Former Maryland lawmaker Tiffany Alston’s decision to try to reclaim her seat in the Maryland House of Delegates adds a well-known name to a crowded primary field and could draw renewed attention to the scandal that forced her from office.
Alston (D) filed the necessary paperwork at the State Board of Elections 20 minutes before Tuesday’s 9 p.m. deadline, joining nine other Democratic contenders vying for District 24’s three seats. The only Republican candidate is Cy Okoro.
All three incumbents are running for reelection, including Darren M. Swain, whom Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) picked to finish Alston’s term after an Anne Arundel County jury convicted her of theft and misconduct while in office.
The three top Democratic vote-getters will be on the ballot with Okoro in November’s general election, and the three candidates who receive the most votes in the general election will represent the Prince George’s County district.
Alston’s comeback bid threatens to fuel an unflattering narrative of political impropriety in the county, a story line that County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) has spent his first term working to counter.
The race will probably also bring public discussion of another candidate’s legal history — that of businessman Gregory A. Hall, who was endorsed by county Democrats to replace Alston in 2012 but passed over by O’Malley. Hall has acknowledged dealing drugs as a young adult in the early 1990s and was charged in connection with the shooting death of a boy in 1992.
Alston did not respond to a question Wednesday about what role she believes her theft and misconduct convictions should play in the campaign.
“I am running because we have unfinished business to resolve for people of Prince George’s County in District 24,” she said in an e-mail. “I am so blessed to able to answer the call of my constituents that have asked me to run again.”
Baker, who is running for reelection and will be on the ballot unopposed in the June 24 primary, declared a new, more accountable day in Prince George’s County when he took office in 2010. His predecessor, Jack B. Johnson (D), and Johnson’s wife, incoming County Council member Leslie Johnson (D), had been arrested on federal corruption charges as Johnson’s time in office was concluding.
During his first term, Baker expanded the county’s ethics department but did not fulfill a campaign promise to create an inspector general’s office. Baker on Wednesday did not take a position on the District 24 race.
“The voters of District 24 will decide on what’s best for them,” Jennifer Gore, communications director for Baker’s campaign, said in a statement. “Our focus is on continuing to accomplish great things for Prince George’s, now and in the future.”
Swain said voters are “sophisticated enough” to determine whether Alston’s legal saga affects their decision at the polls. “People that have paid their debts to society should certainly be able to participate in society and make sure our governments move forward,” he said.
Del. Doyle L. Niemann (D-Prince George’s), who represents District 47 and is running for County Council, said voters will “certainly have a lot of choices” in the District 24 race.
“Everybody should have a chance at redemption is my attitude,” he said.
Alston narrowly won the 2010 Democratic primary, edging Hall by just more than a percentage point. She was seen as a rising political star.
But eight months into her term, state prosecutors indicted Alston for dipping into her campaign account to pay $3,560 in wedding expenses. After looking into her campaign spending, they indicted her again, accusing her of using $800 in state funds to pay an employee of her law firm, which she denied.
In the wedding case, Alston pleaded no contest. An Anne Arundel County jury found her guilty of the second charge.
At her sentencing hearing, Circuit Court Judge Paul F. Harris Jr. chastised Alston for betraying the public trust and demonstrating “incredible arrogance.” She was given a one-year suspended jail sentence and ordered to do 300 hours of community service. After completing the sentence, the conviction was removed from her record.
Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, said Alston’s comeback bid sends a “dangerous” message about running for elected office in the state.
“This is becoming a very significant issue for Maryland, and it’s not good for the public perception of elected office,” Bevan-Dangel said.
Lawmakers, she added, could consider proposing legislation that disqualifies prospective candidates whose criminal records cross a certain threshold of seriousness.
Alston is not the only candidate in the race who has had a run-in with the law. Hall was charged with murder 22 years ago after a shootout that killed a 13-year-old boy.
The murder charge was ultimately dropped after tests showed Hall did not fire the deadly bullet, but he was jailed for 40 days and later convicted on a misdemeanor gun charge.
On Wednesday, Hall defended Alston’s right to run, citing his own experience turning away from criminal activity as a case for second chances.
“Let’s face our own truth,” he said. “We all have a past.”