For the first time since the 1980s, Baltimore-area leaders consolidate power at top of Maryland legislature

For decades, as Baltimore lost thousands of residents, its political power in Annapolis dwindled ― just as the city faced some of its greatest challenges with crime, drug addiction and concentrated poverty.

But suddenly, the Baltimore region’s sway in state politics looks to be returning.


In May, after the death of House of Delegates Speaker Mike Busch of Anne Arundel County, Del. Adrienne A. Jones of Baltimore County was sworn in as his replacement. And Thursday, after longtime Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller of Calvert County said he would step down, Sen. Bill Ferguson of Baltimore outmaneuvered several rivals to earn a unanimous nomination of the Democratic Caucus to lead the state Senate.

At City Hall, the Baltimore City Public Schools headquarters on North Avenue and other venues across the city that rely on state support, there was a new sense of optimism ― particularly that Ferguson will shepherd through legislation to provide increased funding for the city’s schools.


“I called President Ferguson and congratulated him,” Democratic Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said. “Finally, we’ve got somebody from Baltimore after all these years. This should help us greatly in Baltimore. Bill is very intelligent and articulate and I think he’s going to lead the Senate for many, many years to come."

Even so, Young said he didn’t believe Ferguson will be unfair to other jurisdictions.

“Ferguson will be fair just like Miller was fair,” Young said. “I’m pro-Maryland. Baltimore is Maryland’s city. If we go down, we drag the whole state with us.”

Baltimore Schools CEO Sonja Santelises called it “fantastic news” not only for the city, but for other school systems across the state.

“Finally, we’ve got somebody from Baltimore after all these years."

—  Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. "Jack" Young

“Senator Ferguson’s track record for supporting education, and understanding the need, is quite evident frankly,” she said. “He knows how to build alliances across the state to highlight the similarities of the funding challenges.”

But elsewhere there were quiet grumbles that the Washington suburbs ― where population and economic power has shifted ― were passed over. As Ferguson worked around the clock in recent days to shore up votes, some had objected: Won’t that be too much power for Baltimore?

Sen. Cheryl Kagan, a Montgomery County Democrat, said she met with Ferguson “for hours” this week and discussed that concern as he worked to get votes in a behind-the-scenes campaign against Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters of Prince George’s County and other candidates.

“One of the questions I was troubled with is the reality that the speaker of the House is from Baltimore County, our new president is from Baltimore City, as is the chair of the House Appropriations Committee. That’s a lot of Baltimore power,” Kagan said. “Montgomery and Prince George’s County need a voice and need a seat at the table. We have our own issues that need to be addressed."


Nevertheless, Kagan emerged from her meeting with Ferguson satisfied that he was the man for the job. She called him “super smart” and “committed to inclusion and diversity.”

“Senator Ferguson has expressed his commitment to make sure we have a seat at the table and that our issues are addressed as well,” Kagan said.

While Busch and Miller were known for pushing for funding and support for Baltimore, the chambers in Annapolis haven’t been lead by Baltimoreans since now-U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin was speaker and Melvin “Mickey” Steinberg was Senate president in the 1980s.

Baltimoreans have held powerful positions over the years since, of course, including Howard “Pete” Rawlings’ reign as House appropriations chairman from 1992 to 2004 and Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman’s time leading the Budget and Taxation Committee until she lost an election in 2002. Current House Appropriations Chairwoman Del. Maggie McIntosh also hails from the city.

In his first public comments since winning the caucus vote, Ferguson emphasized that he would have an inclusive attitude for all the state’s jurisdictions.

“From Largo to Bowie to Montgomery Village to the Eastern Shore to Western Maryland, this chamber has stood for generations as the rock for the state of Maryland,” Ferguson said. “It’s about each and every Marylander across the state of Maryland and we will uphold that tradition.”


Ferguson, who will stand for formal election before the full Senate in January, also met with the GOP leaders in the Senate to tell them he would hear their views, too. A majority of state senators are Democrats, which is why winning the caucus all but assures Ferguson the presidency.

“It’s obviously an emotional day with the Senate president stepping down,” said Eastern Shore Sen. Steve Hershey, the GOP whip in that body. “Senator Ferguson met with Senator [J.B.] Jennings and I before making his announcement and I appreciated his comments of inclusiveness. He talked about all getting input from all 47 members of the Senate. We’ve always said that the best legislation comes when both sides have some input on it.”

Democratic Sen. Pamela Beidle of Anne Arundel said she thinks Ferguson will balance the needs of the different areas of the state, much as Miller did.

“I think he articulated it very well when he said it’s about being president of the entire state. I really expect him to be inclusive,” she said. “I really think he has learned from Senator Miller and will be very inclusive statewide.”

Bill Ferguson

Age: 36

Maryland Policy & Politics

Maryland Policy & Politics


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Political Position: Democratic state senator since 2011, representing the 46th District in the city of Baltimore; vice chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee; member of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, also known as the Kirwan Commission; member of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Funding Formula Work Group.

Job: Director of reform initiatives, school of education, Johns Hopkins University, 2012-present.

Experience: Attorney since 2011; special assistant to the chief executive officer of the Baltimore City Public Schools (2009-2010); community liaison in the Baltimore City Council president’s office (2005-2006); teacher with Teach for America (2005-2007).

Salary: $50,330 as a senator. The Senate president receives $65,371 a year.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in political science and economics, Davidson College, 2005; Master of Arts in teaching social studies in high school, Johns Hopkins, 2007; law degree, University of Maryland School of Law, 2010.

Family: Wife, two children.


Religion: Member, St. Casimir Catholic Church in Canton in Southeast Baltimore.