Baltimore legislators seeking lead roles

Lawmakers eye top spots to increase influence of city in Annapolis

December 29, 2003|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

With the power of Baltimore's legislative delegation continuing to decline, lawmakers are jockeying for the few leadership posts available to bolster the city's influence in Annapolis.

Del. Clarence Tiger Davis, an East Baltimore Democrat, said he intends to seek the chairmanship of the Legislative Black Caucus, and Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a Northeast Baltimore Democrat, said she is considering a run for chairwoman of the city senators.

Both lawmakers said they have received numerous phones calls about playing leadership roles to fill the void left by the late Sen. Clarence W. Blount, the late Del. Howard P. Rawlings and former Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman.

"I know there's a need," Conway said. "I've been asked by a number of people who are disillusioned. There's some legislative dissatisfaction as well as political dissatisfaction."

Davis said he sees serving as chairman of the black caucus as "my last hurrah. This is like my riding off into the sunset issue."

Although chairman of the black caucus and the city senators are not among the most powerful positions in the legislature, they do allow those holding the jobs to help shape the state's agenda and ensure the city's issues are part of legislative discussions.

"For Baltimore City, with our reduced legislative numbers, that's really critical," said Herbert C. Smith, a political science professor at McDaniel College in Westminster. With any leadership position, "you have more opportunities to build coalitions, which is what the city needs."

The push for leadership positions from city lawmakers occurs at a time when some political observers say the black caucus and some of the city's legislative leaders have not been as vocal on issues as they should be.

For example, they say the caucus and the city should have had more influence in House Speaker Michael E. Busch's decision to fill the House Appropriations Committee chairmanship that was left vacant with Rawlings' death last month. That committee is the most powerful in the House of Delegates because it handles the state budget.

With Rawlings, an African-American who was chairman of appropriations, the city wielded a great deal of power.

Busch replaced Rawlings with Eastern Shore Del. Norman H. Conway, who is white, and named city Del. Talmadge Branch, an African-American, vice chairman.

Some political observers say Conway received the post over city lawmakers because of his longevity and loyalty to the Democratic Party, as well as having delegates from rural Maryland counties on the Shore and in Western Maryland lobby hard on his behalf. They say similar leadership is needed on behalf of African-Americans in general and the predominantly black jurisdictions of Baltimore and Prince George's County.

It is unclear who all of the candidates will be for the black caucus job, but it is expected that the chairmanship will go to a lawmaker in the Baltimore metropolitan area.

Davis, a 61-year-old native of Wilkes County, Ga., is widely viewed as a strong candidate for caucus chairman because he is a longtime politician who has been in the legislature for two decades.

"He's been around forever," Smith said. "He has plenty of seniority, plenty of credibility. I've heard him speak to black audiences, white audiences. He has really effective communication."

"Tiger has an enormous amount of perspective," he said. "His achievements in East Baltimore have been incredible."

Sen. Verna L. Jones, a Southwest Baltimore Democrat, said she is also considering running for black caucus chair.

If Joan Carter Conway, 52, a Baltimore native, decides to run for chairman of the Baltimore Senate delegation, she would face Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, who has led the city senators since 1997. Conway, also a former city councilwoman from 1995 to 1997, said the delegation often accomplishes its goals, but it is run "haphazardly."

McFadden disagrees.

"I think we've done well," McFadden said of the city senators under his leadership. "I've been able to work well with the mayor, the governor and the other metropolitan counties.

"I'd like to continue in that vein, especially since we've lost so much leadership," he said.

Del. Nathaniel T. Oaks, a Northwest Baltimore Democrat, said there also has been talk of a challenge to Del. Salima S. Marriott, who is chairwoman of the city House delegation. Her term ends in November.

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