As former Anne Arundel County Councilman Daryl D. Jones began serving a five-month prison term in South Carolina on Monday, nearly a dozen Democrats have expressed interest in filling his seat.
The County Council voted this month to declare the Severn Democrat's seat vacant and begin the process of choosing a replacement to serve the remaining three years of his term — though Jones filed a lawsuit attempting to hold onto the seat.
The council has set a Feb. 10 deadline for the submission of applications and will choose a new council member at a public meeting Feb. 16.
Prospective applicants have begun meeting with members of the Republican-majority council, which must appoint a Democrat to fill the seat. Among those who say they plan to apply are Peter Smith, a Marine reservist and federal worker from Severn; Michael J. Wagner, a former state senator from Ferndale; and Stephen D. Wyatt, a retired Navy sailor and federal worker from Linthicum. Several others who have expressed interest didn't return messages or could not be reached.
"I was in the Marines for 13 years, and I think that's given me a huge opportunity to see both sides of the fence," said Smith, 31. "I've worked with Independents, Republican, Democrats. … When it's all said and done, the goal is to accomplish the mission."
Wyatt said he had planned to run for the seat in 2014. "This turn of events kind of brought it on a little bit quicker than I initially planned," said Wyatt, 39. "I'm looking forward to … helping them get things done for Anne Arundel County."
Wagner, who served in the state legislature for 16 years as both a delegate and senator, said he is seeking to serve the remainder of Jones' term and had "no plans" to seek election in 2014.
"I have the experience; I have the wisdom," said Wagner, 70, who owns a banquet facility. "I could hit the ground running."
Jones reported to federal prison in Salters, S.C., on Monday, according to a Federal Bureau of Prisons spokesman. Jones has been assigned to a minimum security prison camp adjacent to the prison, where he will be housed in dormitory-like living arrangements, said spokesman Ed Ross.
Jones will be required to work an assigned job, said Ross. Jones will serve his full five-month term, said Ross, because the federal prison system does not allow inmates sentenced to a year or less in prison to earn "good conduct time."
Jones pleaded guilty in November to a misdemeanor charge of failing to file a tax return and was sentenced to five months in prison.
Jones declined to resign and has twice unsuccessfully sought a restraining order to prevent the council from vacating his seat, arguing the council lacks the authority to replace him. A final ruling on the suit will be decided in county Circuit Court.
The council has twice in recent years replaced a member of the council — albeit under less contentious circumstances. In 2009, the council appointed Tricia L. Johnson to the council — out of a pool of 10 applicants — after the departure of former Chairman Edward R. Reilly, who was appointed to fill a seat in the state Senate.
Councilman Jerry Walker, a Republican from Gambrills, said he has a "unique perspective" on the process because he applied unsuccessfully to replace Reilly on the council.
"We're seriously considering every person that comes forward, so no one feels they were slighted or left out of the process," said Walker, who said someone with a finance background would be a "plus."
Walker dismissed the notion that the Republican-majority council would look for a so-called weak Democrat to fill the seat in hopes of increasing their chances of the seat going to the GOP in the next election.
"Whoever this person is that we select, we're going to have to work with for the next three years," he said. "I'd rather have someone who can do the job, take care of the constituents in District 1 and who I can work with."
Councilman Jamie Benoit, a Crownsville Democrat, said he's looking for someone with "integrity, independence from special interests, and just generally capable and bright."