Two Baltimore legislators are expected to take on new leadership posts when the Maryland Senate reconvenes in January, boosting diversity among those who control the body's powerful committee system.
Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a veteran lawmaker who represents North Baltimore, is poised to take over the chairmanship of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, and Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, who represents Northwest Baltimore and is considered an up-and-comer in the legislature, will become vice chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee. Both are African-Americans.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller - who will fill the committee posts if, as expected, he is selected by his peers as the chamber's leader for the 21st consecutive year - said yesterday that both senators are well-qualified for the positions.
Conway has been a member of her committee for eight years and was vice chairman for the last four, and Gladden, an attorney, served on the House Judiciary Committee before being elected to the Senate four years ago.
Their elevation is also a recognition of the importance of African-Americans to the state and the Democratic Party, Miller said.
"People complain about African-Americans not being recognized by the Democratic Party. That has never been the case on my watch and never will be the case," Miller said.
Conway was out of town yesterday and unavailable for comment. She will take over the chairmanship from Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, a Baltimore County Democrat who unsuccessfully ran for Congress this year. Hollinger said Conway was a genuine partner in the committee's business for the last four years and will do well in the leadership role.
"She's very smart," Hollinger said. "She's a quick study, and I think that she'll be an asset as a chairman."
The General Assembly runs on a strong committee system in which all legislation must be considered first by one of the standing committees of the House of Delegates or Senate before getting a vote from the full body.
It is possible to bring a bill to the floor if it is rejected by a standing committee, but such moves are extremely rare, and committee chairmen in effect have tremendous power to decide what will or won't pass in a given year.
There is one other African-American chairman among the Senate's four standing committees, Sen. Ulysses Currie of Prince George's County, a Democrat who heads the Budget and Taxation Committee.
Miller said Conway's position as vice chairman of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee will be filled by Sen. Roy P. Dyson, a Southern Maryland Democrat who has been active in land preservation issues.
Gladden is slated to take the place of Sen. Leo E. Green, a Prince George's County Democrat who did not seek re-election.
She said that as a public defender and as the first African-American to hold a leadership post in the Judicial Proceedings Committee, she will bring a unique perspective to the post.
"I'm glad I got picked," she said.
Sen. Brian E. Frosh, the Montgomery County Democrat who chairs the Judicial Proceedings Committee, said he has worked with Gladden before and is eager to have her on his committee. As a public defender, she brings important expertise to the committee, Frosh said.
"She is a star and is going to be in the leadership of the General Assembly for a long time, I hope," Frosh said. "She's just going to be terrific."