Wendell Rawlings backed by mayor, Mfume to replace father in House

State central committee to make recommendation

December 06, 2003|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Some Baltimore political heavyweights -- including Mayor Martin O'Malley and NAACP President Kweisi Mfume -- are lobbying the city's Democratic leaders to pick the son of the late Del. Howard P. Rawlings as his father's successor.

The 40th District State Central Committee, a five-member body charged with recommending a replacement for Rawlings to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. today at Baltimore City Community College to interview applicants and make its selection. The elder Rawlings died last month.

Mfume and O'Malley are openly voicing their support for the delegate's son, Wendell Rawlings.

"Pete, of course, knew that his health was failing," Mfume said. "If he was not able to fill out his term, it was his wish that a family member do so.

"It has been for time immemorial ... that you defer to a family member. I think it only fitting that only the same occur in this case. If no one else is willing to say it, I will."

Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for the mayor, confirmed that O'Malley also is supporting Rawlings' son.

Wendell Rawlings is one of three candidates who have applied for the position. He is facing another highly favored contender in former Baltimore City Deputy Sheriff Marshall T. Goodwin. Both are members of the central committee that will make the recommendation to the governor. Dennis T. Byrne, a former candidate for delegate, also applied for the post.

Despite the support for Rawlings, Goodwin, chairman of the committee, said the committee is following strict guidelines for making a recommendation.

"The process is going along extremely well," he said. "There has been no outside intervention that has influenced the process."

Having the right person fill the seat could be valuable for the O'Malley administration.

The mayor -- who has been a strong political ally of the Rawlings family -- needs majority support in the city delegation to ensure the success of his political agenda in next year's legislative session.

One bill, which O'Malley opposes, seeks to realign the city's election cycle to coincide with statewide races beginning in 2006 -- a move that would force O'Malley to choose between a run for governor or for mayor.

Under the current election process, the mayoral race is held in a different year than the gubernatorial election. That allows the mayor and other city officials to run for statewide offices without having to surrender their local seats.

But some political officials say Rawlings' son should not be treated as an heir to a political throne. Because Baltimore's influence in Annapolis is declining, they say, the strongest candidate should get the job, whether Rawlings, Goodwin or whoever else applies.

In less than a year, the city lost three prominent state lawmakers in Rawlings, who was chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Sen. Clarence W. Blount, who died in April, and Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a chairwoman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee who was defeated in last year's election.

"We need the best and brightest down there to help us," said Del. Tony E. Fulton, one of the other delegates who served in the 40th District with Rawlings. "It won't be easy. We need to have the kind of person who can work with people across the state."

Sen. Ralph M. Hughes of the 40th District declined to comment about the candidates, saying, "I think I can serve well with any of them. That's up to the state central committee."

Maryland law requires the governor to fill vacancies within 30 days of the date the position opens. The governor acts on the recommendation of the local central committee where the lawmaker resided. The appointee must come from the same party as the person who held the seat, unless the person had no party affiliation.

Shareese DeLeaver, a spokeswoman for Ehrlich, said the governor is waiting for the central committee to make its recommendation before saying whether he will support any particular appointment.

Wendell Rawlings said, "I know my dad. I've been around him 32 years, under his tutelage. I know his agenda, and I'll push his agenda, the same agenda that got him elected."

Rawlings said he believes that some politicians who were overshadowed by the former delegate's larger-than-life presence are backing other candidates, as a way to get reclaim power for themselves.

"They are trying to use my dad's death as an opportunity to use partisan gamesmanship," Rawlings said.

Sun staff writer David Nitkin contributed to this article.

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