WESTMINSTER — While onlookers yawned, Rebecca Orenstein and Tony Watkins talked for hours about the countless important issues facing municipal governments.
It's not easy to find someone who is intrigued by small-towngovernment chat.
But Orenstein, a member of the Westminster City Council, found such a person in Watkins. He, too, is an elected official, a member of the City Council in Darlington, S.C.
Oh, yeah, he's her brother.
"It's like finding a twin," Orenstein said.
Orenstein talked shop and shared experiences with Watkins during a recent visit to Darlington, a rural community of about 8,000people.
"We compare notes quite a bit," Watkins said in a thick Southern drawl that his sister has managed to lose after years of living in Maryland. "There's a really good interchange."
The two grew up in nearby Greensboro, S.C., before the family moved to Darlington. Orenstein came to Westminster to attend Western Maryland College.
Today, Orenstein and Watkins share more than family ties and seats on their respective councils.
Both are small-business owners who live and work in the central commercial districts of their cities. Orenstein, 49, runs a photography studio out of her Pennsylvania Avenue home, while Watkins, 46, owns Pearl Street Furniture Co. just off Main Street in Darlington.
So both are advocates of economic revitalization in the downtown areas, which includes enhancing the appearance of commercial districts.
"It's an economic must," Watkins said. "This is a poor area. The tax baseis limited and the resources are limited. But we have to do something to take care of our area."
Some aspects of their political philosophies overlap as well.
In May, Orenstein became the first woman elected to the Westminster City Council after a campaign of progressive politics, during which she promised to invite citizens to be more involved in the workings of city government.
Likewise, Watkins talks of improving "constituent service," and believes small-town elected leaders should be available and willingto listen to the concerns ofcitizens.
"Maybe it's genetic," she said. "I think his political agenda is right on the money."
In 1988, Watkins topped four candidates who ran in a midterm election to fill a vacancy created when a council member stepped down early. In early November, he was overwhelmingly re-elected to a four-year seat on the council.
Finally, theyshare a pride and admiration for each other.
"I'm real proud of him," Orenstein said. "I used to baby-sit him."
Said Watkins of hissister's election to the council, "Naturally, I was thrilled. It just gave me a better sense of community with her that we could share that."
But Orenstein said she did have to hesitate, at least for an instant, when deciding who to support in November's election in Darlington.
"Well, there was a woman in the field," she said.