Ethics questions arise amidst swirling rumors regarding central committee candidates
Following the Anne Arundel County ethics commission advisory opinion regarding possible conflicts of interest in county council members voting for themselves, or those who benefit from close financial ties to a person involved in matters before the council, for the current vacant County Executive position; Baltimore City's 45th District state central committee members are now questioning whether or not three of their members currently running for an open delegate seat should be able to sit in on other candidate's interviews – or even vote for themselves to fill the vacancy left by Delegate Hattie Harrison?
However, apparently with viscous rumors being circulated about several 45th district candidates – being tossed around as nonchalant as a father playing catch with his son – some members are now questioning even those who may have ongoing relationships with family members of the candidates? A once clean and somewhat civil process to fill a vacancy of an outgoing state legislator, quickly turned ugly with less than 24-hours remaining before the candidate interviews and vote on Friday evening.
Questions surrounding candidates past tax and legal issues were rampant amongst the East Baltimore electorate, along with a brewing feud between two longtime community activists and the leadership of the political machine that has run the process of elections in that region for decades. Even rather minor issues regarding where the central committee was set to hold the interviews and cast their vote were brought into question, as candidates questioned the fairness of having the hearing at the Oliver Community Center when one of the candidates for the position previously served as the Executive Director of the facility.
Members, candidates and community leaders have been contacting this Examiner all day regarding these issues and more, leaving many political insiders to question what may come of this process – and if a rather simple voting procedure will instead become a full-blown circus come Friday night? Some central committee members have refused to dignify the political rubbish that is currently being circulated; however, some community leaders have taken to social media and emailing the Party to complain about the slanted and unfair process.
Ede Taylor, a longtime East Baltimore leader who currently serves as a community project coordinator for Johns Hopkins University – in the heart of East Baltimore – has blasted the process and the lack of transparency and ability for some of the candidates to get a fair shot at the seat. “All of the craziness around this process just taints and destroys the concept of DEMOCRACY; and as a constituent of the 45th, I see NO hope for the future,” says Ms. Taylor on Facebook. “This is one of those weeks that I am so ashamed to be a Democrat in Baltimore City's 45th District.”
Pointing to the recent and unfortunate rumors trying to taint the candidacy of front-runner Cory McCray, members have begun circulating McCray's gun charge(s) when he was a teenager – which never resulted in a conviction and is a testimony he has used in YouTube videos with Congressman Elijah Cummings to encourage youth that just because you make a mistake, or are in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong crowd, that you can change your life and be whatever you want. “It's sad really, as I have never tried to hide this situation; and have since been appointed by the Governor to my current position on the Baltimore City Board of Elections,” says the 30-year old husband and father of two.
Yet, the attack on McCray didn't stop there, as certain members of the central committee sent emails to the Democratic Party and the chairman of the city's state central committee, Scherod Barnes; saying that they felt “threatened” by the volume of emails being sent to them by community leaders in support of McCray's candidacy. Bombarding the seven voting members of the district's central committee in what can only be seen as an effective lobbying campaign, members who are said to support another candidate complained about the 50-60 emails from community association members and groups in support of the Young Democrat.
**Obtaining a copy of most of those emails, this Examiner reviewed each one and felt nothing threatening or intimidating by the language used in the emails – which I have posted excerpts from some of these emails at the bottom of this article for you to determine.
However McCray wasn't the only member that has come under attack by the apparent dirty politics and tricks that go into securing a vacancy appointment? Kevin Parsons, a perennial candidate for the seat in years past and community member, has come under fire for his tax troubles and several traffic complaints with one currently open for a violation of not wearing a seat belt. Questions also arose about his brother and campaign treasurer Tunji Sawyer's relationship with one of the voting members on the 45th district state central committee – Tashea Brodgin.
The Young Dem leader and member of the BEST Democratic Club in which McCray was a co-founder; Brodgin has been lobbied heavy from some of the eight candidates vying for the seat – including fellow BEST members who awarded her last year - and has only lately come under fire for her relationship with Parson's brother. But it doesn't stop there, as the four members on the central committee not running for Harrison's seat has been questioned as to whether or not they should allow the three members of the committee vying for the seat to vote for themselves, or even sit in on the interview process of the other candidates?
“If the County Council can't vote for themselves, or those doing business before the council, then the central committee members running to fill the vacancy should also recuse themselves – including any member who may have personal or financial ties to a candidate,” says independent political analyst Shaun Louis.
Other questions are being asked by community leaders close to the process, whether or not the vote should be held at the Oliver Center; based on central committee and candidate Nina Harper's past work there? Also being questioned is the one dual elected official on the central committee, Councilman Warren Branch (brother of 45th district delegate Talmadge Branch), who is elected to serve on the council and on the state central committee. “I have a very big problem with people serving dual roles just to keep their names on the ballot in off-election years and maintain the status quo through these appointment processes,” says Louis, who pointed to other members across the city doing the same.
“This isn't something new or unique to the Councilman, but is something the legislature, or the people, should think about changing at some point; as you are taking away a seat from someone who could become involved in essentially what is seen as the first step in the elective process?”
However, the process put in place for the interview and vote has been relayed to me as being one of; first allowing the three elected members of the central committee to interview, after waiting in the hallway like the rest of the candidates. Then each of them will be able to sit-in on the remaining candidates' interview process – including having the opportunity to raise questions and concerns to their opponents essentially – before each member will then get a paper ballot with all eight names on it, and be asked to vote for the one person of their choice.
Apparently, according to the Democratic Party's central committee process, the seven voting members will be able to vote for themselves; however, if all three members voted for themselves (Nina Harper, Kevin Parson and Robert Stokes), it would then leave the four remaining members to try and get them to the four vote majority needed. Yet, if neither candidate gets a clear majority, apparently the member with the most votes would get the nod; and if two or more candidates received the same amount of votes, their names would go to the entire Baltimore City state central committee for a vote.
If that 42-member body gains a majority vote for one of the candidates, their name will then be forwarded over to the Governor within the thirty day period allotted by the state constitution, who then has 15-days to appoint the person to the office. If the city's state central committee cannot reach a majority vote for a particular candidate, they will forfeit their nomination process to the democratic Governor, who then has free reign to appoint whomever he wants from the district - and of the same party as Harrison, a Democrat.
However, based on the precedent set by this Governor and approved by the state's highest court last month in the Greg Hall case, he may still choose his own nominee, even if the seven-member 45th district – or 42-member city central committee – comes up with a recommended name? And its no secret that if that happens, most believe the 'chosen' candidate of the Governor (based on their history and relationship) and of the district's incumbent leadership is Ms. Nina Harper.
“I'm certain you can see why constituents and onlookers my view this activity as a mockery of the process and question it as being a webby, intertwined and nefarious system,” questioned Ms. Taylor. “My hope is that more attention would be placed on educating the community about the process as opposed to the candidates. Educating the people about the candidates creates the illusion that the community's voice is being heard or that there was actually community input in the process. Documenting how the process unfolded will empower the community and prayerfully inspire us to organize ourselves to select OUR candidate during the real election next year!”
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“Having moved to Baltimore in 2001 and living in the district since 2006, I am a member of a community that takes as much pride in what makes us unique to Baltimore as we do in the leaders we have to work on our behalf. I cannot think of a better person to represent the 45th legislative district than Mr. Cory McCray. Whether it be registering voters, meeting with community members regarding the marriage campaign last year, his involvement with local youth, or his work to increase the wages of working families; Cory’s dedication to social justice and strengthening our community has been incredibly inspiring.” ~ Carolyn Combs
“I am a resident homeowner of northeast Baltimore City, active in the Frankford Improvement Association, chairperson of the Community Advocacy Committee at St. Anthony of Padua/Most Precious Blood Parishes. Cory McCray has been a young man who I've worked with in the community and I see in him extraordinary qualities to represent us in the General Assembly. I understand you are part of the interviewing committee and Cory has submitted his resume for consideration. I want you to know that I am one of many people who have great admiration for his manifested integrity, his abilities, and his leadership.” ~ Nancy Conrad
“I'm a registered voter in the 45th district and give my support to Cory McCray. I've worked with Cory within the Belair Edison community with back-to-school programs, community health awareness programs in the park, community meetings, board meetings and the list goes on and on. I cannot help but support this young man, who has given his time, energy, and sometimes personal funds for Belair Edison community.” ~ Deborah Evans
“I'm sending this letter in support of Mr. Cory McCray, to be selected in the place of Del. Hattie Harrison's vacancy. I know you all who are in pursuit of this vacancy have good intentions, and maybe some wonderful ideas for the 45th, however, I ask one question. Who can honestly say right now that have a comprehensive plan to move our district forward, and not be a part of the status quo, Cory! We all talk about we want change. Supporting Ms. Nina Harper isn't going to give us the change we, in the 45th need.
Cory, has been involved in our communities visibly, and actively since I've known him well over the past 7 years, and his work has been shown throughout the district. We need newer, younger, brighter and smarter ideas to move our community forward. Someone who is in proximity to the people. I'm asking that those members of the State Central Committee, put their egos aside and join forces in support of Mr. Cory McCray, someone who is in proximity to the people.”~ Antonio 'Tony' Glover
And the list goes on and on, with support from community association presidents and community leaders, former police officers who said they have only endorsed one other candidate in their lifetime, another McCray supporter – Councilman Brandon Scott. However, I saw no 'threatening' behavior or 'intimidating' words from these people, more so from central committee members who suggested to these folks that email messages of support won't give a candidate any 'preferential treatment'.