Two state delegates are likely to face off for the Baltimore County state Senate seat opened up by Sen. Bobby Zirkin’s resignation.
Del. Shelly Hettleman, 55, of Pikesville, told The Baltimore Sun on Friday that she is running for the seat and has begun campaigning and picking up endorsements.
“This is the natural next step," Hettleman said. "It’s the same district, but it’s a bigger platform to advocate for issues and fight for my constituents.”
Last session, Hettleman was the lead sponsor of legislation requiring law enforcement to test nearly all rape kits in Maryland after the backlog of untested rape kits in 2016 grew to more than 6,500. If she wins a Senate seat, she said, she hopes to push for funding of school construction and implementation of the Kirwan Commission’s recommendations to improve public schools, among other issues.
“I moved here when I was 7 years old. I have deep roots in the community,” Hettleman said.
Del. Jon Cardin said he’s “very likely” to run for the seat, as well.
“I’ve spent 13 years in the House. I’ve really enjoyed the House’s culture and the process, but I have also been intrigued and interested in seeing if my influence and my interests and my priorities might be better suited to be fulfilled in the Senate,” he said.
Cardin, 49, of Owings Mills, said his top priorities include protecting children, safety for pedestrians and bicyclists, and women’s and family issues. He was the co-sponsor of Grace’s Law, a law that sets criminal penalties for online bullying of children. And he’s working on a bipartisan bill to prevent child abduction in custody disputes.
Cardin said he and Hettleman have “very cordially” discussed the possibility that they’ll both seek the Senate appointment.
“She’s obviously a good candidate, and I think she would also do a good job,” Cardin said. “I just think I would be a better person for the job.”
Zirkin, who has led the Maryland Senate’s high-profile justice committee for five years, has said he plans to resign his seat next month.
Zirkin’s 11th district includes neighborhoods in northwest Baltimore County including Pikesville, Owings Mills and part of Timonium.
Hettleman has already picked up some endorsements.
Sheldon Laskin, a Pikesville attorney who unsuccessfully challenged Zirkin in the 2018 Democratic primary, said he won’t seek the appointment. He’s endorsing Hettleman. “She’s been a fantastic delegate, and I think she’d be a great senator,” Laskin said.
And Del. Dana Stein, who serves with Hettleman and Cardin in the 11th District, is also endorsing her.
“I’ve worked well with her for the past five years,” he said. “She’s one of the hardest-working legislators I know. It’s nothing against anyone else. I think she’s the best candidate for the job.”
Once Zirkin’s resignation is official, the Baltimore County Democratic Central Committee will be tasked with nominating a replacement for Zirkin. But that process can’t be started until Zirkin formally resigns, said Tara Ebersole, the party chairwoman for Baltimore County.
Once Zirkin’s seat is vacant, applicants must be given at least a two-week window to submit their names. Then there will be public interviews, followed by a vote from the central committee’s members for the 11th District, and then a ratification vote by the full county central committee membership, she said.
The nominee’s name will then be sent to the desk of Gov. Larry Hogan. Hogan can choose to accept or reject the nominee, but cannot propose his own candidate.
Meanwhile, candidates are also eyeing the seat left vacant by the Dec. 1 retirement of Democratic Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam in District 44, which includes neighborhoods in both Baltimore City and western Baltimore County.
Del. Keith Haynes, who represents the city portion of the district, has submitted an application to be nominated for the seat, Ebersole said. Haynes, a 56-year-old attorney, could not be reached for comment Friday.
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Del. Charles Sydnor, who represents the county portion of the district, said he is seeking the nomination as well.
Sydnor, a 45-year-old attorney who works in affordable housing and community development, said being a senator would enable him to represent the county where he lives now and the city where he grew up and has “real strong roots.”
If selected for the Senate, Sydnor said he would “reacquaint myself with the district” and work on building relationships with the city portion of the district. He thinks city residents will value the work he has done as a state delegate, including sponsoring a bill that modified state law to enable police officers to wear and use body cameras.
Both Baltimore County’s Democrats and Baltimore City’s Democrats will offer nominations to replace Nathan-Pulliam.
“If we do land on the same person, it’s great,” Ebersole said. “If we end up with two different names, we have the right to send in two names.”
The deadline to apply to both central committees for the 44th District nomination is Dec. 14. The city committee plans to vote on its nominee on Dec. 15. The county will hold a district-level vote on Dec. 15 or 16, with a county-wide central committee vote following on Dec. 17.
Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, fills vacancies in the General Assembly. He must select his appointees from among names submitted by the central committees. He cannot propose his own candidate.