Delegates are odd couple of friends Political opposites see beyond differences

April 30, 1996|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,SUN STAFF

Nancy Jacobs is as conservative as she is tall -- and that's quite. A born-again Christian and staunch Republican, she is a determined opponent of gay rights, abortion and militant feminism.

Sharon Grosfeld is as far to the left politically as Mrs. Jacobs is to the right. A petite, Jewish feminist, she has championed causes for the National Organization for Women and other groups that make conservatives gnash their teeth.

A year ago, the two found themselves sitting side by side in the Maryland House Judiciary Committee, both freshman legislators. And something unexpected happened.

They became good friends. The kind that exchange cards and snapshots, swap stories about children and husbands, split a dessert and make each other laugh.

Not just during the 90-day legislative session, but year-round as well. They bridge the distance between Ms. Grosfeld's home in Silver Spring and Mrs. Jacobs' in Harford County by meeting in Annapolis for lunch. There is talk of taking their children fishing or seeing a show in New York.

That two polar opposites could find common ground is remarkable, some say. That they could do so in an environment that encourages conflict is downright amazing.

"They're at the international dateline of the political sphere, where east meets west, the far left meets the far right," said state Del. Donald E. Murphy, a Catonsville Republican.

For instance, Ms. Grosfeld, a Democrat, this year co-sponsored a gay rights bill -- anathema to people of her friend's beliefs. Mrs. Jacobs introduced legislation to weaken labor unions, not a happy proposition for liberals.

Ms. Grosfeld says she would ban all guns; Mrs. Jacobs would let everyone carry one. Abortion? That's an issue they don't even discuss.

When it's time to vote, you can expect one yea and one nay.

You would never mistake one for the other, even at a distance. Mrs. Jacobs, 44, is a 6-foot blonde, a West Virginian by birth, a former tennis instructor and real estate agent.

The New York-born Ms. Grosfeld is a 5-foot-2 brunette who looks younger than her 39 years and chooses her words with the precision of a lawyer. Which she is.

They lobbied in Annapolis for opposing women's groups before becoming delegates in 1995, but they didn't know each other then. And it might have stayed that way "had we not been thrown together on the same committee and next to each other," Ms. Grosfeld said.

They began chatting during breaks in committee meetings, over meals and while sharing M&Ms at their desks.

Small talk turned into long philosophical and spiritual discussions. They uncovered things they had in common.

Both say they're outspoken, strong-willed, devoted to their husbands and children, unwavering in their beliefs and mildly sarcastic in their humor.

And, of course, they like politics.

They say their friendship is an example of what can happen when people who differ on the most emotional and divisive issues of their times must confront one another as, well, people.

"We may not agree," Ms. Grosfeld began.

"But we understand where the other one is coming from," Mrs. Jacobs finished.

"I think Nancy probably feels in her heart I'm wrong. And I think she's wrong," Ms. Grosfeld said. "Maybe there's that glimmer of hope that one day we'll each, respectively, see the light."

"But I don't think so," Mrs. Jacobs interjected, laughing.

Some of their colleagues don't know what to make of this odd couple.

"People are threatened by our friendship," Mrs. Jacobs said. "We'll be out to dinner together and get up to leave, and other delegates sitting nearby will say, 'We should take a picture of this.' "

"People wonder," Ms. Grosfeld said, "how I can carry on a conversation with Nancy when she and I have diametrically opposed viewpoints on everything. My response is that we don't generally talk about politics. We talk about those things that bind women together: children, families and men."

"Once we were walking together," Mrs. Jacobs said, "and a lobbyist did a double take. He said, 'What an unholy alliance.' And I said, 'It's probably the most holy alliance. I'm a Christian and she's a Jew, so we've got both ends of the spectrum here.' "

The friendship has raised a few fears of defection.

"Last year, it did get to be a matter of concern among some Republicans, who talked to me about it," said Del. Michael W. Burns, an Anne Arundel Republican. "I told them, 'Oh, come on. Nancy is a big girl. Just because she has this friendship with Sharon doesn't mean she's going to join NOW.' "

Both women find it ridiculous that anyone would think they would, in legislative parlance, "go south," or start voting with the other side. They don't even try to change each other's mind.

That's because among their many differences, the two say, they found one core principle they shared.

"That is, that everyone has the right to their opinion. We both like people who state their convictions and stick to them," Mrs. Jacobs said. "I can respect someone who disagrees with me when I know they're sincere."

Said Ms. Grosfeld: "I believe that Nancy and I actually want the same things out of life and that we want the same things for people. We're just going about it from entirely different ends of the Earth."

Pub Date: 4/30/96

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