Friday, November 16, 2012

UGLY: Prince George's Democratic Chaos // Vacancy Process May Shift After Unelected Lawmaker's Gun Violence Revealed

Things continue to remain a little crazy in Prince George's politics. First, it should be noted that two of Councilmember Will Campos' aides just received vacancy appointments from the PG Dems Central Committee: former aide Greg Hall and Chief of Staff Alonzo Washington. Hall won a close vote to replace Del. Tiffany Alston (D24) right before the presidential election, while Washington won his appointment to Del. Justin Ross' seat (D22) with a fairly large margin last night. But the way in which these appointments are being handled is going to differ. The reason being that after Hall won the vote for Alston's seat, The Washington Post's Ann Marimow reported that the soon-to-be District 24 lawmaker was involved in a drug-dealing, gun shootout that resulted in a dead child:
WASHINGTON POST: Two decades ago, Gregory A. Hall was a 21-year-old crack dealer who took part in a gun battle that killed a seventh-grade honors student as he and his family left a church service in Capitol Heights.... County Democrats named him to finish Alston’s term, which ends in January 2015.

But Hall’s troubled past has resurfaced as Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) considers the appointment. Some local Democratic activists have said privately that Democratic Central Committee members are having second thoughts after choosing the 42-year-old in a 12-10 vote....
O’Malley has until Thanksgiving to approve Hall’s nomination, and the governor’s spokeswoman has said the administration is aware of Hall’s criminal record and that “everything is being taken into consideration.”

PG DEMS TO START SUBMITTING TWO NAMES FOR VACANCIES? - Shortly after Hall was appointed to fill Tiffany Alston's seat, the Prince George's Democrats had occasion to fill yet another seat -- that of retiring Delegate Justin Ross. Fresh off the Greg Hall controversy, it appears that the PG Dems may start submitting two names to the Governor for vacancies. The press accounts are not perfectly clear on this point, but at a minimum candidates will go through more vetting than in the past. The top two Democrats for Ross' District 22 seat were Alonzo Washington with Karren Pope-Onwukwe in second place. Check out the following report from The Gazette (excerpt below):
GAZETTE: The submission of two names to the governor is a break from tradition, said Terry Speigner, chairman of the central committee.... “The committee feels it needs to do a better job of vetting candidates,” Speigner said....

Speigner said the committee would take the top two vote-getters for the District 22 seat [Alonzo] Washington and [Karren] Pope-Onwukwe and do more thorough research into their backgrounds before submitting a name to the governor. “That’s totally different than we’ve ever done before,” he said.

The Washington Post's Miranda Spivack provided more detail on the vacancy controversies following Alonzo Washington's appointment to Delegate Justin Ross' seat (excerpt below):
WASHINGTON POST: The decision to take a closer look at Washington comes as the 24-member committee has been circulating reports that Greg Hall, 42, selected two weeks ago to replace Del. Tiffany Alston (D-Prince George’s), had a criminal history. The committee plans to do more research on its selections before sending them to the governor, beginning with Washington, said Terry Speigner, the committee chairman who had sought Alston’s seat and lost to Hall.

After Washington’s selection, committee members huddled in private to discuss Hall. Hall said he has not hidden his history and discussed some of the details as he pressed his candidacy two weeks ago during the selection meeting. Campos told The Washington Post, “It’s never been a secret. He talks about it....” The committee came to no consensus about Hall’s nomination, and Speigner said it will now be up to O’Malley. Hall defeated Speigner in a 12-10 vote on Nov. 2.

It is worth noting that the man who lost the vacancy appointment to Greg Hall was the current PG Democratic Chair himself -- Terry Speigner. This creates an obvious self-serving aura in his pursuit of complaints against his rival - but even still, there is something to be said about Speigner's view that this just looks bad. Remember that the Prince George's Democrats are filling a seat that is currently left vacant due to Del. Tiffany Alston's alleged misuse of taxpayer and campaign funds -- and they are filling that seat with someone who was involved in a gun shootout that left a child dead. No wonder Tiffany Alston is hanging around making her case! Even still, Speigner would do well to state clearly that he will not seek the D24 seat himself, and instead try to ensure a process that works for the public. This seems impossible to achieve when the person in charge is seeking the seat himself -- and it also just looks bad.

CONCLUSION: Here's the real question for the Prince George's Central Committee -- how did it come to this? In a County of thousands, were there honestly no other Democrats worthy of appointment to the State House? Perhaps the real problem is that machine politics continue to take priority over sound outcomes. Surely there were more Democrats to consider other than political aides and members of the Central Committee itself?

If the Prince George's Democrats want to really clean this up, they're going to have to try harder to undo machine politics -- not simply replace one machine with another. I'm beginning to think this pressure is going to have to come from the outside though, unless there is a miraculous shift in mentality among politicos. In the meantime, it'll be interesting to see who runs for these seats in 2014. After all, just because someone has been appointed by insiders doesn't mean they can win an election. Maryland politics has a few examples of appointees who were unable to win their seats outright.

Fingers crossed for a #CleanSlate for Prince George's Democrats.

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