Passions are running deep for and against Gregory A. Hall, a Prince George’s County community activist recently nominated to fill a vacant seat in the Maryland House of Delegates. Hall has criminal convictions in his past, and while some feel the 42-year-old businessman deserves a chance to represent his community, others are livid.
Hall, who was selected by the county’s Democratic committee on Nov. 2, is up for the seat after Del. Tiffany Alston (D-24), was removed from the position after being convicted of theft for using $800 from official funds to pay a staffer in her law firm. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley will make the final decision on Hall, even as Alston tries to get her job back. Her conviction was overturned this week, but the debate about her possible replacement has been heating up.
This debate called to mind a conversation I had with a dear friend of mine a few years ago. My friend excitedly told me of plans to run for elected office, and, without thinking, I quipped, “But you don’t even like the law! How are you going to be a lawmaker when you’ve always scoffed at laws?”
I’m not talking about organized civil disobedience to correct unjust laws. My friend had been, understandably, a rebellious youth. Understandable because many of the adults in our dis-enfranchised, disenchanted, impoverished community gave inconsistent, counter-culture advice. So, their authority was suspect at best. For instance, some of the adults held so much disdain for mainstream America, which had systemically shunned them, they accepted — and in some cases encouraged — drug dealing and drug use as a sort of underground economy and underground mental health-care system.
I could easily have gotten caught up in that cycle had it not been for extended family and mentors I met on my first jobs who taught me otherwise. I wasn’t sure my friend, who grew up in the same community, had reconciled the counter-cultural beliefs of our youth with the common sense it would take to succeed in the public arena. My friend was interested in getting in a position to ensure public funds would be steered to programs serving the poorest communities. Respect for laws — and modeling compliance to laws — was a matter that would require more soul searching.
I hope Hall, who grew up in a community where counter-culture influence was prevalent, has searched his soul sufficiently and is ready to withstand internal conflicts and pressures from lobbyists. Nobody is perfect, and everyone has internal conflicts of some sort that must be resolved. Some would argue that an individual who has already grappled with personal demons is better suited to serve in public office. Others vehemently disagree.
On Election Day, I met a woman who is a member of the Prince George’s Democratic Central Committee, as I greeted voters to conduct my own little exit poll. She volunteered her outrage at the decision her committee had made just a few days earlier.
“They’re replacing one criminal with another!” she said. I called other community leaders to poll their opinions on this decision and found the discussions very similar to the one I’d had with my friend.
“I know his heart to be in the community. He’s been a longtime community activist. He’s certainly well-thought of in the community, and I think folks may be surprised by what they get with Greg,” said Omar M. Boulware, a former president of Prince George’s Young Democrats, and former member of the Central Committee. “I think they will be pleased with the efforts Greg makes representing their concerns,” Boulware added.
Boulware has known Hall since they worked together in community groups in the Chapel Oaks/Fairmont Heights community, he said. “He’s always had his nose to the ground, and he’s showed that he can be an effective leaders,” Boulware said.
Boulware, who attended the Nov. 2 committee meeting where he said Prince George’s County Councilman William Campos and State Delegate Joan Benson endorsed Hall, said he will be surprised if the committee reverses its nomination under pressure from some in the community. Hall told the committee panel of his challenges that led to selling drugs, and told of his convictions on drug distribution and gun charges in the early 1990s.
“He was trying to take care of a sick father and his mom,” Boulware said. “I believe, in his own way, he was just trying to meet the needs of his family. He made some bad decisions, and quickly realized that the path he was on led to a place he did not want to go.”
Hall spent 40 days in jail after initially being charged with murder in a 1992 shootout that killed a 13-year-old boy. As reported by Ann Marimow in Friday’s Washington Post, “the charge was withdrawn after tests showed that the fatal bullet had come from the gun of another man with whom Hall was feuding. A jury also determined that Hall did not fire the first shot, and Hall was convicted separately on a misdemeanor handgun charge.”
Hall went on to become a Prince George’s County council aide, and started a business selling cellphones. He became a family man and got active in politics. Perhaps, the Central Committee members who voted to send him to the State House to represent his community considered that his inclination toward entrepreneurship and his innate leadership skills can be used for the greater public good.
“The true measure of a person is how they overcome adversity,” Boulware said. “He was able to rise above his challenges. I think he can be a very effective leader and raise issues that might, otherwise, not get attention — especially in some of the more challenging communities.”
Prince George’s resident Eric Cloud, a retired attorney who writes about black social issues in his blog Black News Examiner, thinks Hall should be allowed to serve out Alston’s term and beyond if elected in the future.
“Those crimes were in ‘92 and ‘96. Neither of those crimes are of moral turpitude, which means he was not dishonest,” Cloud said. “Time has passed, and he has led an exemplary life since then.”
Some community leaders believe the choices Hall made under pressure as a young man indicates his inability to make good decisions under pressure.
“He’s a nice person. But what are we telling our kids?” said Belinda Queen, a member of the Prince George’s Central Coalition, a group of community organizations.
“Yes, give him a chance to get a job and be productive,” she added. “But our county is in an uproar because of leaders who have made bad decisions, robbing and stealing from the people. Why would you put somebody with his background in that position? That’s like putting a child molester with children. Why give them that opportunity? What’s wrong with us? We complain about not getting treated fairly and having a voice. But what are we doing with it?”
Arthur Turner, president of the Central Coalition and a longtime community activist who has run for elected office said, “If Prince George’s County is moving on, doing things in an ethical way, why would you not want someone with a stellar record?”
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