Vera P. Hall says she learned to be a Democrat while growing up in rural North Carolina, from a father "who believed that Franklin Roosevelt sat at the right hand of God."
"He was always telling us about what he called 'Hoover times,' " she said of the man who used to drive people to polls on Election Day, "back when not too many people had cars."
On Saturday, Mrs. Hall was elected chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party, following the stormy tenure of Nathan Landow.
A career educator who taught in Baltimore schools and worked at the state Department of Education and at Morgan State -- and once ran a dress designing business on the side -- the 55-year-old Mrs. Hall has two grown children, a daughter who teaches in the English department at Georgetown University and a son who is an orthopedic surgeon on the faculty at Duke University.
She started working for the state Democratic Party more than 20 years ago when her husband invited the political organization he was active in over for breakfast one day and forgot to tell her.
She joined in the discussion, soon found herself on the city Central Committee and went on to chair it, rising to the position of state vice-chairman when she was chosen for her current job.
Mrs. Hall was interviewed in her office at Baltimore's City Hall, where she has been a member of the City Council representing the 5th District since 1987.
Q: What do you think of the controversy that surrounded your predecessor's time as chairman of the party?
A: There was some talk in New York at the Democratic convention that Nate might resign. The people who had supported him before were kind of upset at the way he handled things.
His term could have been great. He had a great team, a lot of good ideas, and really did want to build the party. But the regular people who had been there working all the time felt shut out. He was made aware of that and tried to correct it, but somehow or another he just couldn't manage it.
I intend to be about collecting people and their ideas, putting them together so that we can win elections. Nate was not wrong, the Clinton team is not wrong -- we need some changes. We need to get back to some real basic strategy of how you win elections.
Voters need to understand the connection between what's happening to them on a daily basis and what happens on the national level. They've lost that connection and we've got to reconnect it.
Q: But are you going to have a problem getting your party energized for the fall election when the state's highest elected official, Gov. William Donald Schaefer, has been lukewarm about his party's presidential ticket?
A: I feel the party is energized and that's contagious. People catch enthusiasm just like they catch non-enthusiasm. And the people who are involved with the party in this state are excited about this ticket.
Q: But will the governor be on board and going full steam?
A: Yes. Remember, it was his own initiative to come to New York and be a part of that, and that brought a lot of Democrats who otherwise would not have been part of the convention. They had a great day.
Q: A lot of people also think that black voters are not going to turn out for Bill Clinton, that there is a lack of enthusiasm for this ticket among the African- American leadership. What's your response to that?
A: I would like to know who they are. I have not met them. In my travels in the party nationally, the black leadership there, and with local black leadership, most people just want to know how they can get involved. So I don't really know where those stories are coming from.
Q: So you don't think it will be a problem turning out black voters in November?
A: No more than any other group of lethargic voters. The problem is getting people excited about change. I really feel that we are reliving the end of the Republican reign back in the '30s. People have been so hurt that they are depressed. The trick is to get them to believe again, to get them to hope that they can have a better tomorrow.
Q: Still, doesn't the Ross Perot phenomenon, no matter how it turned out, show that the parties are increasingly irrelevant?
A: People should remember that if we had not had a Democratic Party in place with the leadership that it had, we would not have had people working to make sure that there were good people ready to run for president.
Our national chairman, Ron Brown, kept saying that this was not about '96 -- and that's where a lot of potential candidates were looking -- but about '92, that Bush was doing a terrible job on domestic issues and that we were going to have to show the people that the cause of their miseries was not in City Hall, not in the State House, but in the White House.
I think one problem is that sometimes, we, as a party, seem to have forgotten how to define ourselves. I was writing a speech, right after Reagan took office, that made me really stop and analyze what we should stand for as Democrats. Are we really so all over the waterfront that we don't have a central focus?
The Democratic Party, with its caucuses and everything a few years ago, had gone so far that we needed someone to tell us to stop, that this design looked fine, it was time to see how it works. I think that's what Bill Clinton and the rest of them were doing with the Democratic Leadership Council.