Josh Kurtz: No Heroes Here

By Josh Kurtz

The great political cartoonist Edward Sorel once drew a strip back in the 1970’s in which a man confides that he dreads interacting with his boss, his wife and his tennis partner because he always figures they’ll find him inadequate. The only thing the man enjoys is watching the evening news, where he can observe his president, his governor and his mayor, “and see inadequacy on a grand scale.”

Well, if you’ve been following the saga surrounding former state Del. Tiffany Alston (D), what you have been witnessing is inadequacy on a grand scale. It’s another black eye for the political class of Prince George’s County, as it supposedly strives to do better.

What could be more inadequate than a thief almost replaced by a former drug dealer, in a process led by a man with designs on the thief’s job himself and interrupted by an ambitious governor who may be desperately trying to avoid an attack ad sometime in the future?

Well, you could say, as Judge C. Philip Nichols Jr. did last week, when he was asked to weigh in on the fiasco, that “the circumstances of this case do little for the good name and reputation of our state and even less for our county.”

Much has already been said about Alston, the former lawmaker who pled guilty to stealing $800 from her legislative account to pay some of her law firm employees, and about Gregory Hall, the former drug dealer who has gone straight — and was the Prince George’s County Democratic Central Committee’s initial choice to replace Alston in Annapolis. This was in a split 12-10 vote — the runner-up being Terry Speigner, who sought that enticing opportunity just seconds after being stalled as chairman of the central committee (he now insists he‘s no longer interested in the legislative post).

Then, as you know, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) intervened — asking the central committee to select someone besides Hall so he wouldn’t have to appoint a legislator who, 20 years earlier, was involved in a shoot-out that resulted in the death of a 13-year-old boy. By tradition in these circumstances the governor rubber stamps the central committee’s choice. So right there a precedent has been broken.

Unfortunately for O’Malley, who has done nothing to dispel the notion that he is running for president in 2016, everything he does from here on in — fairly or not — is going to be viewed through the prism of his national ambitions. So while supporters have said that given his reputation as a crime-fighter he could not in good conscience install Hall in a legislative seat, you can only imagine the governor and his advisers thinking they’d also be dodging a Willie Horton-style “APPOINTED A GUN-TOTING DRUG DEALER TO THE LEGISLATURE” ad sometime during the presidential campaign.

But when you’re a governor running for president, you also want the home front to be as quiet as possible. Surely the optics of a white governor telling members of the central committee of a majority-black county that he doesn’t approve of their choice to fill a legislative seat in a majority-black district is problematic and bound to be cited as example #1,047 of the state’s white Democratic establishment disrespecting the needs and desires of the African-American community.

It’s entirely conceivable that faced with the same dilemma in a majority-white county and legislative district, O’Malley would have made the very same request of the central committee. But while he was bailed out, at least temporarily, by Judge Nichols last week, O’Malley may come to regret his decision.

Now Alston and Hall have got the “Sue Me, Sue You Blues,” and it will probably fall to the state’s highest court to sort it all out. It’s impossible to tell who will take the third seat in the 24th district House delegation come January.

Hall probably deserved the benefit of the doubt. Friends say he has become an upstanding member of the community, using his own past as a cautionary tale when he meets with troubled youths. If appointed, he would have served for two years, and voters would have always had the option to boot him out in 2014.

District 24 could do worse — in fact, it has done worse. Remember, Alston not only plundered the legislature’s till, but also plundered her campaign treasury to pay for her wedding. And lest we forget, this is a district that sent Nat Exum to Annapolis for 36 years — and Tommie Broadwater before him.

Regardless of what happens now — unless Alston herself is miraculously restored to her old seat — whoever gets the job, just days before the General Assembly reconvenes, is going to need massive on-the-job-training. Once again, egos and political agendas trump the interests of average Marylanders — shamefully, in one of the state‘s neediest districts.

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at joshkurtz92@gmail.com.

Recent Center Maryland columns by Josh Kurtz:

Running Mates

Montgomery County’s 800-Pound Gorillas

Garagiola: ‘People Lose Elections All the Time’

You Can’t Spell ‘Meme’ Without M-E

Opening Day

Duncan Moving Closer to Comeback Bid