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End of an Era: Leader of Powerhouse Environmental Group Stepping Aside

Dru Schmidt-Perkins, a powerhouse environmentalist who has been a fixture in Maryland policy and political debates for more than a quarter century, announced Thursday that she will step down as president and CEO of the group 1000 Friends of Maryland in November.

“I made a commitment to stay for two years and now — 19 incredible years later — I have decided it’s time to try something new,” Schmidt-Perkins said.

1000 Friends of Maryland was formed in 1994 to bring together business groups, developers, environmentalists, transportation advocates, community leaders, and local planners to promote sustainable development throughout the state. It was an all-volunteer organization until Schmidt-Perkins, who had been the regional director for the group Clean Water Action for eight years, was brought on as its leader in 1998.

During her tenure, the organization has been involved in numerous policy debates at the state and local level, helping to create new programs like the historic tax credit and Rural Legacy, improving programs to clean up toxic brownfields, reducing the number of major new subdivisions in rural areas, and ensuring that dedicated funds are spent on Program Open Space. The organization has also been a major advocate for clean water and expanded mass transit funding throughout the state.

“It has been an honor to be part of the creation of a new organization and movement,” Schmidt-Perkins said. “Our work to improve land use and development policy has been challenging and exciting.”

Schmidt-Perkins’ announcement was met with surprise across the state.

“Dru’s vision, leadership, commitment, dry sense of humor, and boundless energy will be sorely missed at 1000 Friends,” said Dale Sams, who is the organization’s chairman of the board.

“Say it ain’t so!” Del. Eric Luedtke (D) said in a tweet.

Around the State House, Schmidt-Perkins is known as a dogged advocate who is unafraid to challenge authority – yet is rarely openly confrontational. She also knows when the decks are stacked against her, and shrugs off defeats with good humor and determination.

While presenting Schmidt-Perkins with an award at a Maryland League of Conservation Voters dinner in 2013, Bob Perciasepe, a former Maryland environment secretary who was then deputy administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency, recalled first meeting her in the early 1990’s, when he had just started working for Gov. William Donald Schaefer (D).

“I’m three, four weeks into the job, and she’s got a roomful of young people who are going to spend the summer knocking on doors, saying what’s wrong with the Maryland Department of the Environment,” Perciasepe said. “I said ‘jeepers,’ maybe something else.”

But the encounter, he said, was all about education — and making the state’s air and water cleaner: “Dru wants to teach. Dru wants to help. Dru wants to tell a very young Environment secretary how to do his job.”

Schmidt-Perkins said she has no idea what she will do next – which is both exciting and a little frightening.

She and the 1000 Friends Board of Directors will begin a search process to find her successor in late spring.

“I have six months to help 1000 Friends find the right next person and the next right thing for me,” Schmidt-Perkins told Maryland Matters. “No pressure!”