The Prince George's County Democratic Central Committee voted last night to recommend a party worker for a vacancy in the state legislature, even though the appointment lasts only a month in a period when the legislature is expected to conduct no business.
The recommendation of James Blackistone, 73, of Chillum, a retired federal employe who has been active in Prince George's Democratic affairs, was described as a well-deserved reward for years of civic activity ranging from PTA and Kiwanis Club work to voter registration drives. The committee's recommendation -- made on an 18-to-0 vote -- goes to Gov. Harry Hughes, who is expected to make the appointment to fill the unexpired term of State Del. Anthony Cicoria.
The move will cost about $1,500 in salary to Blackistone, and a preliminary vote on the question of whether to fill the vacancy was 15 to 3, with some members arguing it would be a waste of taxpayers' money. Cicoria, who created the vacancy in the House of Delegates when he was sworn in as a County Council member on Monday, also argued that it would be a waste.
Because Cicoria was elected to the council, he had to give up his state legislative post representing a Hyattsville district that will cease to exist next year as a result of reapportionment.
Some Democrats in the audience at last night's meeting at the park and planning commission office in Hyattsville argued that the appointment was a cover for a complex, personal dispute among a number of elected officials stemming from the fall elections. James Crosson, a political consultant who worked for a group of losing Democratic candidates, called the nomination a "ludicrous" demonstration of tokenism since Blackistone is black.
"I think this is throwing a bone out and saying, 'This is what we're doing for black citizens,' " Crosson said.
But Blackistone said he wanted the post to support his community activities. "I feel I can inspire children both black and white. I can let them know that just because the door to opportunity is shut it is not locked."
Central committee member Judith Wheatley asked Blackistone if he would consider donating his salary to a community organization, but Blackistone said he already had a long record of supporting such activities.
Some central committee members said they were confident Blackistone would not "abuse" the office by ordering stationery, business cards and other items at taxpayer expense.
The current Maryland General Assembly term lasts until Jan. 11, when the next legislature convenes in Annapolis. No business is scheduled before that date.
After that time, as a former delegate Blackistone would have the privilege of sitting with the county legislative delegation on the House floor, although he would not have a vote.