House Mother

Innkeeper Peg Bednarsky caters to the softer side of politics when the lawmakers come to Annapolis

General Assembly

January 15, 2004|By Patricia Meisol | Patricia Meisol,SUN STAFF

Hug. Hug. Hug.

That's what Peg Bednarsky does on Move-in Day, when members of the Maryland General Assembly arrive with their luggage at her hotel on State Circle in Annapolis.

"Welcome home!" she enthuses as they drift in the day before they go back to work.

"I love you," she tells Del. Jimmy Malone, Baltimore Democrat, as she plants a kiss on his cheek.

The gestures and words of a mother, surely. Meet Miss Peg, House Mother to the lawmakers.

For 35 years, as the designated host for resident lawmakers at the Historic Inns of Annapolis, she has served soup to the sick, located oversized desks for the workaholics, rearranged furniture for the homesick, and listened carefully to everybody's take on the issues of the day.

She knows her guests' party affiliations, their hometowns, the ages of their children and their preference in pillows. She knows how they vote. She knows what they think. Right now, she says, "We all think it is going to be a difficult session."

But nobody knows what Miss Peg thinks.

The innkeeper of the Historic Inns - Governor Calvert House, the Maryland Inn and Robert Johnson House - Miss Peg looks forward to this week all year. In this she is no different from her guests. "They often say it themselves: We can't wait for it to begin and - after it drags on a while - we can't wait for it to end."

She does what she can to keep the 90-day experience from feeling old - chocolates and hand-written notes on Valentine's Day, Bailey's Irish Cream on St. Patrick's Day. Already, she's made sure guests get their favorite chairs or the four-poster bed they asked for last year.

Each morning at breakfast and each evening over hors d'oeuvres in the lounge at the Calvert House she set up for them, she checks on their needs and, as she did two nights ago, sits and talks, sometimes about the past.

When Miss Peg joined the staff at the Maryland Inn in 1968, there were only 44 rooms, the annual legislative session ran two months instead of three, and senators were "true orators." On Monday nights she used to head across the street to the State House to listen to her guests debate. Other nights, when they gathered in the inn's lounge for sandwiches and drinks, she joined them for a Coke. "There were wonderful, wonderful lawmakers in those days," she says, "true politicians," people like Judge Edgar P. Silver, now in his 80s and a lobbyist who still lunches with the powers that be, sometimes serving as mediator.

Now there are 124 rooms. As for orators, well, Miss Peg may have missed that impassioned debate last year on the medical use of marijuana.

Astately great-grandmother who dressed the other day in a classic taupe jacket and black pants with elegant gold jewelry, Miss Peg works 12-hour days during the session. It's not just antiques filling the lobby at the Calvert House, it's her booming voice.

She has the cheery disposition of a hotelier, in which everything is possible and nothing unnerves. Tuesday, alerted by a photographer that the Maryland flag in the banquet room was upside down, she saw it was fixed minutes before the top Democrats in the state filed in for lunch. "My goodness," she says, "of all times to hang the state flag upside down."

A few minutes later, as the party pillars rise to speak, she eyes a valet moving a rack of luggage into the elevator. Politely, but firmly, she says: "I will kill you if you make any noise."

Just then, she spies the state's attorney general, Joe Curran, in the lobby. "Your son-in-law is doing a good job!" she tells him. His son-in-law - Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley - arrives a few minutes later.

It happened to be Democrats who gathered for lunch at the Calvert House the day before the General Assembly opened. The night before, the big gathering was of Republicans. "Bobby was here," Miss Peg says, referring to the governor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. She knows him "very well." He was a lawmaker for eight years and stayed with her during some of them. On her birthday, he sent her two pictures of himself, one signed "Bobby" and one signed "the governor."

Democrat or Republican, she's had most of them as guests, at the hotel or in the lounge.

The newly elected are like new hotel employees: green. She tries to give them as much information as possible about the hotel and the town. Some have never been to Annapolis. It wasn't always that way; most elected officials got there after doing business in the capital. Another change is the number of lawmakers who've become lobbyists. The newest is Barbara Hoffman, a Baltimore senator ousted in the September 2002 primary. "I must call her," Miss Peg says. "She used to be with us."

When Walter Baker, the Eastern Shore senator, lost his seat the same year as Hoffman, Miss Peg cried. "It was like losing a member of the family," she says. He'd stayed with her 18 years.

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