Another Democratic misstep or a wise choice?

December 10, 2003|By GREGORY KANE

DID Baltimore Democrats do the right thing in selecting Marshall T. Goodwin to replace the late Del. Howard "Pete" Rawlings in the General Assembly? Or did they, in rejecting Rawlings' son Wendell Rawlings, once again shoot themselves in the feet?

Self-inflicted foot wounds are a tradition among Democrats, especially in these parts. A year ago, state Democrats, instead of urging their best gubernatorial candidate to run, watched as he sat on the sidelines and remained mayor of Baltimore. It's still not clear whether that was done at their prodding or if it was his choosing. But the result was the creaming of the candidate they chose and the election of Maryland's first Republican governor in 36 years.

During the same election, Baltimore Democrats rejected incumbent state Sen. Barbara Hoffman, who had years of seniority on the important Budget and Taxation Committee, and elected Del. Lisa Gladden in her place. Both women were competent legislators, but in this case it was the seniority that was important, and Hoffman had it. Whatever Baltimore Democrats gained with Gladden's victory should have been - but clearly was not - weighed against what the city would lose.

Sometimes Democrats do this on a national scale. In 1924, they took more than 100 ballots to nominate a presidential candidate who went on to lose. It might occur to discerning readers that it only takes one ballot to nominate a loser, especially one who lost to Calvin Coolidge, who was nobody's idea of Mr. Charisma.

It's no wonder the Democrats have a jackass for a mascot. But did the foot-shooting trend continue in the Goodwin-Wendell Rawlings matter? It's too soon to tell. But several state lawmakers gave their assessment.

"I'm very surprised that Wendell didn't get it," said Jill Carter, who was elected as a delegate to the 41st District in November last year. Why did Carter think young Rawlings would get the nod?

"I liked his argument that he was the highest vote-getter in the election for the central committee," Carter answered. "And because he's young, intelligent, comes from a professional background and political family. I was looking forward to working with him."

Some of the four Democratic Central Committee members who voted Sunday for Goodwin - Rawlings himself cast the lone vote he received - pointed out the inexperience of the late delegate's son. (Rawlings is 32; Goodwin, 46.) That argument didn't impress Carter, who won election her first time running for office.

"I don't buy into that notion of paying dues," Carter said. "I don't have a long political history." But the new delegate was quick to note that nothing she said should be construed as disparaging Goodwin.

As much as Carter doesn't like the "paying dues" business, 40th District Del. Tony Fulton pooh-poohs the idea of giving seats based on heredity.

"The seat is a public trust," Fulton said. "If I died tomorrow, I wouldn't expect it to go to my wife or someone in my family. We tried to pick the best person for the job, regardless of their lineage. Marshall Goodwin is competent, qualified and has been a steward in the community for the last 20 years. I have confidence he will do a good job in Annapolis." Fulton's endorsement was seconded by Sen. Ralph Hughes, also from the 40th District.

"I think he'll make a very good delegate," Hughes said of Goodwin. On the matter of Rawlings' statements made after the selection, which were perceived by many as bitter, Hughes tried to be conciliatory.

"I figure he was just upset," Hughes said of Rawlings. "Some of the things he said were very mean-spirited and unfair, but he didn't get something he wanted very badly. I wonder if he really meant some of those things."

Rawlings had the support of, among others, NAACP President Kweisi Mfume and Mayor Martin O'Malley, which has led to quite a bit of speculation that the rejection of Rawlings - whose dad was a close friend of the mayor's - may have been an anti-O'Malley vote. Fulton rejected the claim.

"We as legislators in the 40th District wanted to keep the process open and aboveboard, with as many applicants as possible," Fulton said. "We had too many forces outside the district trying to get involved in this process. I think O'Malley backed himself into a corner by getting involved in that."

From the mayor's vantage point, his support of Wendell Rawlings had to do more with loyalty to Pete Rawlings, not politics.

"Pete Rawlings was my dear friend," O'Malley said. "I know the entire family. I know Wendell to be a very bright, committed fellow. Were the vacancy not caused by the death of Wendell's father, I could very well have supported Goodwin. I couldn't turn my back on the Rawlings family. Wendell really wanted to do this, and I couldn't turn my back on him."

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