Wannabe politicos scramble for the seat(s) vacated by County Exec and state delegate
In Maryland, when a sitting United States Senator vacates their six-year term early due to death, resignation, appointment to another office, retirement or expulsion; the Governor is granted the authority by the United States Constitution to appoint their replacement, who serves in that office until the next General Election – regardless if the term was due to expire that year.
In the House of Representatives, a special election is immediately called to fill the vacancy of the outgoing congressional member, with a Primary and General Election happening within 60-90 days of said vacancy.
However, the removal of a state representative or county official/executive is vastly different, and controlled by either the state's constitution or that jurisdictions local charter. In the case of outgoing Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold, who resigned days after being found guilty on charges of misconduct in office, the city council must vote on his replacement within 30-days of the vacancy – appointing someone from within the party of the outgoing official.
In Leopold's case, that would be someone from within the ranks of the Republican Party; and while the deadline for those wishing to submit their names for consideration isn't until this Friday, rumors continue to swirl as to who could be chosen to fill the seat of the disgraced, two-term county executive.
Having less than two years before his term officially ends, Leopold's replacement would either have to run in next year's election, or be prepared to only serve out the remainder of his term through the end of 2014. Former first lady Kendall Ehrlich (this Examiner's choice for Governor in 2010 instead of her husband) has chosen the latter, saying that she wouldn't want to seek elected office in 2014 – giving Anne Arundel County residents the chance to have a county executive who wouldn't be hamstrung by the politics of campaign fundraisers, negotiations and backroom deals?
Another possible contender, Dan Bongino, who unsuccessfully ran as the Republican candidate for United States Senate in Maryland last year against democratic incumbent Ben Cardin; now says that after careful consideration and prayer, that he will not seek the seat through the politically charged appointment process.
“The process of selecting who the council wants is too political, filled with cronyism and backdoor politics which is what I built my reputation railing against,” says the 37-year old former secret service agent.
However, based on his strong showing last year, coupled with the grassroots army he amassed during his year-long run, Bongino has positioned himself well for any future political runs. And the smoke-filled rooms people have associated with where political deals are really made, are the very reason many are uncomfortable with the appointment process of elected officials. And Baltimore City's current 'scramble for the seat' vacated by longtime 45th District Delegate Hattie Harrison is the highlight of such distrust.
Following the passing of Delegate Harrison a little over two weeks ago, the politics began as to who would serve out the remainder of her four-year term, due to expire in January 2015. The longest current serving delegate in the statehouse, Harrison hadn't mentored or groomed a successor to be her heir apparent; thus, leaving the 45th district's seven state central committee (voting) members in lurch.
As of last Friday's deadline for submission of names to serve out her term, eight people have applied for the seat – many of whom have already ran for one the three delegate seats in years past; and a majority of them on the central committee themselves – allowing them to vote for their own nomination.
“You have seven voting members of the 45th district state central committee, of those seven, three of them are seeking to serve out the remainder of Delegate Harrison's seat...this should be interesting to say the least,” says incoming Vice-Chairman of the Independent Movement of Maryland, Joe Berry.
“Only problem I see is that Independents can't apply, as we had a great leader ready to submit her name, Ms. Brenda Pridgen; however, you have to be of the same party as the outgoing member? But, as they say...let the games begin!”
Of those running, the candidate with the most votes in the past three election cycles is Kevin Parson, a perennial candidate who has run in each of the past three election cycles, and is considered one of the leading candidates for the office. Another top-tier candidate is Robert Stokes, no relation to Councilman Carl Stokes (though he does work for him), who himself ran unsuccessfully for the seat in 2006.
Two other community leaders top the list as well, as Mark Washington – the Executive Director of the influential Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello (CHM) community association – plans to lobby the members for his appointment and longtime East Baltimore leader Nina Harper is said to be the favorite of the district's state senator, Nathaniel McFadden; and the influential political group he runs - the Eastside Democratic Organization.
Kimberly Armstrong and Aaron Wilkes are two other community leaders with influential ties based on their years of advocacy in the community, while the only real unknown name (at least to this Examiner) is Kurt Kocher, the former city DPW spokesperson turned whistle-blower in 2000.
However, one of the strongest political challengers to the powerful EDO machine in recent time, Kevin Slayton, did not submit his name for consideration; now the faith-based liaison for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Slayton remains popular amongst possible favorites for a delegate seat in next year's election.
The apparent front-runner for the appointed seat is none other than union specialist and young eastside politico, Cory McCray; however, the 30-year old father of two and devoted husband hasn't taken any of the seven votes for granted. In fact, he has continuously sent out communications to the many community leaders and their organizations over the past week, detailing the appointment process and the lengths he has went through to offer up his nomination.
“One thing I have learned over the years that serves me well for this process, is that democracy is not a spectator sport,” says McCray, co-founder of one the areas most influential community-driven political clubs. “We as a community deserve representatives who are progressive, energetic, committed, dedicated, and who advocate tirelessly for the people!”
And McCray has taken his fight straight to the people, by sending out emails honoring the local community association presidents and members who have helped him along the way, and encouraging supporters to write letters of support for his candidacy and asking them to attend this Friday's public meeting of the state central committee, when members will select one of the eight candidates after hearing from each one in an interview process.
The chairman of the Baltimore City State Central Committee, Scherod Barnes sent out a letter detailing the process to this Examiner, and to candidates who have submitted their names for consideration; and says that they plan to have a very transparent and open process.
Yet, when looking at the allegiances on the central committee, the selection can swing either way; however, with Brooks, Bailey and Brodgins as members of the BEST Democratic Club - the influential political club co-founded by McCray – Cory remains the likely candidate to reach four votes first.
However, whoever is chosen may not necessarily be appointed by Governor Martin O'Malley, who according to the state's constitution, has the power of appointment – though he is suppose to appoint whomever the elected central committee members of that district select?
In a recent political move that turned heads in Prince George's County, the second term governor took exception with the nominee appointed by the elected state central committee of PG County, Greg Hall; as he [the governor] and his secretary of state lobbied and persuaded members to withdraw their support for Hall, suggesting their own hand-selected nominee.
It is unlikely that will happen in this case however, with such strong democratic leadership amidst the current 45th district incumbents; as state senator McFadden is the President Pro-Tem of the Senate chambers, with Delegate Talmadge Branch serving as majority whip of the House and Delegate Cheryl Glenn as deputy majority whip.
“It's unlikely they will allow the former Baltimore Mayor to have his way with their appointee; for while it's up to the seven members of the central committee, everybody knows that their selection of a colleague, less than eighteen months before the Primaries, will be the person appointed,” says Shaun Louis, an independent political analyst.
“That is the problem with the appointment process, it usually doesn't adequately reflect the will of the people; rather that of the politicos controlling that particular district,” Louis states. “Nina Harper was their initial choice before Hattie passed, but because of poor health she declined the offer at first; however, word on the street is that the leadership forced her into submitting her name, as Mac and crew need a strong team player for a possible contentious race facing them next year – led by infamous political consultant Julius Henson.”
So while the community seems to want new blood in the form of McCray, the political bet seems to be on Harper; a longtime advocate and team player with EDO. “I understand that this interview process to fill Hattie's vacancy in the Maryland General Assembly is an uphill battle and an insiders game, but many of the accomplishments of the last decade have been against the odds,” says an upbeat McCray.
But he may need more than just the will of the community backing him this Friday, when the members of the state central committee – elected as the next generation of public servants – finally get an opportunity to become relevant and flex their political muscle. The meeting is scheduled to be held at the Oliver Community Center (1400 E. Federal Steet) starting at 6:00pm and is open to the public.
“Throughout the discussion this past week, there has been a consistent message that we need someone young, energetic, and knows how to represent people. I have a consistent track record of doing just that, whether as a local business owner or organizer for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union; over the past decade, I have empowered my community by being active and engaged – and would continue that leadership as the district's next elected representative.”
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