State Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, the liberal Democrat from Northwest Baltimore who missed the second half of the 2016 legislative session as her multiple sclerosis worsened, has resigned after 18 years in the General Assembly.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller announced her retirement Wednesday as the legislature began its annual 90-day session. A Senate aide said the retirement letter was delivered just before the session and that Miller's office had no advance notice it was coming.
Gladden's resignation midway through her fourth term representing the 41st District will allow Democratic leaders to ensure that Baltimore will have a full delegation in place by sometime in February. In recent months, Gladden has had little communication with colleagues and has not returned calls or emails.
"She represented a very challenging district in Baltimore city," Miller told reporters after the session. "She brought people of multiple faiths together — it's a huge Jewish constituency in that district, a large African American constituency — and brought them together for the betterment of Baltimore city."
The daughter of educators, a graduate of Duke University and a public defender, Gladden won election to the House of Delegates in 1998.
Gladden, 52, counted among her political mentors Del. Howard P. "Pete" Rawlings, then the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and one of the most powerful figures in Annapolis until his death in 2003.
In 1999, upon taking office, she allowed a Baltimore Sun reporter to follow her day by day through the 90-day session. The story of her learning the legislative ropes and her missteps along the way brought her more recognition than the typical freshman — and endless teasing by colleagues.
After politicians redrew the state political map in 2001, Gladden found herself in the same district as Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, who chaired the powerful Senate Budget & Taxation Committee.
That year, Democratic Sen. Clarence M. Blount — a towering figure in Baltimore's African-American community — said he would not seek re-election after 32 years in the Senate.
While Hoffman was a powerful force in Annapolis and a skilled operator on behalf of Baltimore, she was a white senator thrown by redistricting into an overwhelmingly African-American district. Gladden, who is African-American, became the choice of Blount, Rawlings and other black leaders.
Hoffman put up a stiff fight, but Gladden won a three-way Democratic primary by more than 1,000 votes. She has not faced serious opposition at the polls since then.
In the Senate, Gladden built a strongly liberal record that reflected her district while displaying a penchant for independence that kept her from rising to the highest levels of leadership.
She did become vice chairwoman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee. Even before taking that position in 2006, she had become the lead sponsor of efforts to repeal the death penalty.
Gladden was usually a reliable vote in favor of Gov. Martin O'Malley's programs but never warmed to her fellow Democrat on a personal level. In 2013, she reluctantlystepped aside as the chief sponsor of death penalty repeal to let the governor take the lead
The legislation passed, and Gladden stood behind O'Malley as he signed it.
Eight times before that year, she had introduced repeal bills only to see them fail. The first two pens O'Malley used to sign the legislation went to Gladden and her House counterpart, Del. Sandy Rosenberg, also a 41st District Democrat.
Gladden told The Sun in 2010she had multiple sclerosis. She said she was first diagnosed in 1995 but did not disclose it because she didn't want people's sympathy, or to become a "poster child" for MS.
At the time, Gladden displayed few symptoms except for trouble with her left eye. She said she decided to go public with her condition on her own terms.
Gladden said medications were keeping symptoms in check. She said the disease had not affected her ability to represent her constituents.
But in recent years, Gladden's symptoms became more noticeable. When the legislature reconvened in January, she attended sessions in a wheelchair until early March, when she could no longer work. After the session, she relinquished the vice chairmanship of the Judicial Proceedings Committee.
Even in the last few weeks of her attendance, Gladden continued to show her maverick streak. At a time when Miller and the rest of Baltimore's Senate delegation were supporting Sen. Catherine Pugh in the Democratic primary for mayor, Gladden endorsed David L. Warnock, a white businessman.
"He's the change we need," Gladden said. Pugh won; Warnock finished a distant fourth.
Sen. Jim Brochin, a conservative Democrat from Baltimore County, served alongside Gladden on Judicial Proceedings. Brochin said that while they didn't often see eye-to-eye, he valued Gladden's insights.
"I'm sad to see her go," Brochin said.
Brochin said Gladden was a strong advocate for young offenders, who she argued didn't always need to be locked up. Brochin said he considered himself a "law and order" legislator, but learned from Gladden.
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"She gave a better perspective on juveniles who are nonviolent offenders," Brochin said.
Gladden's replacement will be chosen by the 41st District Democratic Central Committee. Its recommendation to Gov. Larry Hogan is binding. A leading candidate will be Del. Nathaniel Oaks, Gladden's longtime district-mate and a House member for 28 years. The 41st District already has a vacancy left by the resignation of Del. Jill Carter to take a job in Pugh's administration.
Having a full delegation is seen as important for Baltimore because population loss has reduced its once-mighty Senate delegation to five districts and part of a sixth.
Baltimore Sun reporters Ian Duncan and Pamela Wood contributed to this article.