Tommie Broadwater and Marion Barry came to mind as I read news and online discussions about the controversy surrounding the nomination of Greg A. Hall to the Prince George’s House of Delegates. I wholly believe in redemption; woke up this morning singing Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.” But, considering there are many manners of redemption, let’s consider the costs of sending Hall to Annapolis at this time.
The Prince George’s Central Committee earlier this month voted 12-10 to nominate Hall, a county businessman, who 20 years ago was convicted on drug and gun charges, to replace Tiffany Alston in the Maryland House of Delegates. Alston lost her seat when she was convicted in June of stealing $800 from the General Assembly to pay a staffer in her law firm. An Anne Arundel County judge modified her sentence to probation before judgment, wiping out the guilty finding, according to a Washington Post article.
On Monday, she filed a lawsuit saying she should not be removed from her seat. Meanwhile, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is legally bound to accept the committee’s nomination, sent the committee a letter last week asking that it rescind its Hall nomination, and the committee initially balked, determined to stand behind Hall. On Monday, the committee voted, in a voice vote, to withdraw Hall’s nomination, according to a Washington Post report, but that vote is not binding because now a Prince George’s judge has said the committee should take more time to review all sides in this controversy.
“Circuit Court Judge C. Philip Nichols Jr. in a ruling late Monday said all sides in the dispute need more time to debate the issues, just hours before Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) was required to approve the nomination. Nichols’s decision allows the clock to continue to tick on the nomination and relieves O’Malley of the requirement to approve it, at least for now,” reporters Miranda S. Spivack and Ann E. Marimow wrote.
The Prince George’s Young Dems urged support of Hall’s nomination, asking Prince Georgians to call O’Malley’s office, and I was reminded of the courageous determination of D.C. residents to return Marion Barry to office after he served time in prison for cocaine possession. It was a vote for redemption more than a vote for the man. It was a consensus of African-American residents determined to choose their own leadership, based on its own redeeming values. Some would say those who voted for him were duped by Barry’s legendary charm and grassroots appeal, and his friends in the pulpit. In any case, Barry was redeemed, returned to politics, but was it at the expense of his community’s reputation?
Marion Barry – and the District in general – became the butt of late-night TV jokes. On Capitol Hill, lawmakers could cite Barry’s return as evidence that District residents could not be trusted to manage the District’s own money and finalize its own laws. Talks of D.C. statehood and voting rights could be blunted with criticism that the District was not ready for such responsibility.
In private conversations, even some African Americans would chide, “D.C. deserves what it gets – or doesn’t get.” They would say the same of people in Prince George’s County, who voted Jack B. Johnson into office even after years of rumors and news reports about his bribery and corruption.
In the District this month, voters “overwhelmingly approved charter amendments that would allow the council to expel a council member for ‘gross misconduct’ and would require the mayor or a council member to resign immediately if convicted of a felony,” according to a Washington Post article. In Maryland, 88 percent of the voters supported a Charter Amendment set in place by the convictions of Jack Johnson and Leslie Johnson, who remained in office several weeks after her conviction until community pressure forced her out. The Maryland Charter Amendment read: “Changes the point at which an elected official charged with certain crimes is automatically suspended or removed from office. Under existing law, an elected official who is convicted or pleads no contest is suspended and is removed only when the conviction becomes final. Under the amended law, an elected official is suspended when found guilty and is removed when the conviction becomes final or when the elected official pleads guilty or no contest.”
Those votes are a good measure of the people’s will and a good measure of the current political climate.
In the wake of the Johnsons’ scandal that made national news, Prince George’s County needs to send forward a leader that best represents its brand as one of the best educated, wealthiest African-American counties in the country.
The county has balanced its beliefs in redemption and its civic responsibility before. A few months ago Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and other notables celebrated the 70th birthday and lifetime achievements of Tommie Broadwater, the county’s first African-American state senator.
Broadwater broke many barriers and championed the needs of the previously neglected African-American community. But, after a conviction on food stamp fraud, voters did not send him back into state politics. Broadwater continues to raise funds for and advise candidates from his “institution,” which is “The Ebony Inn,” a legendary barbecue and strip joint, but he is not in the political spotlight where his past misdeeds would continue to be held against the people he aims to serve.
Broadwater was redeemed, but not reelected. He will — and should be — forever honored for all the good he did, the trails he blazed for the county’s first African-American elected officials who would follow him. Sing a song of redemption, yes. But choose the time and the best stage. Put the county’s best face forward, fortified with the full strength of its community’s support.
Montgomery is a columnist for The RootDC.
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