On Feb. 15, the Baltimore City Democratic State Central Committee-45th District convened at the Oliver Community Center to select a candidate to assume the seat once held by Del. Hattie Harrison, a longtime political stalwart in East Baltimore who died last month. Ten candidates interviewed for the position, three of whom were also members of the committee conducting the interviews, before Nina Harper, director of the Oliver Community Association, was chosen for the position.
At no time did the chair or committee members appear to think it was inappropriate for them to participate as final arbiters of the decision as to who should succeed Delegate Harrison. On several occasions, committee Chairman Scherod Barnes was questioned about the obvious conflicts of interests to which he responded that he had no qualms about the process. Those with the temerity to question the process were told the Maryland Constitution allows such a vote and that the candidates were all known to the district and have done good work — followed by another two minutes of complete obfuscation.
Yet several issues remain unaddressed. It is unclear why the committee would not utilize its two at-large members to replace those seeking the position; although this would not have changed the outcome of the vote, it would have given the appearance that the proceedings were above board. It is also unclear why committee members who were also candidates — and who had just finished telling those in attendance what strong leaders they were, and why they deserved to be sent to Annapolis to represent the 45th District — would not recuse themselves from the vote.
It appears that ethics is an overlooked area when seeking a legislative replacement. Here was a unique opportunity for the three candidates/committee members to rise to the occasion and show leadership and honor — and they failed the test miserably, opting for typical East Baltimore politics instead. A huge disappointment.
Finally, why did one committee member consistently submit an ineligible ballot by selecting two persons when the instructions specifically asked panel members to vote for only one? Is the work of the central committee so unimportant that abrogation of duty is thought to be comical? Unfortunately, this was not the most bizarre act of the evening.
Then there were the candidate questions. It is unclear why the interview questions were so pedestrian in nature. They included: Who are the city and state legislators in the 45th District? What do you believe is the role of a state legislator? Tell us about a situation when you had to deal with a very upset person; what was your approach and how did you deal with it? Why do you believe you are the best qualified person for the position?
Yes, it is important for the potential candidate to know basic civics; however, the 45th District needs a person who can think critically and offer policy and position statements on the myriad of challenges facing the district, such as state budget, education, jobs, housing, health care, the environment, gun crime and other public safety issues, taxes and fees, gambling, etc. None of these questions was asked of the candidates.
It is unclear what skill sets the committee was seeking in this temporary appointment, which has the capacity to extend into a four-year term. Are the difficulties of the 45th so unremarkable that we have no need to set a high bar in terms of requiring candidates to be deep thinkers with some degree of mental dexterity?
If the politics, ethics, leadership and questions asked on the 15th are any indication of the 45th's capacity, then the trajectory of this district will continue to be in serious trouble economically, politically and otherwise.
Brenda Pridgen, a resident and voter in the 45th Legislative District, is a health care analyst. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.