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HOUSE MOTHER

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Hug. Hug. Hug.

That's what Peg Bednarsky does on Move-in Day, when members of the Maryland General Assembly arrive with their luggage at her hotel on State Circle in Annapolis.

"Welcome home!" she enthuses as they drift in the day before they go back to work.

"I love you," she tells Del. Jimmy Malone, Baltimore Democrat, as she plants a kiss on his cheek.

The gestures and words of a mother, surely. Meet Miss Peg, House Mother to the lawmakers.

For 35 years, as the designated host for resident lawmakers at the Historic Inns of Annapolis, she has served soup to the sick, located oversized desks for the workaholics, rearranged furniture for the homesick, and listened carefully to everybody's take on the issues of the day.

She knows her guests' party affiliations, their hometowns, the ages of their children and their preference in pillows. She knows how they vote. She knows what they think. Right now, she says, "We all think it is going to be a difficult session."

But nobody knows what Miss Peg thinks.

The innkeeper of the Historic Inns - Governor Calvert House, the Maryland Inn and Robert Johnson House - Miss Peg looks forward to this week all year. In this she is no different from her guests. "They often say it themselves: We can't wait for it to begin and - after it drags on a while - we can't wait for it to end."

She does what she can to keep the 90-day experience from feeling old - chocolates and hand-written notes on Valentine's Day, Bailey's Irish Cream on St. Patrick's Day. Already, she's made sure guests get their favorite chairs or the four-poster bed they asked for last year.

Each morning at breakfast and each evening over hors d'oeuvres in the lounge at the Calvert House she set up for them, she checks on their needs and, as she did two nights ago, sits and talks, sometimes about the past.

When Miss Peg joined the staff at the Maryland Inn in 1968, there were only 44 rooms, the annual legislative session ran two months instead of three, and senators were "true orators." On Monday nights she used to head across the street to the State House to listen to her guests debate. Other nights, when they gathered in the inn's lounge for sandwiches and drinks, she joined them for a Coke. "There were wonderful, wonderful lawmakers in those days," she says, "true politicians," people like Judge Edgar P. Silver, now in his 80s and a lobbyist who still lunches with the powers that be, sometimes serving as mediator.

Now there are 124 rooms. As for orators, well, Miss Peg may have missed that impassioned debate last year on the medical use of marijuana.

Astately great-grandmother who dressed the other day in a classic taupe jacket and black pants with elegant gold jewelry, Miss Peg works 12-hour days during the session. It's not just antiques filling the lobby at the Calvert House, it's her booming voice.

She has the cheery disposition of a hotelier, in which everything is possible and nothing unnerves. Tuesday, alerted by a photographer that the Maryland flag in the banquet room was upside down, she saw it was fixed minutes before the top Democrats in the state filed in for lunch. "My goodness," she says, "of all times to hang the state flag upside down."

A few minutes later, as the party pillars rise to speak, she eyes a valet moving a rack of luggage into the elevator. Politely, but firmly, she says: "I will kill you if you make any noise."

Just then, she spies the state's attorney general, Joe Curran, in the lobby. "Your son-in-law is doing a good job!" she tells him. His son-in-law - Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley - arrives a few minutes later.

It happened to be Democrats who gathered for lunch at the Calvert House the day before the General Assembly opened. The night before, the big gathering was of Republicans. "Bobby was here," Miss Peg says, referring to the governor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. She knows him "very well." He was a lawmaker for eight years and stayed with her during some of them. On her birthday, he sent her two pictures of himself, one signed "Bobby" and one signed "the governor."

Democrat or Republican, she's had most of them as guests, at the hotel or in the lounge.

The newly elected are like new hotel employees: green. She tries to give them as much information as possible about the hotel and the town. Some have never been to Annapolis. It wasn't always that way; most elected officials got there after doing business in the capital. Another change is the number of lawmakers who've become lobbyists. The newest is Barbara Hoffman, a Baltimore senator ousted in the September 2002 primary. "I must call her," Miss Peg says. "She used to be with us."

When Walter Baker, the Eastern Shore senator, lost his seat the same year as Hoffman, Miss Peg cried. "It was like losing a member of the family," she says. He'd stayed with her 18 years.

This year, 45 of the 188 lawmakers are staying at the Historic Inns full-time, and a handful more stay only Monday through Thursday. Nowadays, Miss Peg welcomes women, too, including Del. Joanne Parrott, a Republican from Harford County in her sixth year at Calvert House. "She's my house mother," Parrott said as she got off the elevator holding a $20 bill she planned to spend at a nearby florist.

"What do you need in your room?" asks Miss Peg. Parrott says she has it all - the four-poster bed, a wingback chair, her own afghan, pictures from home, a teddy bear from her daughter and a crystal vase she told Miss Peg during a tour of the room that she bought at Marshall's. "You shouldn't have told me that," Miss Peg says. "I would have thought you got it from your mother."

To make the rooms cozier, Miss Peg replaced second beds with sleeper sofas and brought in coffee tables and comfy chairs. "We've moved, and moved and moved," she says.

Some of the guests require executive-size desks in place of the small antique writing tables at the 1727 Calvert House. This year, Devin Doolan, the lobbyist, has taken three rooms - a complete office, a living room and a bedroom with a separate entrance - in the Johnson House. The Peg Bednarsky suite, with living room downstairs and bedroom upstairs, is being rented by lobbyist Dennis Rasmussen, the former Baltimore County executive.

In comes Sen. Leonard H. Teitelbaum, Democrat from Montgomery County, who has stayed at the Calvert House 12 of his 17 years in Annapolis. He gives Miss Peg a huge hug. "She's an institution around here," he says.

She kisses one lawmaker after the other - Sonny Minnick, John Wood, Wade Kach - all the time keeping a lookout for the Speaker of the House, Michael E. Busch. "If Mike needs anything," she tells the speaker's right-hand man, Majority Leader Kumar Barve, "you call me."

Her guests rarely ask for help, but if she finds out someone is sick, she delivers chicken soup and plenty of orange juice. "Somehow, she knows," says James Nooney, a lobbyist for the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. He was bedridden with the flu two sessions ago when Miss Peg knocked on his door with some soup. "When you say 'lady,' you can underline her name."

At 75, Miss Peg requires a magnifying glass to read the business card of a new lobbyist in town. She admits that a second generation of politicians - children of two former lawmakers - is now living with her. "It must be time to go," she says. "But I can't imagine what I'd do."

Anative of Westfield, Mass., she graduated from a Catholic high school, married, had three children, and was a housewife for 20 years when a friend recruited her in 1968 to answer phones at the Maryland Inn. The following year, after her husband died of a heart attack, she returned to work full-time. She was 42. Over the years she's been an honored member of national and state hotel associations and, more recently, she's taken advantage of her position to lobby for the hotel industry against statewide anti-smoking bills, some modeled after the ban in Montgomery County. "It's hurt Montgomery County big time," she says.

During the year, Miss Peg keeps in touch with issues and people through newspapers. "I love politics," she says, "I read everything I can." And when it's all over, she gives a champagne breakfast where guests review wins and losses in the back room.

"The room's open tonight," she tells Patrick J. Hogan, Democratic senator from Montgomery County, as he leaves Calvert House.

Hogan isn't staying with her, but he knows she means the lounge and he'll be back. "She's like your mother away from home," he says. "She helps make this place bearable."

Always, she asks her guests' opinions. She gets different answers from different people, and from that, she forms her own opinion.

"You get a feel for things," she says. "You have to be very, very careful. I don't think one of them knows my party," she says. "It's like religion."

For the record, she is a registered Democrat. But in recent years, she has voted for a number of Republicans.

"I vote for the person," she says, "not the party."

"I can remember my father walking me to the polls when I was 21. 'Always vote for the man,' he told me, 'but study the man.'"

And so she has.

Bio box

Age: 75

Occupation: Innkeeper, Historic Inns of Annapolis

Marital status: Widow

Offspring: Three children, four grandchildren, one great-grandson

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