild, can raise and spend any amount as long as it does not coordinate its activities with the Sauerbrey campaign.

The group is trying to raise money to launch an independent television ad campaign for Mrs. Sauerbrey.

As for the future, she said she has no set political plans. But the party is waiting for her to rejoin the fold.

"She has a tremendous amount to offer," said Joyce L. Terhes, who chairs the Maryland Republican Party. "I am sure she will make a tremendous elected official some day -- and I am sure you will see her in office some day."

Sounds as if all is forgiven, Lisa.

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