Second in a series of articles on candidates for the 7th Congressional District.
Jay Jalisi has had a bumpy road in his political career: a reprimand in the House of Delegates for being abusive to staff, a lawsuit by an ex-employee, a committee reassignment after his daughter secured a restraining order against him.
The Democrat from Northwestern Baltimore County hopes to put those troubles behind him as he campaigns to succeed the late U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings.
Jalisi is seeking to move up the political ladder even as he hasn’t had success as a member of the General Assembly, at least as that is usually measured in Annapolis. He’s passed few bills. Last year — entangled in an ethics investigation that ended with the public rebuke on the House floor — he wasn’t the chief sponsor of a single piece of legislation.
“I’ve maintained a very close relationship with my constituents, who are very happy with my representation,” Jalisi said. “If, by my actions, I’ve hurt somebody’s feelings, I apologize.”
The 54-year-old attributes his difficulties to not marching in lockstep with the legislature’s Democratic leadership and to having high expectations, something drawn from his background in medicine.
“Coming from a surgical background into public service is a big adjustment. As a surgeon, you expect things to be done right the first time and every time,” Jalisi said. “Not so much in Annapolis.”
The nadir of Jalisi’s career came in March, when the House of Delegates voted unanimously to reprimand him for “an ongoing pattern of bullying and abusive workplace behavior.” A report from the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics documented a pattern of Jalisi forcing his staff to work without pay, bullying others and making a staffer stand in his office and repeat: “I am incompetent. I am incompetent.”
He was not allowed to have any employees in his legislative office, which led to a lawsuit by an ex-worker who claimed he was promised $20 an hour for 32 hours a week, pay he never received. In an interview, Jalisi said he would be willing to pay the employee himself — he estimates less than $2,000 — if that were allowed. Instead, he said, he’s likely to spend more defending himself from the lawsuit.
The ex-aide, who worked in Jalisi’s Annapolis office throughout the month of January 2019, is seeking $2,620 in lost wages, as well as $35,239 in damages. The ex-aide and his attorney declined to comment. A trial is scheduled for June.
“I’ve maintained a very close relationship with my constituents, who are very happy with my representation.”— Del. Jay Jalisi
In 2015, Jalisi agreed to a yearlong protective order from his daughter, then a teenager, who wrote in court documents that her father slapped her during an argument. As a result of the court order, Jalisi was removed from the House Judiciary Committee, which handles bills involving the justice system, and transferred to the Environment and Transportation Committee.
Jalisi said what happened was a learning experience for him as an immigrant parent who struggled with raising children immersed in American culture. Jalisi said he’s improved his relationship with his daughter.
“I take full responsibility of making mistakes,” Jalisi said. “Since then, I’ve made a lot of efforts to amend things with my child and I will continue to do so.”
And in 2014, Jalisi had to pay a $2,500 fine for a campaign finance violation. He wrote checks from his campaign account when his treasurer was ill. Jalisi has said he was advised that it would be OK for the campaign chairman to sign the checks. However, a campaign chairman is not allowed to sign checks if the chairman is also the candidate — which was the case for Jalisi.
Jalisi said he doesn’t get questions about his personal and workplace difficulties when he’s out campaigning in the 7th Congressional District, which includes parts of Baltimore City and Baltimore and Howard counties. He believes voters support him, pointing to his reelection in 2018.
“We all have moved past these issues," he said.
Reisterstown resident Mark Stewart said he isn’t bothered by Jalisi’s past troubles. Stewart is a Republican but crossed party lines in 2018 to vote for Jalisi, whom he described as a “middle-of-the-road Democrat.”
“He’s moved on. Whatever happened, he’s past it, I think,” Stewart said. “I think he’s learned: ‘This is what I should do here, or this is what I should do there.’ I think his political opponents have made more out of it than it is.”
Stewart is president of the Reisterstown-Owings Mills-Glyndon Coordinating Council, and Jalisi calls him for his opinion on community issues. Though the two don’t always agree on policy, Stewart feels Jalisi listens with an open mind.
“That’s a rare thing nowadays,” Stewart said.
Parkville resident Nina McHugh has worked for Jalisi and volunteered in his campaigns, after meeting him while volunteering for another candidate three years ago. She finds Jalisi relatable and is not concerned about his reprimand in the House, which she said “was a way to sideline him.”
“That’s how politics is,” McHugh said. “That’s the Annapolis way.”
House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones issued a statement defending the General Assembly’s investigation and discipline of Jalisi.
“The Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics made a decision last year to recommend that the full House of Delegates reprimand Delegate Jalisi for an ongoing pattern of mistreatment of staff. The record of the reprimand speaks for itself,” wrote Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat. “I would hope that after Delegate Jalisi certified that he had completed workplace harassment counseling that he would recognize that members of the House are not targeting him but rather want staff to be treated in a respectful, appropriate and professional manner.”
Jalisi faces a challenge in connecting with voters because he does not have the name recognition of some other candidates. But he could get a fresh start in this campaign, said Roger Hartley, dean of the University of Baltimore’s College of Public Affairs.
“There’s always that opportunity to reintroduce yourself,” Hartley said.
Jalisi is presenting himself as a candidate who will take voters’ concerns to Washington, whether it’s reducing crime or expanding access to health care.
Like many politicians, Jalisi has nothing but praise for Cummings. Jalisi said Cummings offered him advice over the years and always listened to his concerns.
“Those are big shoes to fill, but that’s how I’m going to be like him: caring about people and supporting good people,” Jalisi said.
As what he calls a “minority even among the minorities,” Jalisi said he hasn’t always found that kind of support in the political establishment.
His family is from India and later moved to Pakistan, where Jalisi was born. The family also lived in Bangladesh, where his father taught at a medical school. Jalisi’s given name is Hasan; he goes by “Jay.”
He graduated from medical school at the University of Karachi, according to his official state biography, and moved to the United States to continue his career. After positions at Harvard University and the Cleveland Clinic, Jalisi landed in Baltimore in 1997 to earn a master’s degree in public health at the Johns Hopkins University.
While at Hopkins, Jalisi got into real estate investing, using money from family members to buy an apartment building where he lived, after learning it was in foreclosure. Jalisi eventually stepped back from his career as an ear, nose and throat specialist and became a full-time real estate investor.
While he does not have a physician’s license in Maryland, Jalisi is listed as a fellow of the American College of Surgeons and said he travels overseas periodically as a volunteer doctor. He said working in real estate makes it much easier to be an elected official than working as a doctor, who can be tied to a hospital for lengthy shifts.
With five years of service in the House of Delegates, Jalisi sees moving to Congress as a “natural progression.”
“I understand what it takes to be a public servant,” he said.
Maryland Policy & Politics
Coming Thursday: Republican candidates.
Family: Divorced, two children.
Education: Medical degree, University of Karachi; master’s degree in public health, Johns Hopkins University.
Experience: Member of the Maryland House of Delegates since 2015; otolaryngologist; real estate investor and president of HMJ Asset Management Co., HMJ International Traders and HMJ Health Management Co.
This article has been corrected to show Del. Jay Jalisi was reprimanded by the House of Delegates in 2019, not censured.