A community college administrator was nominated to fill an open seat on the Charles County Board of Commissioners late Tuesday night, putting her in position to become the county's first black commissioner.
The county's 12-member Democratic Central Committee chose Edith J. Patterson, 59, after interviewing five other candidates. Patterson's name was forwarded to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) yesterday for approval, which county officials said they expect within two weeks.
Edith Patterson would be the board's first black member.
The choice was hailed by African American community leaders in Charles County, where a rapidly growing black population has yet to yield much minority representation in local politics. "I can't put it into words. I'm elated," said William Braxton, president of the Charles County chapter of the NAACP.
Patterson, who works at the College of Southern Maryland directing a youth counseling program, served 12 years on the county Board of Education. She was the board's chairman in 1996, her last year on the elected panel.
"We were impressed with her qualifications," said Democratic Central Committee member Elaine Belson. "But I also think it's a plus that she's black. It's important that the board reflect the makeup of the community."
The county commissioner seat, which represents a district in northern and western Charles, came open after a political dispute led to the resignation in September of Van T. Mitchell (D) as a state delegate.
Murray D. Levy (D-Charles), then the commissioners' president, was chosen by the Central Committee to replace Mitchell. Levy's spot was filled last month by Commissioner Wayne Cooper (D), creating a vacancy in District 2.
Charles's black population grew 25 percent from 2000 to 2003 -- the largest such gain for any county in Maryland -- and makes up 30 percent of county residents. Many of the new arrivals are professionals migrating from the District and its inner suburbs.
But black leaders have argued that the county's voting system -- commissioners represent districts but are elected at-large -- has prevented minority representation in the past. In elections in 1998 and 2002, a black county commissioner candidate carried the more populated Waldorf district, where many black residents live, but lost when all votes came in from more white, rural parts of Charles.
The seat Patterson has been recommended to fill will come up for election in 2006.
Patterson said her priorities include easing crowded conditions in county schools and addressing rural poverty and the shortage of affordable housing. She plans to take off a week of work for a crash course in county politics: hanging out in department meetings and talking to constituents. She also is trying to get some sleep. Phone calls from relatives kept her up until 3 a.m. yesterday.
"I've been praying for this for a long time," she said. "It's very humbling, because there's so many people that came before me that helped open this door."