Zina C. Pierre, a virtual unknown in Annapolis politics whose victory in this week's Democratic primary put her on track to become the city's first African-American mayor, withdrew from the race Friday.
Pierre pointed to "personal reasons" for her decision, which came after a day in which the historic capital city buzzed with revelations of her financial problems, including a home in foreclosure, a bounced check and state liens for unpaid income taxes.
The Annapolis Democratic Central Committee must choose a replacement nominee by early October, according to city code. Nick Berry, the chairman, said the group will move "expeditiously" to appoint a nominee.
"We in no way pressured her or gave her advice. We left it up to her," Berry said. "Think how difficult this is for her, after the high of winning the election. This [information] coming out threw a monkey wrench in everything."
Pierre's sudden exit from the race, after her win in a six-way primary in which she noted her national political experience and emphasized change and reform, shocked political leaders.
Pierre, 44, grew up in Annapolis and worked for eight years for the administration of President Bill Clinton, last serving as his special assistant for governmental affairs. The former president's recorded endorsement of her was sent via "robo-calls" to Annapolis residents during the primary.
It was not until after her victory that talk began circulating in Annapolis that Pierre, who has a public relations and lobbying firm called Washington Linkage Group, had a string of financial problems involving her home, car and taxes.
In February, according to court documents, Bank of America began foreclosure proceedings on a townhouse in the Bowie area of Prince George's County that she bought in 2005. The original loan was for $424,800 but was modified in 2008 to increase the principal balance to $443,691, according to foreclosure documents filed in Prince George's County Circuit Court. She stopped making mortgage payments last October, the documents showed.
A year before she purchased the townhouse, she used an Annapolis address to register to vote in Anne Arundel County, according to election records. She changed her address in September 2007 to a newly built apartment tower near downtown.
In April of this year, when a process server went to the Bowie home to serve her with a lawsuit in connection with a bounced check from her corporate account, her father told the process server that she "lived at the residence but was not home at the time," according to court documents.
The bounced check, for $1,498.83, had been given to an Annapolis mechanic last year for the maintenance on her Range Rover.
When she did not answer two letters asking for payment, the mechanic filed suit. Pierre ultimately paid the original bill plus penalties, totaling $2,523.83, according to court documents. The suit was dismissed in April.
Pierre was also the subject of several liens.
She twice had lapses in her car insurance, on a 1995 Toyota and a 2003 Range Rover, according to Motor Vehicle Administration records in court filings. In 2007, the state attempted to garnishee her wages through her firm, but the state's inquiry was not answered and her company was threatened with contempt of court. In January 2008, she paid more than $3,500 in fines for the lapses.
The state also placed two income tax liens against her - in 1990 for $257 and in 2004 for $653.
Pierre did not return calls for comment. Her spokeswoman, Michael Matthews, declined to comment beyond saying, "Zina Pierre has decided that for personal reasons she will withdraw from the race" for mayor of Annapolis.
Berry, the Annapolis Democratic chairman, met with Pierre shortly before she withdrew and said she was "emotional."
"She was very contrite and very gracious. She was regretful that this problem arose," he said. "This is a revelation which she thought [was] not that significant but proved to be very significant. She was concerned about the Democratic Party and the election."
Anne Arundel County Councilman Josh Cohen, who finished a little more than 100 votes behind Pierre in the primary, voiced his support for Pierre before news of her withdrawal, calling news of the financial issues "a distraction."
"My sympathies go out to her and all of her supporters who worked so hard on this campaign," said Cohen upon hearing of her withdrawal. He declined to comment further.
The nominee will face Republican Dave Cordle, an alderman, and Chris Fox, an independent and a small-business owner. Cordle could not be reached for comment, and Fox declined to comment through his spokesman.
Mike Dye, chairman of the city's Republican Central Committee, said he was still trying to digest the news Friday evening.
"I just feel a little shell-shocked about the whole thing," Dye said. "I'm trying to talk to people and see what this means. It was a historic win. It's odd. It just surprises me."
Trudy McFall, a housing executive who placed third in the primary, said she was also shocked by the news, adding that she would accept the appointment if nominated.
McFall said she assumed the party would select a nominee from among the primary candidates. Dan Nataf, director of the Center for the Study of Local Issues at Anne Arundel Community College, said Pierre's financial problems put a damper on what should have been a historic event.
"It's taking a moment of historic happening, the real possibility of the first African-American mayor of Annapolis, and turning it into a kind of party-pooper moment, a time we're having to reflect on the negative instead of the historic moment," he said. "Democrats have to make sure they don't alienate the black electorate in Annapolis. It could start a bad perception."