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If Steve Abrams had lived about 15 miles south of where he did, he’d be as well known to readers of this blog on D.C. politics as Marion Barry.
Instead, Abrams became a fixture in the Rockville and Montgomery County political worlds, serving three terms on the county school board, several years on the Rockville City Council and running the county’s somewhat anemic Republican Party. And in the process, he became one of the most colorful characters observers of local government could have hoped for, picking fights with people he disagreed with (and usually winning), occasionally snoozing through school board meetings, but always pushing for what he thought the county needed. Abrams died Sunday, at 67, of a brain tumor, and his funeral was held today in Potomac.
As an obituary today in the Washington Post made clear, Abrams managed to make a few enemies in his public life, mostly because he was the sort of politician who did what he felt was right and didn’t really worry about what anyone else thought of it. Despite long ties with the GOP, he quit the party in 2006 over a feud involving other local Republicans, and wound up supporting Barack Obama in the 2008 election. He was quick with a sharp retort, and loved to talk about the intricate details of policy and politics.
But besides being a MoCo bigwig, Abrams was also the father of a longtime friend of mine. His older daughter Elisia Abrams graduated a year behind me from high school, at Richard Montgomery, in Rockville, and college, at the University of Pennsylvania. (Abrams was a friend to my whole family: His daughter Jennifer Abrams Stier was a friend of my younger brother, and my parents knew Abrams when they were in college together.) Which meant I had plenty of chances to see past the pugilistic GOP face Abrams showed the wider world, and the unyieldingly conservative views he was always happy to argue when politics came up in conversation. Though if Abrams had anything to do with it, politics came up often. He may have infuriated the teachers unions in Montgomery County and defended national policies I often thought were regressive, but the Steve Abrams I knew was a warm, loving father to my friend (if a slightly overprotective one; he and his wife Judy Abrams forbade Elisia from driving after dark as a teenager, which her friends still mock her for today) and an endlessly entertaining man to schmooze with at any moment. During the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York, which I covered for Gannett’s Washington bureau, I bumped into him on the Madison Square Garden floor, and we started debating political strategy as if we’d already been in the middle of a conversation about it—but of course, only after he asked how my parents and brothers were doing and caught up on gossip about some of Elisia’s other friends.
The Post obit did manage to capture some of Abrams’ silly side; besides his political career, he was an investor in Broadway shows like Avenue Q and In the Heights. But at his funeral today, his daughters each gave moving eulogies that were far better than the obit at evoking the man the news coverage didn’t always capture. And as it happens, Abrams’ daughters once played a minor part in his political career. During a 2006 bid for Montgomery County Council, Elisia and Jennifer shot a low-budget campaign ad in Spanish, to air on Telemundo, that hoped to win over Latino voters. It didn’t work at all; Montgomery County ain’t exactly friendly turf for a Republican, no matter how well that Republican’s daughters speak Spanish.
Still, watching it reminded me that Abrams had inspired great love and devotion among those who knew him for years, no matter what kind of quixotic political campaign he’d gotten himself into. I’ll miss him. Watch here: