Election Day approaches, and Rochelle (Rikki) Spector begins to packs her bags. She’s leaving City Hall after 40 years of service on the Baltimore City Council, during most of which she was the only Jewish voice there.
And a healing voice it was, too.
She reached for common ground. She saw herself not only as a council member from Northwest Baltimore but an ambassador from a religion, and a culture, that might have seemed alien to some people – including some members of the council itself.
Such an approach evolved from the very beginnings of her life. Spector grew up in South Baltimore’s Locust Point neighborhood, on Hull Street, in an apartment above the family store. The family spoke Yiddish at home. The world outside was a place to which one learned to adapt.
That’s been an important approach in a city where sensitivities are sometimes easily bruised over matters of race, class and economics – and religion.
“A Jew has to know what Judaism stands for,” she was saying one recent morning. “But it’s also important not to be parochial when you’re in public service, not to think in terms of a fiefdom. You have to think globally.
“I have an antenna built in. Just as we don’t want all Jews to be painted with one brush, I’ve tried not to paint others that way.”
She was appointed to the council in 1977 when her late husband, Allen Spector, left his council seat for a District Court judgeship. She’s been a champion of affordable housing, of partnerships between public and private institutions, of improving the public schools.
“I’m betrothed to the city of Baltimore,” she said. “No matter who reached out to me for help, I tried to be there.”
She’s supporting Catherine Pugh in next month’s mayoral election. “I’m very, very optimistic about her,” Spector said. “In a way, she reminds me of William Donald Schaefer,” the late four-term mayor, two-term governor and lifelong bachelor.
“Her work is her life,” said Spector. “She has no other life than to make things better for people.”
Spector’s advice for her council successor? “It’s a 24/7 job,” she said. “Seven days a week. And that means the council member being available, and the council member’s staff as well.”
It also means reaching across boundaries – of districts and of cultures, too. It’s a gesture of healing.
For 40 years, that’s how Rikki Spector approached her job, and did it well.
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