and all knew each other.”
Leon Rodrik changed his last name
to Rodriguez and started a prosperous
department store. But the Communist
revolution, only 14 years after the end of
World War II, terrified the Jewish com-
munity. “;is was feeling a whole lot like
Europe to people, and everybody hits
the road,” says the younger Leon, who
was named for his grandfather.
His mother’s family, the Polikars, had
also emigrated from Turkey to Cuba.
His parents met at a party in Havana,
married in July of 1961 and soon sought
asylum in America, with his mother
smuggling jewelry out of the country in
the buttons of her dress. Rodriguez was
born a year later, grew up in Miami and
later went to Brown University and then
Boston College Law School. He became
a prosecutor in Brooklyn and moved
to the Washington area in 1994 when
his new wife, Jill Schwartz, started her
medical residency here.
;e young couple settled in Ken-
sington in 2001 when Jill was pregnant
with their first child. ;ey were drawn to
the county’s good schools, large Jewish
population and progressive activists who
had come to the area “to do something
important, something significant,” Leon
says. “I liked the idea of my kids grow-
ing up around people with that way of
seeing their lives.”
Rodriguez first entered local politics
through Tom Perez, now chairman of
the Democratic National Committee,
who was running for the Montgom-
ery County Council. “I was technically
his finance chairman, I think I raised
a total of 250 bucks,” Leon laughs. In
2004, the family moved to Garrett Park,
where they still live, and three years later
Rodriguez became the county’s chief
“In a position like that, you really
become conscious of the incredible level
of civic engagement in Montgomery
County, more so probably than any-
where else in the country,” he recalls. On
one issue, land use, the “incredible” level
of participation drove him a bit crazy.
“I always say land use is like a wedding, it brings out every issue in your
life—religious issues, emotional issues,
political issues,” Rodriguez says. “So
little land use issues became these big
Rodriguez, now 56 and back in private
law practice, took over U.S. Citizenship
and Immigration Services in 2014, a job
that drew heavily on his family’s history
and values. His maternal grandfather,
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