At a voters’ forum at First Baptist Church of Glenarden, candidates for the Maryland General Assembly talked about the importance of giving former offenders and alleged wrongdoers a second chance.
In some instances, they were — in effect — talking about themselves.
“There was a lot of people in the Bible that had stuff with them. But God still used them,” said Del. Darren M. Swain (D-Prince George’s), who is seeking to hold on to the seat to which he was appointed in 2012, despite allegations by two carjacking suspects that Swain attempted to buy drugs from them and solicit one of them for sex in September.
Swain — who was not charged with a crime — has denied wrongdoing.
Challengers include Swain’s predecessor, lawyer Tiffany T. Alston, who was removed from office after being convicted of theft. There is also businessman Gregory A. Hall, who was nominated to replace Alston by the Prince George’s Democratic Central Committee but rejected by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) because Hall had been a drug dealer and violent criminal as a young man.
The candidates’ missteps, both alleged and proven, have drawn attention to the 24th District race for all the wrong reasons, some candidates say.
“The problem is that the focus has been on the notoriety,” said challenger Phillip A. Raines. He agreed that everyone should get a second chance, especially at a job, but said that does not mean every job is suitable for people who have committed wrong.
There are 10 candidates competing in Tuesday’s Democratic primary for the three District 24 seats in Maryland’s House of Delegates. In addition to Swain, Alston, Hall and incumbents Carolyn J.B. Howard and Michael L. Vaughn, the challengers are Erek Barron, a lawyer; Marva Jo Camp, a lawyer who is chairman of Leadership Prince George’s, a nonprofit leadership training program; Durand A. Ford, who did not attend the June 11 forum or return messages seeking information; Delaneo L. Miller, who has worked with young people in a prison ministry; and Raines, a federal contractor for IT support.
The three top vote-getters will be overwhelmingly favored to defeat Republican Cy Okoro in November, given the Democratic Party’s dominance in Prince George’s.
Some in the race say it’s up to voters to decide whether to forgive a candidate’s misdeeds, alleged or otherwise. But others say they wish the public would send a message that more is expected from elected officials.
“Too many of our politicians have too many issues. And you shouldn’t be running if you have too many issues,” said Barron, a former Prince George’s County assistant state’s attorney who is now in private practice.
“People are kind of fed up and impatient,” he added. “They’d rather be talking about what we need to do to improve our school system.”
At the forum in Glenarden, candidates talked about improving county schools, addressing the foreclosure crisis, holding down taxes and expanding the commercial tax base. But several also discussed how to ease the way for people who return from prison needing jobs. Hall, who was convicted of a misdemeanor gun charge after a 1992 gunfight in which a 13-year-old boy was killed, pleaded with voters to give him the second chance that he felt O’Malley had denied him. “I did not get justice, and no one stood up and fought on my behalf,” he said. “Who is the second chance? We are the second chance.”
Swain ticked off biblical characters from Moses to the prostitute Rahab whose deeds — he said — outshone their flaws. “Moses had anger issues. God still used him. Abraham was a liar, but God still used him,” Swain said to applause. “Rahab was a red-hot mama. God still used her.”
Alston, introducing herself to the audience as a fellow parishioner, discussed her efforts to track constituent needs, her desire to force banks to ease up on foreclosures and her call to improve the schools. “We need someone that’s not afraid to stand up and fight for what’s right and fight for the people,” Alston said.
She was removed from the House in 2012 after an Anne Arundel County jury found her guilty of theft and misconduct in office.
She was originally charged with stealing $800 from the General Assembly to pay an employee of her law firm, which she vigorously denied. Alston’s record was later wiped clean as a result of a plea deal and her completion of a sentence that included restitution and community service.
Alston said she is running for her old seat because she believes that she has a lot more to offer.
“Everybody deserves to be forgiven,” Alston said. “I have accepted responsibility for what’s happened. I have no convictions. People have asked me to run, and I’m doing what they asked me to do.”