Sidney Kramer, a businessman and political figure who won election in 1986 to become the third person to serve as Montgomery County executive, died Monday at his home in Rockville.
His death was confirmed by his son, Maryland state Sen. Benjamin F. Kramer, a Montgomery County Democrat, who said of the elder Kramer, six weeks from turning 97: “Right up till the end, he was as sharp as can be.”
Known as “Sid” to friends, Mr. Kramer served in a variety of local and state offices from the 1970s to the 1990s, helping to oversee Montgomery’s explosive population and economic growth as it transformed from a semirural county into a bustling suburb.
Throughout his political career, Mr. Kramer was widely regarded as a fierce advocate for Montgomery in Annapolis.
“He was an emblem of an era of Montgomery County politics,” said council member Hans Riemer, an at-large Democrat. Even as an “elder statesman,” he went out of his way to make freshman lawmakers feel welcomed and respected, Mr. Riemer added.
Mr. Kramer was born in Washington on July 8, 1925, to Jewish immigrants who had fled Eastern Europe for America.
When Mr. Kramer was a boy, his parents made ends meet by renting out a bedroom in the family apartment; he slept on a porch. He came of age during the Great Depression and believed strongly in the value of work for the rest of his life, his children said.
While working full time, he attended the George Washington University, and he involved himself early in business ventures. In one, he sold liquor. Later, he ran flourishing car wash enterprises and became affluent through real estate.
In the 1970s, Mr. Kramer began his successful career in electoral politics, winning offices in which he gained exposure to and experience with Montgomery’s growth and the issues associated with it.
As a council member in the 1970s, he pushed for the county to give out its first-ever grants to local nonprofit groups.
As county executive from 1986 to 1990, he boosted funding for programs serving residents with developmental disabilities. “He was gracious and kind and also very demanding as a boss,” said Chuck Short, who led the department of family resources — now health and human services — under Kramer and had known him for nearly 50 years.
Before Mr. Kramer’s administration, the county had largely left it to the state to support those with developmental disabilities, Mr. Short said. “Mr. Kramer changed that because he cared deeply about the vulnerable,” he said
He impressed the importance of public service on his three children, two of whom went on to serve as state senators. Benjamin Kramer represents Maryland’s District 19 in Montgomery County, and Mr. Kramer’s daughter Rona Kramer is the state secretary of aging.
“Dad was very proud of his commitment to Montgomery County,” Benjamin Kramer said. “It was important to him — and now to us — that Montgomery County got its proportionate share of state tax dollars.”
Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, who overlapped with Mr. Kramer in Annapolis in the 1970s and ‘80s, described him as a “strong leader, a very principled individual,” bringing a sharp business acumen and a conservative bent to managing the county’s budget at a time of huge growth.
“He was the right person at the right time in Montgomery County to recognize that the county was not only growing as far as its size, from the point of view of budgets, but also for influence it had in the state,” and its ability to absorb the growing and diversifying population, Mr. Cardin said. “Every leader in Montgomery County in recent years has been progressive, but he showed a conservative ability as it relates to financing needed to get the county on the proper long-term footing.”
As the county’s executive, the top officer of the county government, Mr. Kramer provided the county with a relatively low-key, businesslike administration as it confronted such questions as how to manage rapid growth, rising school enrollments and increasing traffic congestion.
At one time in his administration, Mr. Kramer’s popularity was regarded as enough to prompt him to examine his prospects in a forthcoming race for Maryland’s governorship.
Mr. Kramer was defeated in the 1990 Democratic primary for renomination as county executive by former county council member Neal Potter.
At first, Mr. Kramer seemed ready to accept the rebuff, but he later conducted an unsuccessful general-election campaign as a write-in candidate.
His unexpected loss in the primary was viewed by students of the county’s affairs less as a personal rejection than as part of a periodic tidal wave of sentiment away from growth and away from those who seemed associated with growth.
After his defeat, he was described as playing the part of an elder statesman, often spotted at dinners and other public events, holding court, continuing to express an interest in public matters and the welfare of his county.
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For his part, Mr. Kramer believed that his administration had successfully coped with growth: managing it, and even restraining it.
Long after his time in public office, Mr. Cardin said, Mr. Kramer remained a mentor to rising politicians who sought out his advice — “including me,” Mr. Cardin said, noting Mr. Kramer’s generosity with his time and resources during Mr. Cardin’s first run for statewide office.
Mr. Kramer was a former president of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, president of the Rotary Club of Silver Spring, vice chairman of the executive committee of the Montgomery United Way, director of the ARC of Maryland and a member of the board of trustees of Holy Cross Hospital.
He is survived by his three children, Benjamin, Rona and Miriam Dubin; eight grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, who served with Benjamin and Rona Kramer in the state Senate, recalled how much it meant to him when Mr. Kramer called him after he won his first election to the Senate, “saying it was my turn to go and fight for Montgomery County.”
He described Mr. Kramer as “a man of great decency and warmth,” part of a generation of leaders “who saw Montgomery County coming into its own in statewide politics.”
“I think of him as such a Montgomery County thoroughbred politician,” Mr. Raskin said. “He was such a zealous, unrelenting champion for our community.”