Three women known for strong will and public accomplishment received the Maryland Senate's First Citizen awards Wednesday, capping an annual tradition in the upper chamber.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and former U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley joined Victoria Gruber, chief of staff to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, in accepting the award.
Rawlings-Blake is a second-generation recipient of the award, which was presented posthumously to her father, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Howard P. "Pete" Rawlings. The mayor expressed surprise at the award, saying she had worn purple because she expected a ceremony honoring the Baltimore Ravens.
The mayor joked that she wanted to admonish the Ravens for trading wide receiver Anquan Boldin the same week her daughter is scheduled to take her standardized tests in school, warning that scores could suffer as a result.
Bentley, who will turn 90 in November, used the occasion to do what she has done for more than 60 years -- sing the praises of the Port of Baltimore that now now bears her name.
"The port remains the most democratic -- with a small 'd,' people -- economic development entity in Maryland," Bentley said.
Bentley, who served five terms in Congress as a Republican before running unsuccessfully for governor in 1994, expressed thanks to the Democrat-dominated Senate.
"I must be doing something right," she said. "Maryland is classified as a blue state. . . . God I'm not only a Republican but a woman and I'm still aboveground."
Far less well-known to Marylanders is Gruber, who rose through the legislative aide ranks to become Miller's top aide and who is now one of the most respected behind-the-scenes figures in Annapolis. Of the three, it was Gruber who received the loudest and longest applause from the senators.
"I see my job as to help you do your best," Gruber said.