A veteran of state politics and the local Jewish community, Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin (D-11th) announced he will resign from office next month.
The highest-ranking Jewish member of the State Senate, Zirkin, who has served as chairman of the high-profile Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee since 2014, told local media outlets he is stepping down officially on Jan. 2 due to the divisive nature of politics today. He attributed that divisiveness largely to the rise of social media and special interest groups.
Last May, in the aftermath of the 2019 Maryland General Assembly session, Zirkin came under fire from some gun control advocates for the legislative body’s inability to close the loophole in state law requiring background checks for long guns, such as shotguns and rifles. Legislation to close the loophole passed the State Senate and House of Delegates, but the bill died on the final day of legislative business.
“I’ve been thinking about this for some time,” Zirkin, 48, said of retiring from politics in an interview with The Daily Record published on Dec. 3. “This has been a year where it’s become very apparent I needed to spend more time with my family. Leaving my family for that amount of time is just something I am not willing to do. That is the main reason; there are others.”
In an interview with WBAL-TV, Zirkin referenced the death last June of his mother, Dr. Barbara G. Zirkin, as a reason for his decision to step away from politics.
“I need a break from being in the fishbowl,” Zirkin said. “With the death of my mom last year, it really crystallized in terms of wanting to be home with [his daughters], spending time with them before they don’t want to hang out with me anymore.”
(Zirkin did not respond to a request from Jmore for an interview.)
A political moderate who was criticized by progressives, Zirkin told Jmore in 2017 that the partisanship that is rampant in national politics had seeped into the state level as well.
“In general, we have got to stop this growing trend of hyper-partisanship,” Zirkin said. “It’s not helpful for democracy, for the state or for the country. This notion that ideas are either good or bad based on whether there’s a ‘D’ or ‘R’ after your name, that’s not how it’s supposed to work. Good ideas come from both sides, and bad ideas come from both sides, too. …
“Our job is to roll up our sleeves, leave politics at the door and fix problems,” he said. “Whose name is on the bill or what party they come from should not matter at all. What should matter is the idea and the details.”
Besides tiring of bipartisan bickering, Zirkin said he wants to focus more on his local law practice, Zirkin & Schmerling, as well as on Chesapeake Philanthropy Consulting, a firm that consults with professional athletes about their philanthropic goals and community activism in tandem with corporations and foundations.
In addition, Zirkin, a Pikesville resident, said he wants to spend more time with his family. He and his wife, Tina, have two daughters, Sophie, 12, and Emma, 10.
“There’s nothing more important to me than my wife and two daughters. They are my top priority,” Zirkin told Jmore in 2017. “They love coming around to events with me at night. That makes the community or political events more meaningful for me. … My family is incredibly tight.”
Zirkin is known for speaking frequently at schools throughout his district and for rallying youngsters about public service and sports participation.
“I love going around to schools, talking to kids. I’ve done this for the past 20 years,” he said. “I try to go to each Jewish school once a year. Going to the Talmudical Academy, for example, is the most fun. Debating with them, voting, everyone is cheering and hollering.”
Zirkin has served in the General Assembly since 1999. His resignation comes shortly before the start of the 2020 legislative session, which starts Jan. 8.
The Baltimore County Democratic Central Committee must recommend a replacement for Zirkin’s Senate seat to Gov. Larry Hogan, who makes the ultimate decision.
“Bobby Zirkin was the definition of a dedicated public servant,” said Del. Dana M. Stein (D-11th). “He was the leader in efforts to convert the Rosewood property to a great community use — the purchase and redevelopment by Stevenson University. He was a champion of schools in the district. In Annapolis, Bobby was instrumental in such important legislation as banning fracking, decriminalizing marijuana use, and passing the Justice Reinvestment Act. He leaves an impressive legacy.”
Zirkin was first elected to the House of Delegates in 1998 and to the Senate 14 years ago. His district covers Northwest Baltimore County, including Pikesville, Owings Mills and a portion of Timonium.
Among Zirkin’s legislative accomplishments have included the passage of a fracking ban, the Justice Reinvestment Act and Grace’s Law, an anti-cyberbullying bill. He was appointed by Hogan as chair of a 16-member commission to explore the re-purposing of the Pikesville Armory, a former Maryland National Guard facility.
“Senator Zirkin has been a constructive partner in government who always puts the best interests of Marylanders first,” Hogan said in a statement on Dec. 3. “He worked with our administration time and again on critical issues, such as the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, violent crime, and Baltimore County priorities. I wish him and his family well.”
When asked by Jmore in 2017 about his future political ambitions, Zirkin — who was often cited as a possible candidate for Senate president, as well as for a federal position — said, “Washington is not the right place for me. Friends in Congress complain about how little time they spend with family. Right now, my kids are everything to me. I want more time with them, not less.”