For the second time during his career as a minister, a church led by Maryland Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s) has fallen into financial peril.
The Ark of Safety Christian Church in Upper Marlboro this month filed for bankruptcy protection. The move was triggered by an inability to keep up with mortgage payments and other debts, which the charismatic senator blamed on the financial challenges facing the church’s 2,000 members.
“Middle-class homeowners and middle-class churches are still struggling to climb out of the recession,” Muse said in a statement. “Our members are middle class and have many needs. Their struggle has strained the church’s resources.”
Muse, a member of the Senate Finance Committee whose title at his church is bishop, characterized the filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Greenbelt as “simply reorganizing and restructuring our debt.”
“While navigating some economic turbulence, we remain strong, focused, committed and growing,” he said.
More than a decade ago, another church run by Muse experienced mortgage problems.
In 1999, he resigned as pastor of Gibbons-Resurrection United Methodist Church in Brandywine, splitting with the denomination and taking much of his flock with him. Muse left behind an unfinished building on which Methodist leaders said there was about $6 million in debt and bond payments that were “seriously in arrears.”
The latest financial challenges come in a year that has been trying for Muse, both in the pulpit and in politics.
In April, he was soundly defeated in a bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) in the Democratic primary.
Muse, a member of the state Senate since 2007, received less than 16 percent of the vote in a race in which a large part of his pitch was the need to elect a black to the Senate. The Democratic establishment, including President Obama and Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker (D-Prince George’s), closed ranks behind Cardin.
The bankruptcy filing for the Ark of Safety lists nearly $1.8 million in debts owed to the church’s largest 20 creditors.
Among them is $610,000 said to be owed to Muse and wife, Patricia Lawson Muse, a news anchor with WRC-TV (Channel 4), the NBC affiliate in Washington.
Lawrence L. Holzman, an attorney for the church, said the figure reflects loans that Muse and his wife made to the church over the years.
Muse, who did not return phone calls seeking comment, told the Gazette last week that he had mortgaged his home to help the church.
According to a filing with the State Ethics Commission, Muse owns three properties in addition to his home in Fort Washington: a vacation home in St. Inigoes; a rental property in Silver Spring; and an unimproved lot in Fort Washington.
The church’s bankruptcy filing also lists two debts, totaling nearly $1.2 million, to a mortgage company and a bank; and one of more than $250,000 to a Greenbelt law firm that Holzman said has represented the church in a number of matters.
An additional $66,000 is owed to a heating and air conditioning company and more than $32,000 to utility companies.
As a state senator, Muse’s interests have included efforts to expand financial literacy, protect domestic violence victims and provide more rights to noncustodial parents.
He also has been heavily involved in issues affecting his district, including attempts to revitalize Rosecroft Raceway in Fort Washington. He sponsored legislation in 2010 to legalize gambling on card games at the horse track. The bill passed the Senate but died in the House of Delegates.
This year, Muse has had a harder time swaying Senate colleagues on gambling. During the 90-day session, he spoke out against a bill that would allow a full-fledged casino at National Harbor, which is in Muse’s district.
At a hearing, Muse vowed that he would “do everything in my power to stop the legislation.” The Senate vote a few weeks later was 35 to 11 in favor of the measure.
The House did not approve the bill.
A work group launched by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) is continuing to study the plan, and it could be considered in a special session next month.
As a member of the Finance Committee, Muse has shown a willingness to buck O’Malley’s agenda at times. He was among three Democrats whose committee votes O’Malley was unable to secure this year to advance a bill intended to subsidize offshore wind development. Muse cited concerns about the upfront cost to electricity ratepayers, saying, “Frankly, I don’t think the juice is worth the squeeze.”
Muse’s bid to join the U.S. Senate this year never gained much traction.
Shut out of a speaking role at a Democratic party luncheon in January, he demanded equal time with Cardin, who was part of the speaking program. With people filing out of the room and music blaring, Muse took to the podium and asked the crowd to stay and listen to him “just out of respect.” Most didn’t.
The episode foreshadowed the election result: On primary day, Cardin carried every county in the state, including Muse’s home jurisdiction of Prince George’s.