Again, new beginnings for 2 administration veterans Saar, long-time Schaefer ally, ready for latest challenge.

September 04, 1991|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Evening Sun Staff

An informal resume for Mary Ann Saar might identify her as a tough-as-nails prosecutor, a William Donald Schaefer loyalist and woman who once exchanged gunfire with three would-be robbers.

She made her reputation in the city's criminal courts, where she was Maryland's first female chief deputy under then-State's Attorney William A. Swisher. She left the courtroom in 1983 for a series of political appointments under Schaefer, beginning with the Mayor's Coordinating Council on Criminal Justice.

In 1979, she briefly became a local folk hero after using her .38-caliber handgun to protect herself and retired Judge Arvum K. Rifman from three robbers outside the state office complex.

Now Schaefer has named her to replace Nancy Grasmick as secretary of Juvenile Services, which may seem a stretch for the 50-year-old director of operations and public safe ty for the governor's office.

But Saar is quick to point out that she long has had an interest in juvenile deliquency. It was the subject of her law school thesis at the University of Maryland.

"I got an A, by the way," Saar says of that paper, written almost 30 years ago.

Since then, ideas about rehabilitating young criminals may have changed, but the youths are basically the same, Saar says.

"I think we've got maybe more of them with problems, but I don't think they were so different," she says. "We just had a different way of looking at them. We were much more willing to put them into huge institutions and give them three squares and make sure they didn't bother anybody.

"We didn't think much about our philosophy, about the fact they're all going to be out eventually."

Saar's former boss, Swisher, describes her as "a hard worker and a clear thinker."

"She runs a tight ship," Swisher says. "The whole system has to be rethought and tightened up. And she's the one [to do it.]"

And Susan P. Leviton, president of Advocates for Children and Youth, Inc., believes Saar brings to the job the necessary compassion for young people.

"Her reputation has been as a tough lady," Leviton says. "But she does have the philosophy that if you're going to make a difference at all, this is where you're going to make a difference."

Saar is the third secretary the juvenile services agency has had in nine months.

Linda D'Amario Rossi, recruited after a lengthy, nationwide search, left in January to take a position in her native Rhode Island. Grasmick, already special secretary for the Office of Children, Youth and Families, then stepped into the job. Now Grasmick has been tapped to be the state superintendent of schools.

"Having someone like Nancy Grasmick as my predecessor has been wonderful," Saar said in an interview yesterday. "She has started things going down all the correct roads. It's not going to be a difficult map to follow. We are so in tune it makes my job very easy."

Grasmick, like Rossi before her, supported smaller institutions and more community-based programs. Toward that end, Grasmick arranged for a private contractor to take over the state's only training school for juvenile delinquents, the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School.

"What was needed was community-based programs, a continuum -- you just can't drop these kids in space after they come out of something more restrictive," Saar said. "You're dealing with human beings, it's an investment in human capital. You can't be warehousing them and then expect miracles."

Institutions are still needed, Saar said, for the hardest cases. But the state has to learn to rely less on facilities -- while working within the constraints of the state budget.

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