Are Black Politicians Unfairly Scrutinized?

by: James Wright Special to the AFRO jwright@afro.com
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The recent indictment of former Maryland Del. Michael Vaughn has generated speculation among Black Prince Georgians that elected officials of their race are being targeted. On March 8, U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein was joined by Prince George’s County police chief Hank Stawinski and agents and officers from the FBI and the IRS, to announce Vaughn’s indictment by a federal grand jury for a bribery conspiracy. The indictment was related to a scheme in which he allegedly accepted bribes in exchange for influencing the performance of his official duties, as well as stealing campaign funds. In January, Vaughn resigned from the Maryland House of Delegates as a Democrat representing the 24th Legislative District, citing health reasons.

Former Maryland Del. Michael Vaughn was indicted on bribery charges. (Courtesy photo)
Former Maryland Del. Michael Vaughn was indicted on bribery charges. (Courtesy photo)

For his alleged misdeeds, Vaughn could serve up to 65 years in prison. Vaughn was released, by the judge, on personal recognizance on March 8.

Vaughn has represented the 24th District since 2003. His unexpected departure fueled speculation of his involvement in the burgeoning county scandal involving liquor store owners and members of the Prince George’s County Liquor board. However, a few residents also think race is a covert factor in Vaughn’s legal troubles.

“Racism still exists,” former Prince George’s County Council member Floyd Wilson, the first Black to sit in that legislative body, told the AFRO. “I’ve seen White politicians get away with things a lot more serious. A White perhaps would have gotten off with a lot less and it seems that Blacks get different treatment.” Wilson served on the county council from 1973-1990 and knows Vaughn well.

“I feel sorry for Michael,” he continued. “He comes from a good family and they are hurting now. He’s not a criminal.”

Several high-profile Black county politicians have been through criminal prosecution for various activities, including Former Maryland State Sen. Tommie Broadwater, the first Black elected to that body from Prince George’s County. He was convicted of food stamp fraud on July 29, 1983, and spent four months in a federal penitentiary. Former Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson and his wife, Leslie, served time for masterminding a corruption conspiracy that netted approximately $1 million in bribes in 2010 and in 2012. Darrell Miller, a mayor of Capitol Heights and county council candidate in 2010, was also convicted of misuse of campaign funds.

“I lead a race relations committee that was formed at the request of Del. Darryl Barnes,” James Dula, former president of the Prince George’s County Chamber of Commerce and president of the South County Democratic Club told the AFRO. “At these meeting, African Americans felt that they were being targeted by the police and prosecutors. There is bias in this county but there is a sense that only Blacks are being sought.” Dula questioned if Blacks were the only ones doing stuff?

Maurice Simpson, president of the Prince George’s County Young Democrats, sought to take Vaughn’s place as a delegate. However, the Prince George’s County Democratic Central Committee chose U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) ally Jazz Lewis for the position in January.

Simpson said he isn’t naive about racism in the county but has a slightly different view from Wilson and Dula.”I was taught growing up that you had to work twice as hard to endeavor,” Simpson told the AFRO, saying that Blacks in public positions must work extra hard to be considered clean. “I believe in open and transparent government.”

Simpson said he will be a candidate for one of the three 24th Legislative District delegate positions and made it clear he will be ethical.

“Too much is done in the dark,” he said. “Democracy dies in the dark and corruption translates race. If they aren’t doing anything wrong, there would be no problem.”

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