Even after resigning from office and pleading guilty to federal felony charges this week, Nathaniel Oaks will remain on the ballot as a candidate for state Senate.
When Nathaniel Oaks resigned from the Maryland Senate and pleaded guilty to a felony Thursday, a U.S. District Court judge told the Baltimore Democrat that his four-decade-long political career was over.
But by Friday, it was clear that lawmakers and voters had not seen the last of him.
When Baltimore legislators gathered in Annapolis for their weekly meeting Friday morning, the 71-year-old Oaks shocked his former colleagues by sauntering in to check if he needed to testify on one of his bills.
And by afternoon, state officials confirmed that under Maryland election rules, Oaks’ name will remain on the ballot for the June 26 Democratic primary election as a candidate for Senate and the Democratic Party’s central committee for his district.
That could lead to an awkward scenario: If Oaks were to win either race, he likely would become ineligible to serve three weeks later when he’s sentenced in July.
Under Maryland law, a person who is in prison for a felony is not eligible to vote and is, therefore, not eligible to hold office. The two fraud charges Oaks pleaded guilty to each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years. Federal guidelines recommend a total sentence of eight to 10 years.
“He will appear on the ballot,” Jared DeMarinis, chief of candidacy for the Maryland State Board of Elections, said Friday. “At the time of the filing deadline, he met all the requirements for the offices he sought.”
Two other candidates are on the Democratic primary ballot for the Senate seat: former Del. Jill P. Carter, who heads the mayor’s civil rights office, and J.D. Merrill, a city teacher who is the son-in-law of former Gov. Martin O’Malley.
The winner of the Democratic primary is likely to be the winner in November’s general election, as no Republican has filed to run. An independent candidate could still join the race by submitting petition signatures. Nearly 80 percent of the city’s voters are Democrats.
It’s not clear whether Oaks will actively campaign, given that he will face prison time when he is sentenced July 17. Neither Oaks nor his public defender responded to requests for comment Friday.
Oaks began the year with more than $108,000 in his campaign account, according to his latest campaign finance report.
He has been causing a stir in Annapolis since rumors began to circulate Wednesday that he was planning to resign. The senator, who first won election as a delegate in 1982, generated more buzz with his guilty plea Thursday morning.
Oaks continued to astonish his colleagues when he into the weekly meeting of Baltimore’s representatives in the House of Delegates — entering the delegation’s hearing room from a door reserved for lawmakers and legislative staff, not from the public entrance.
He whispered briefly with Dels. Bilal Ali, Angela Gibson and Curt Anderson before leaving as suddenly as he arrived.
Del. Luke Clippinger appeared stunned, and after Oaks left, he interrupted proceedings.
“He's not a member of the Senate. He’s not a member of the General Assembly. He cannot be back here anymore,” Clippinger said.
After the meeting, Ali said Oaks was asking whether he needed to testify about a Senate bill he sponsored that the delegates are considering. The bill would remove restrictions on the hours during which some liquor license holders can sell alcohol in Park Heights. Anderson, the delegation chairman, said he wasn’t sure what Oaks was asking.
Asked later if it was appropriate for the former senator to attend the meeting, Anderson said, “Probably not.”
“He just walked in. I’m in the middle of the meeting,” Anderson said. “We don’t have state troopers who don’t or do grant people access. Obviously some members didn’t like that he was there.”
In the meantime, the residents of the district, which includes parts of West and Northwest Baltimore, have no senator serving in Annapolis as key votes are being taken in the final days before the General Assembly session ends April 9.
The Baltimore City Democratic Central Committee announced Friday that “in the coming days” it will begin soliciting applications for individuals who want to fill the seat for the remaining months in the term.
“The Baltimore City Democratic Central Committee is committed to an open, transparent, and expeditious process for filling this vacancy to ensure that the residents in the 41st Legislative District have adequate representation,” Scherod Barnes, the central committee chairman, said in a statement.
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From the time of Oaks’ resignation, which was effective Thursday morning, the central committee has 30 days to submit a candidate to the governor to be appointed. The governor then has 15 days to fill the seat, and must appoint a candidate nominated by the central committee.
The central committee said the Democratic Party’s bylaws require them to give 14 days’ notice to prospective candidates before voting on a candidate to submit to the governor.
Carter said this week that she is interested in the interim appointment to the Senate, while Merrill said he is not. Merrill has said the central committee should pick someone besides the primary candidates, preferably a “qualified, neutral party” who could be a placeholder.