The leaders of Maryland's dominant political party, criticized for cronyism and corruption, have been pressured for years to change the rules that allow vacant legislative seats to be filled with Democratic Party loyalists and power brokers.
Calls were particularly loud earlier this year when Chanel Branch, the daughter of House Majority Whip Talmadge Branch, was installed at a meeting from which reporters were initially banned at the 45th District headquarters of disgraced former delegate Cheryl Glenn .
Branch herself broke the 3-3 draw that she exaggerated.
Critics urged the state's political parties to prevent elected officials from serving on these powerful bodies that create new lawmakers with the snap of a finger. Legislation has tried to mandate special elections for open seats.
However, it was clear last night that little had changed, measured by the distribution of votes, when a Democratic committee selected lawyer Marlon D. Amprey to fill the 40th district seat that opens after Nick Mosby is elected President of the City Council has been.
Amprey won 4-3, with three votes coming from fellow Mosby's on the council: John Bullock, Phylicia Porter and James Torrence.
Amprey's fourth vote came from noted political advisor Ben Smith, former executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party and chairman of the Baltimore City Democratic Central Committee.
Amprey's campaign behind the scenes was orchestrated by the 40th Senator Antonio Hayes. (City Hall was on Amprey's side too – Mayor Brandon Scott is also a supporter of the 33-year-old attorney.)
Hayes did not attend the virtual meeting and did not return a call from The Brew. However, at the end of the session, he was named by someone who had not voted for the Senator's preferred candidate.
"Congratulations to Senator Hayes," remarked committee member Monica Cooper.
Three choose harris
Parker was one of three members of the committee who cast their vote for Joshua Harris – a remarkable move as she was one of 14 candidates interviewed for the position last night who could have voted for herself.
Harris, a former Green candidate for the 2018 seat and previously a candidate for mayor, had filed a 14-page application for the post and delivered a well-balanced, detailed performance that clearly caught the attention of some members of the committee.
“I voted for the absolute best candidate. Great interview, did all the required work – this is Joshua Harris without a doubt, ”said Cooper. Sherelle R. Witherspoon also voted for Harris.
After Karenthia A. Barber, chair of the Baltimore Democratic Central Committee, counted the results and declared Amprey the winner, she said she would send Amprey's name to Governor Larry Hogan, who has 15 days to approve or reject the committee's election .
13 Others vie
The 40th vacancy attracted a large number of candidates who at the marathon meeting answered a number of questions about their approaches to Covid-19, voter service and other matters.
In addition to Amprey, Harris and Parker, the hopefuls were:
Janet Allen, Derrick Johnson, Bill Marker, Nancy McCormick, John Moser, Gary Norman, Brian Sims, China Boak Terrell, Westley West, Kathryn Shulman and Sueann Yang. (Myriam Ralston withdrew her name prior to the meeting.)
Some have long served, pointing to specific initiatives in the 40th District, which includes neighborhoods in the west and southwest of Baltimore, including many of the most challenged in Baltimore.
"We are there when the mothers cry because their sons were shot. We see the blood on the floor," said Parker and discussed, among other things, her work on the North Avenue Task Force's Clean & Safe campaign.
Janet Allen, who has lived in the district for 18 years and is president of the Heritage Crossing Association, also spoke of extensive community work. She said efforts like the Central West Gateway Project, which she led, have helped stabilize home ownership and attract new residents to the community.
A supermarket or a company that offers jobs isn't a convenience, it's a necessity, Allen said, adding another measure, "I want Domino to deliver to my home."
Some candidates, like former Barre Circle President Bill Marker, boasted decades of work.
In response to one of the committee's standard questions regarding the number of hearings he has attended, Marker cited several, including his unsuccessful effort in the 1980s to referendum government spending on Camden Yards' sports stadiums.
Other candidates signaled that they are planning a future in local politics, including China Boak Terrell, CEO of the American Communities Trust, which aims to create inclusive economic development projects for low-income residents.
Terrell, who said her work "brought $ 13 million to Baltimore's lowest-income neighborhood," said she is planning a run for the 40th district headquarters as early as 2022.
"The ways of old politics in Baltimore need to change," said Terrell, who also directs the Baltimore Pumphouse redevelopment project on Broadway East.
"Voters don't necessarily look for native sons to take on the throne," she noted. "Voters want sons and daughters of truth and change."
Protect frontline workers
When it was Amprey's turn he began with a brief outline of his career which included teaching for a spell at the SEED School in Baltimore. He also relied on his local credentials.
As part of a family that included the late Walter G. Amprey, a former Baltimore school principal, he noted: “My family has worked, lived and served in the district for over 70 years. I want to continue this legacy. "
Amprey, an associate of Cole Schotz, who has a law and economics degree from the University of Pennsylvania, said his work “in Corporate America” will help him “create laws that will allow me to control the lives of everyone in the district to improve and make sure we have opportunity for everyone. "
"My family worked, lived and served in the county for over 70 years" – Marlon Amprey.
He called for equal access to the Covid-19 vaccine for frontline workers, nursing home workers and inmates, noting that his grandmother had died this month after contracting the coronavirus.
Other issues he cited included mortgage relief, eviction relief, fair funding for public schools, and legislation banning the box to aid previously incarcerated people.
Central Committee System
When filling vacant seats in the Maryland General Assembly, how does it depend on the decision of seven-member bodies that operate by party rules?
That was not always so. Special elections were held until 1936 to fill vacancies in the legislature.
Since then, Maryland has used the Central Committee system, which gives political parties, not voters, power over open seats.
This system made it possible for Nick Mosby, who did not excite the electorate in Baltimore and won a higher office thanks to his own vote in the 4-3 committee of the 40th district.
After his mayor offer for 2016 was queried in the low single digits, Mosby got out and supported the then Senator Catherine Pugh. Soon after, Mosby's political career was revived when the Central Committee selected him to fill the position that opened up when Pugh won.
(The panel had previously selected a young Pugh aide, Gary Brown Jr., to take the seat. But Brown's name was hastily withdrawn after he was indicted in a prelude to the "Healthy Holly" corruption scandal involving him and his finally brought down boss.)
Critics point out that the committee system created a legislature in which roughly one in five MPs got their seats because party officials voted them, not because they won the referendum.
Government through cliques
Andy Ellis, co-chair of the Maryland Greens, and Tiffany Jones, resident of the 45th district, called for an end to the “bogus” vote earlier this year and supported a return to a system of using special elections to fill vacancies.
"We cannot allow small cliques to control the city," they wrote in a Brew commentary in which they supported bills that would require special elections in the next nationwide elections if a seat were vacant.
Harris touched on the same subject in a statement to The Brew today after finishing second last night.
"I am disappointed because I believe I am the person with the greatest legislative experience and the most consistent track record," he said, congratulating Amprey.
"The bigger problem," he continued, "is the archaic Central Committee selection process, which embodies cronyism and needs to be changed."
Harris, currently director of communications and government relations for the Prince George & # 39; s County Educators & # 39; Association and vice president of the NAACP in Baltimore City, said he had worked to put together a successful presentation to the selection committee.
His application package includes references from senior executives at the Baltimore Teachers Union and the NAACP municipal branch, as well as the Executive Director of the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition. He spoke about his work in the community through Hollins Creative Placemaking and his involvement in negotiating a benefit agreement under a TIF public funding package.
Citing titles and invoice numbers, in six sessions in Annapolis, he listed laws that he advocated in a variety of roles, including the body camera bill for police officers and measures to fund education introduced in response to the Kirwan Commission.
With the pandemic, he told the panel, "There are urgent laws that need to postpone this session."
"You have your instructions"
According to the organizers, the meeting had 100 participants on Zoom and another 100 on Facebook, where the meeting drew around 250 comments.
Some of them praised certain candidates while others barbed marks on the predetermined nature of the outcome.
"If you don't think each of the seven already knows how to vote, you are either slow, naive, or insincere," noted Mark McLaurin, a member of the 40th district committee.
"You have your instructions," he remarked.