An older man in a blue coat standing outside

This is a harried morning in a hectic season in the capital city of Annapolis, Md.—it’s March 2023, deep into the legislative session at the statehouse up the hill—and suddenly there’s this pummeling din of pulled-out chairs scraping the floor, and flatware clattering on plates bright with omelets and pancakes, as the manager at Chick and Ruth’s Delly, a local political hangout painted a loud orange and yellow, shouts that it’s time to pledge allegiance to the flag.

They do this every day. Or so Sandy Rosenberg ’72 tells me. The pledge. At a diner. We pause our interview, rise, recommit to the republic, and then sit down to chase more of Rosenberg’s war stories, memories and philosophies. I listen hard but am distracted by the photo gallery wall around us, a glossy jumble of various state pols. One photo shows Kurt Schmoke, the former Baltimore mayor who, I learn, went to high school with Rosenberg, as did Elijah Cummings, the late congressman. There is Takoma Park resident Jamie Raskin, the U.S. congressman known for his work on the January 6th Select Committee (and the husband of Sarah Bloom Raskin ’83). I even spy Spiro Agnew, Nixon’s disgraced vice president and the former governor of Maryland. 

Rosenberg, a Democrat who represents Baltimore City, is a Maryland pol, too, with the classic “Ballmer” accent to prove it. But he didn’t want his photo up there, much less a sandwich named for him on the menu, like the Thurgood Marshall (grilled cheese, bacon and tomato), in tribute to a Supreme Court Justice with Baltimore roots, or Hogan’s Hero, named for former governor Larry Hogan.

He has lived in his district his whole life and has been a political animal from the outset.

Yet he would merit such distinction: Samuel Isadore Rosenberg, known to all as Sandy, is now the longest-serving member of the  Maryland House of Delegates. A liberal Democrat first elected in 1983, he is one of three delegates representing the 108,000 citizens of the state’s 41st district, in northwest Baltimore. And he has helped shepherd hundreds of bills during his tenure, on such vital issues as reproductive rights, lead paint abatement and the death penalty. On that last, he was one of the leaders behind the 2013 bill that repealed capital punishment in Maryland. “It is the most profound thing I will ever do,” he once wrote. 

Meanwhile, he has labored on endless meat-and-potatoes concerns dear to his district: everything from trying to build a pedestrian bridge at busy Cold Spring Lane (a current aim) to, in 2016, funding extended hours for local libraries. And he has kept the thoroughbreds running at Pimlico Race Course, home of the Preakness Stakes, the middle race of the Triple Crown. For years, Pimlico’s owners have been threatening to move the race to suburban Laurel Park, and even close the facility, which would have severe economic consequences for the 41st district. In 1968, Rosenberg was lazing around on the roof of his friend Jay Slater’s house, which overlooks the track, when Sandy’s mother called to say that a letter had come from Amherst’s admissions office. At our breakfast, I asked if he was ever homesick at college. His answer: “On Preakness Day, yes.” 

In 2016, Rosenberg helped bring together the track’s owners, the state and the city to finance the Maryland Stadium Authority, the developer of the much-lauded Oriole Park at Camden Yards, to do a viability study on redeveloping the Pimlico property, later setting aside half the land for non-track residential, recreational and commercial use. It was a legitimate move—also a stalling tactic—and it worked. “A weak bill is better than no bill,” Rosenberg explains, “and your first step can be a study to build momentum.” Since 2020, residents who live near the track have met monthly, as part of the Pimlico Compact, to craft their input for the project’s design. 

Alongside his duties as a delegate, he’s spent three decades teaching several classes—most notably, one on the art of legislating—at the University of Maryland Law School and the University of Baltimore School of Law. He brings in multiple guest speakers and uses just one text: Master of the Senate, Robert Caro’s third volume about Lyndon Johnson, especially the chapters on his efforts to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1957. Many fellow delegates, plus state aides, lobbyists and senators (including Bill  Ferguson, current president of the Maryland State Senate) have taken the class, and learned from  Rosenberg’s analyses and accomplishments. 

As Rosenberg jokes: “One student said that my political tombstone should read, ‘He killed the death penalty. He saved the Preakness.’”

An older man walking with two students in a school hallway

Rosenberg with current students at his high school, Baltimore City College. He was, unsurprisingly, elected president of the student government.

Apart from his years at Amherst and Columbia Law School—where he took a course titled “Sex Discrimination and the Law” taught by a young Ruth Bader Ginsburg—he has lived in his district his whole life and has been a political animal from the outset. He has a photo of himself, at age 6, helping his mother, a stalwart in the local League of Women Voters, go door-to-door for presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson. At age 14, he volunteered for Maryland’s winning U.S. senatorial campaign of Joseph Tydings. In high school, he was elected president of the student government. 

Rosenberg majored, no shock, in political science at Amherst, and was the chairman of The Amherst Student, where he landed interviews with the two alumni then in congress: Robert H. Steele ’60 (R-Conn.) and Thomas Eagleton ’50 (D-Mo.). 

“No one from my childhood, or even  Amherst, would be surprised that I’m doing what I’m doing,” says Rosenberg, who spends every election day at the polling site at his childhood elementary school. “But at  Amherst reunions, people usually ask me why I haven’t run for Congress.” 

It’s a fair question. The idea has in fact been floated to him now and again. In 2006, Ben Cardin (D-Md.), then a U.S. congressman, decided to run for the Senate, and phoned to ask if Rosenberg might want to vie for his seat. “I had a sense this call might come,” recalls Rosenberg. “So, I said, ‘I am not interested.’ I didn’t hesitate. I’m happy where I am.”

As he sips his orange juice, I too ask why he’s never sought federal office. He responds by citing a legendary political science professor who taught at Amherst from 1948 to 1977. “I took Earl Latham’s introduction to politics and his constitutional law class, and he spoke of politicians who had ‘Potomac fever’”—that distinctly Washingtonian craving for national power and prestige.

Rosenberg continues: “I had the virus once. I even imagined running for president, but I lost it a long time ago. Because you can make a big difference at the state level. The states are the laboratories of democracy.” Then he tilts his head toward the waterfront, where the brackish Severn River runs through Annapolis on out to the Chesapeake. 

“I don’t have Potomac fever,” he says. “I have Severn fever.” 

It’s Crossover Week, the most crucial week of the year for Maryland legislators. If legislation passes the House of Delegates and crosses over to the Senate by the close of business (and vice versa) next Monday, it’s  guaranteed a public hearing in the Senate the last three weeks of the session. If not, it’s off the table until next year. 

Rosenberg is also hosting Amherst students this packed week. They’re on a spring break trip organized by the College’s Loeb Center for Career Exploration and Planning, and led by Loeb staffers Micah Owino, the program director for careers in social impact, and Emily Griffen, the center’s director.

The students have all spiked Potomac fever the last three days, meeting alumni in Washington, D.C., who spun stories about working at the State Department, the World Bank, the Urban Institute—even the U.S. Senate, where Sen. Chris Coons ’85 (D-Del.) hosted a reception for the group on Capitol Hill. 

But the trip’s Annapolis stop has been heady in its own way, too, since the students have gotten a how-the-sausage-gets-made glimpse of state government. They’ve all been sitting up in the gallery at the Maryland State House, watching legislators hash out a steady stream of bills, with the most heated debates centered on reproductive rights, just months after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision. 

Jason Buckel (R-Allegany County)—who has also taken Rosenberg’s class on  legislating—was arguing against the passage of HB 812, which would ban sharing records of medical care given in Maryland for out-of-state travelers and students with their home-state providers. Rosenberg sponsored the bill and, as he explained at breakfast, if it didn’t pass, patients from certain states who receive reproductive health care in Maryland could be criminally prosecuted when they return home. The bill was enacted soon after.

Rosenberg has a wealth of experience in reproductive rights law. He’s taught a University of Maryland Law School seminar on the topic and was a House floor leader of the 1991 bill that codified the Roe standard for Maryland. I called Marc Korman, majority leader in the Maryland House of Delegates, to ask about Rosenberg’s impact on reproductive rights in the state. “It was much more in the vanguard to be fighting for these issues when he was first doing it than it is today,” Korman said. “The party has caught up with Sandy.”

An older man speaking on a smartphone

Part of being a local politician for 40 years is taking a lot of phone calls, but Rosenberg doesn’t mind. As he says, “I’m happy where I am.”

Between these legislative immersions, the Amherst students are meeting with Maryland state and nonprofit staffers to learn about their work, too. These speakers were recruited by Rosenberg himself, who has funded this trip and others before it. And—who knows?—given these Amherst students’ home states, maybe one of them will get a case of (to cue their capitals’ rivers) South Platte, Sangamon or Apalachicola fever. 

Meanwhile, Rosenberg has also introduced several bills to encourage public service, including one that repays a portion of academic debt, and another that fronts a year’s tuition, for Maryland residents who take state jobs in government or nonprofit agencies serving low-income or underrepresented populations. Rosenberg readily points out that he didn’t need such aid himself, and that he has other income besides his modest adjunct-professor pay and his delegate’s annual salary of $50,330. His late mother, Babette Hecht Rosenberg, came from the family that ran the (now defunct) Hecht’s department store chain. His late father, Benedict Rosenberg, owned an insurance agency. Sandy is the middle of three brothers.

Encouraging public service is “a passion of mine,” he says. He has lots of passions in his work, I discovered, and a single nongovernmental passion: baseball. But even that is politicized. He eyes where the governor sits at Camden Yards and finesses when he might approach him at the games. Rosenberg has season tickets. He says it’s one of the great advantages to working in state, rather than federal, government, since the baseball season barely overlaps with the legislative session. For the last dozen years, he has offered a baseball-themed prayer to open the legislative session on the Orioles’ Opening Day.

You can make a big difference at the state level. The states are the laboratories of democracy.”

Back at Chick and Ruth’s, he steered us toward his favorite booth, so ordained because it sports a photo of the great Orioles third baseman Brooks Robinson. For some 20 years, Rosenberg attended the Orioles baseball fantasy camp in Sarasota, Fla., where he mostly played catcher. In 2010, he asked Orioles coach Earl Weaver to sign a photo of Weaver, and to address it to Michael Busch, then speaker of the House of Delegates.

“Mike,” wrote Weaver, “Pass Sandy’s bills. —Earl.” 

In Annapolis, Rosenberg could only pledge me an hour, but in a way, I’ve been shadowing him for decades. That’s because I’ve read tons of the entries from his online legislative diary, arguably one of the nation’s most comprehensive chronicles of what it’s like to grit it out at the state level, day in, day out. (You can find the diary on his website,, and access all the passages from 2009 on up.) He posts four days a week during the February-to-April legislative session. 

The genesis of the diary dates to 2001, but the habit goes back further. “One of the things in my education that enables me to do the diary was English 11,” recalls Rosenberg of this Amherst course. “You had to write three days a week all semester. My diary is designed to help get my bills passed. It’s an accounting of what I do to get a bill done. It’s also to say, ‘These are the issues that matter to me, to my constituents.’”

His prose is both ardent and wry. He likes to mess around with quotations—for instance, Samuel Johnson’s “nothing concentrates the mind like a hanging” becomes “nothing concentrates the mind like a bill hearing.” Or Rosenberg reveals that one of his heroes is State Sen. Harry “Soft Shoes” McGuirk, who earned his nickname because “he frequently got things done without leaving traces of his involvement.” In one entry, Rosenberg winks that medical marijuana bills get heard, fortuitously, in the Joint Hearing Room. In another, he speaks in vague terms about pending legislation: “The names of these bills have been left unsaid to protect the unresolved.”

There’s plenty in there about his sources of inspiration, too. Sometimes, he legislates in response to items he’s read in the news, like his bill to create better monitoring of the state’s two main operators of group homes for disabled foster children, after The Baltimore Sun published an investigation in 2014. Or he is puzzling out a Maryland-based response to a Supreme Court decision. Or he is keeping track of how other states are (or are not) making headway on an issue. In my interview with the majority leader, I somewhat facetiously used the word “suggestible,” about Rosenberg’s magpie ways. 

“Instead of ‘suggestible,’ I would call it ‘curious,’” Korman replied. “Curious about what other states and cities are doing. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel here. There’s a lot we can take from other places that are doing great work. You don’t want to always wait for other states to do something before you act, right? But if both Utah and Massachusetts are doing something, wow, that’s interesting.”

You can search Rosenberg’s diary in all sorts of ways, chronologically or topically, and the breadth of involvement is  remarkable. Rail lines, domestic terrorism, school funding, LGBTQ rights, equal pay, gun safety and on and on and on. I decided to parse one issue in particular: his decades-long, arduous work on lead paint abatement in Baltimore’s old housing stock, to address the devastation caused by high lead content found in children’s bloodstreams, a known cause of learning and behavioral issues. 

Rosenberg has been intent on this cause since 1975, when he was working at the  Housing Authority of Baltimore City, and then he took it up as a freshman delegate in 1983. Of those early days, he recalls: “I said to myself, This issue deals with where I am now. It’s poor folks who are getting the short end of the stick here.” 

Word got out to local landlords that new laws might force them to mitigate lead-based paint from structures built before 1978. When Rosenberg ran again in 1986, a group of landlords tried to thwart his candidacy through a little chicanery—by recruiting, as a primary opponent, a woman who was also named Rosenberg, to confuse the voters. (The scheme fizzled. She never ran.)

An older man wearing a winter coat talking to a woman on a city street

Rosenberg with Jackie Greenfield, his constituent services director, outside Cross Country elementary school, which he attended.

In 1994, Rosenberg sponsored the Reduction of Lead Risk in Housing law, which passed. But laws are one thing, compliance another, and fresh problems kept blooming. In his diary, he cites a 2015 study from Baltimore’s Abell Foundation. It reported that 81 percent of property owners submitted incorrect, outdated or unsupported documents of their lead risk registration and inspection status to the Maryland Department of the Environment. 

So Rosenberg just kept hammering. A short list of his initiatives: House Bill 810, to fund more inspectors by raising registration fees; House Bill 491, to forbid landlords’ use of the courts to evict tenants if the landlords can’t prove compliance with the lead risk  reduction law; House Bill 457, to require lead testing in school buildings at least once every 18 months.

Rosenberg has notched many wins, in part because he is in the firm majority, with Democrats holding about two-thirds of the seats in the House of Delegates and the Senate and, usually, a Democrat as governor. “I wouldn’t have stayed this long if I was in the minority,” he says. Unlike swing states, in which the current majority must rush through bills before they lose power, Maryland has more of “a slow-burn legislature,” says Korman, the majority leader.

I asked Korman about Rosenberg’s reputation, and he threw out a baseball metaphor: “Sandy is a utility player,” he said, meaning a teammate able to excel at many different field positions. “There are six committees in the House, and he has served on four of them. He is a ‘plug and play’ legislator. You can put him in anywhere and there will be value added. And he never lets our work grind him down. He won’t just take his marbles and go home because his bill didn’t pass. Instead, he will create the conditions for success later.”

Not only is Maryland one of the bluest states, but it’s also one of the most racially diverse: it ranks fifth of all states for the proportion of its population that is Black, at 29 percent. Rosenberg’s district started out as predominantly Jewish, but now, because of redistricting, about 70 percent of his constituents are Black. There is a substantial Orthodox Jewish population in the 41st, and to serve these citizens, Rosenberg has voted in favor of private school vouchers—which puts him at odds with others in his party—because the families, who often have many children, tend to send their children to parochial schools but have trouble affording the tuition. He has also advocated for laws that help Orthodox Jewish women secure religious divorces from husbands who are denying them, which puts him at odds with Orthodox leaders. 

I ask Rosenberg about how his own Jewish identity (he was raised Reform) motivates his work. “I’m part of a minority, and to me, minority rights are human rights, civil rights,” he says. “I believe in tikkun olam,” he adds, citing the Hebrew phrase for the Jewish concept of repairing the world. “It’s something I try to not just follow but teach—that if one person or one group is discriminated against, so am I. So are you.”

If one person or group is discriminated against, so am I. So are you.”

Glendora Hughes, general counsel at the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights, told me: “Sandy is always looking for ideas and legislative options that would create an even playing field. If you look at his packet, there’s usually at least one bill that addresses discriminatory behavior or unequal treatment.”

Lisa Gladden, a retired state senator and once a fellow delegate with Rosenberg in the 41st, has told The Baltimore Sun that Rosenberg is “the best legislator I’ve ever worked with.” He is also, she said, “a great civil rights leader.”

I connected with Rosenberg by phone when things calmed down after the legislative session, and found out more about his career. But apart from baseball (the Orioles were in Toronto that night) it was hard to extract much about his life outside his career. I tried. I asked what books he likes, and movies, too, but he said he has no time for either, really, and devotes his reading to House bills, studies and the day’s news. I fished around about his family status: He has always been single, and has no children. 

I inquired about favorite courses at Amherst, and he admitted that his adviser,  William Taubman (now the Bertrand Snell Professor of Political Science, Emeritus), urged Rosenberg to take more classes outside of his major, but he didn’t. Any hobbies? He tries to swim daily, he granted, and lamented that his times weren’t good enough to make the  Amherst swim team.

Feeling like I was dying onstage, I resorted to asking how he’d describe his temperament. Extrovert, introvert, a blend? His answer was almost a non sequitur: “I love my job.” 

I don’t think he was stonewalling me. It’s just that he has pledged his life to his district, to his state, to the power of legislation, and this path of devotion has little deviation. That’s certainly clear to his fellow legislators. One of them, Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel Counties), has served with Rosenberg on the Health and Government Operations Committee, which oversees many civil rights cases. 

“Sandy has been here more than 40 years, and I don’t know how much longer he may have here,” she told me. “Hopefully a long time, because he’s very effective and impactful. He is a walking encyclopedia and a constitutional scholar. We are 188 legislators, and we all have different strengths, and that is his. And he has shared so much knowledge, and mentored so many people, that that is also part of his legacy. There is a Buddhist saying that says that you don’t die when you’re cremated or when you’re buried; you die when the last deed you have performed is forgotten. So, I really feel that he will live forever.” 

On my summer phone call with Rosenberg, I told him I’d marshaled many glowing comments from his colleagues. I think he liked hearing that: who wouldn’t? But he didn’t bask. Instead, he was reminded of another arch saying from one of his Amherst political science professors: “Earl Latham used to tell us that, when it comes to human beings, there are ‘the great, the near great and the merely swollen.’”

I asked where he’d place himself in that hierarchy. His answer came fast: “The still striving.”

Katharine Whittemore is Amherst magazine’s senior editor.

Photographs by Jimell Greene