Less than two weeks away from her 85th birthday, the 'Godmother' of the Maryland General Assembly passed away yesterday leaving an absence in a district she served for almost 40-years. Delegate Hattie Harrison, the South Carolina native who became a fixture in East Baltimore politics and education, died peacefully in her Johns Hopkins hospital bed last night at about 7p.m., surrounded by loving family members.
Harrison, a Democrat who represented the 45th District of Baltimore City since 1973, was the longest current serving member of the House of Delegates, and became the first African American female to chair a major committee in the House – serving as Chairwoman of the Rules and Executive Nominations Committee, a position she held for 33-years. She was first appointed to her seat by then Governor Marvin Mandel, to fill the vacancy of slain state delegate James 'Turk' Scott; and served her entire forty years on the House's Economic Matters Committee.
“I am deeply saddened by the passing of Del. Hattie N. Harrison, for while many may remember Hattie as a fierce and effective advocate on behalf of her constituents, I will personally remember her as a larger-than-life figure who nurtured and educated generations of young children growing up in East Baltimore,” says Baltimore City Council President Bernard 'Jack' Young, a former student of Harrison's at Dunbar High School. “As a mother figure at Dunbar, Del. Harrison stressed the importance of education and a strong work ethic to countless children who passed through the school’s halls,” and we shall all be forever thankful for that.
The politically active educator was a substitute teacher before entering the fray of elected politics, though she served on the democratic state central committee and was an active member of the powerful Eastside Democratic Organization (EDO) led by her good friend, Clarence 'Du' Burns - Baltimore's first African American Mayor. Responsible for the building of the new Dunbar High School, Harrison was a grassroots educator who connected with people, which helped save her when her district colleagues tried to 'throw mama from the train' in the 2002 Primary Elections – choosing not to endorse her re-election efforts and removing her name from the incumbents' campaign material.
“Hattie modeled her work through the inclusiveness of voters and average citizens, as she worked tirelessly with 'Du' [Burns] to build a new Dunbar High School – making it and the neighbors around it, a true community!” - Councilman Carl Stokes
“She was certainly a fighter, as there was nothing soft or timid about Ms. Hattie,” says Eugene Carter, an East Baltimore native who helped in Harrison's campaigns, even after the rest of the delegation turned their back on her. “They thought that the 'well-oiled' political machine would allow them to carry whatever name they put on their ballot, but they got the shock of their life when Hattie didn't play possum and give up.” In fact, Harrison at the time said what she always use to reiterate to almost anyone she spoke with, “they can't throw mama from the train just yet; mama got a lot of work still left to do!”
After battling through a tough 2002 election, the elected members of the 45th (Senator Nathaniel McFadden, Delegate Talmadge Branch and former Delegate Clarence 'Tiger' Davis) welcomed her back with open arms – after she dismantled their efforts to get Vernon Crider elected in her place. She went on to win two more state elections, having a stroke after the 2010 Primary Elections that left her in a power (wheel)chair that she rode through the hallways of Annapolis through late last year. Harrison had been hospitalized since December at Johns Hopkins, based on debilitating health issues and is survived by her two sons, Robert and Phillip.
Delegate Cheryl Glenn, Harrison's colleague in the 45th district says that she learned her grassroots 'people politics' by how Hattie handled her business in the district. "“I am very saddened at the passing of Delegate Hattie Harrison, who for the last six years I have been incredibly blessed to serve alongside and who was my Barack Obama when I was young and growing up in East Baltimore," says Glenn, who patterned her 'people first' approach to politics after her colleague and mentor.
"The experience of being able to be tutored by someone who has served for 40 years in the House of Delegates, is richer than any information that can be read in a book or purchased on the internet. I will certainly miss “Hattie” and am committed to working diligently to continue the rich legacy that “Hattie” leaves to the history of the Maryland House of Delegates.” ~ Delegate Cheryl Glenn
However, her departure now puts a spotlight on her replacement, which has been an ongoing discussion in political circles for months now; as it is now up to the city's democratic state central committee to decide on her successor. Nina Harper, who has been a stalwart leader and community organizer in East Baltimore for decades, was the apparent front-runner for her seat but has reportedly declined the offer based on her own health issues.
Robert Stokes, a longtime district activist and current aide to Councilman C. Stokes, is said to be seeking the position, though certain members of the 45th district delegation say they are non-supportive of his appointment.
The apparent new front-runner for the seat, whether appointed this year or elected by the people during next year's Gubernatorial Elections, is union leader and co-founder of the BEST Democratic Club, Cory McCray. The young democrat has been laying the groundwork for his run for one of the three seats since 2010, and would be the youngest member of the delegation at age 30.
“She [Harrison] worked tirelessly for our community for over 40 years, her commitment and dedication will truly be missed!” - Cory McCray
Recently awarded for his work in the community by state Comptroller Peter Franchot (article to follow tomorrow), McCray has built a strong political foundation that would make it difficult for the delegation and central committee to deny. Another possibility could be 45th district state central committee member Ronald Bailey, a longtime activist and leader in East Baltimore as well; who has worked for current 45th district delegate Branch and whose wife currently works for 40th district state senator Catherine Pugh. Either would be great candidates that could hit the ground running.
However, despite who the central committee picks, it could be thwarted by the all-powerful Governor, Martin O'Malley, who just recently rejected the pick of the Prince George's County Democratic State Central Committee (Greg Hall) in favor of his own choice. This constitutional overreach could possibly play a part in the selection of whomever the committee may decide on, possibly seeing the body of legislators designated to pick such replacements per the state's constitution, now having to confer with the governor before making such decisions?
“I had the honor of sitting next to Delegate Harrison for my first four years on the Economic Matters Committee. She had a great memory and was always willing to give me advice and encouraging words. RIP Miss Hattie....” - Delegate Aisha Braveboy, Chairwoman of the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus
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