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Home Opinion Commentary Originally published February 20, 2013

When Politics and Ethics Collide

by Brenda Pridgen

    City of Baltimore (Courtesy Image)
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On Friday, February 15, 2013, the Baltimore City Democratic State Central Committee -45th District (BCDCC) convened at the Oliver Community Center to select a candidate to assume the seat held Del. Hattie Harrison, a longtime political stalwart in East Baltimore, who died Jan. 28.

Ten candidates interviewed for the position, including three who are members of the committee conducting the interviews. Another oddity was neither the chairman nor other committee members thought it inappropriate for them to participate as final arbiters of who would replace Harrison.

BCDCC Chairman Scherod Barnes was questioned several times about the obvious conflicts of interests but he said he had no qualms about the process. He said the Maryland Constitution allowed such a vote, and the district knew all the candidates and all had done good work.

Yet, several issues remain unaddressed. It is unclear why the Committee would not utilize its two at- large members to replace those seeking the position (not that such would have changed the outcome of the vote), but it at least would have offered the perception that the proceedings were above reproach. It is also unclear why committee members who were also candidates –and who had just finished telling those in attendance what leaders they were, and why they deserved to be sent to Annapolis to represent the 45th District did not recuse themselves from voting.

It appears that ethics is but another area to be overlooked when seeking a legislative replacement. Here was a unique opportunity for the three candidate-committee members to rise above others and show leadership, but they opted for typical East Baltimore politics instead - a huge disappointment!

And finally, why did one committee member consistently submit an ineligible ballot by selecting two persons when the instructions specifically asked panel members to vote for just one? Is the work of the BCDCC so unimportant that abrogation of duty is thought to be comical?

Unfortunately, the balloting wasn’t the most bizarre part of the evening.
There were the candidate questions. It is unclear why the interview questions were so pedestrian in nature. Question posed: Who are the City and State legislators in the 45th District? What do you believe is the role of a State legislator? Tell us about a situation when you had to deal with a very upset person. What was your approach and how did you deal with it? Why do you believe you are the best qualified person for the position?

Yes, it is important for the potential candidate to know basic civics; however, the 45th District needs a person who can think critically and offer policy and position statements on the myriad challenges of the district such as state budget, education, jobs, housing, healthcare, environment, gun crime , public safety issues, taxes and fees, gambling, etc. None of these questions was asked of the candidates.

It is unclear what skill sets the committee is seeking in this appointment which has the capacity to extend into a four-year term. Are the difficulties of the 45th so unremarkable that we have no need to set a high bar in terms of requiring candidates to be deep thinkers with some degree of mental dexterity? 
If the politics, ethics, leadership, and questions asked on Friday are any indication of intellectual and political capacity in the 45th district, then this district will continue to be in serious trouble economically, politically and ethically.

Brenda Pridgen
Resident and Voter



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