Del. Curtis S. Anderson announced to the press last week that he planned to step down as chairman of the Baltimore city delegation to the Maryland House of Delegates, saying that 12 years was enough for him in the job.
But at the all-Democratic delegation meeting Friday, Anderson’s best laid exercise in democracy went awry. And then things got even worse, as he waded neck-deep into a parliamentary quagmire during a tense session punctuated by long, painful silences and bucketsful of awkward inaction.
at Wednesday’s House session.
Photo by Bruce DePuyt
For reasons that remain fuzzy, Anderson wanted to quit his chairmanship early, before the September date for the election of new officers in the delegation’s by-laws. The plan supposedly was for him to anoint Del. Cheryl D. Glenn, the outgoing chairwoman of the Legislative Black Caucus, to take his place — without elevating the vice chairman, Del. Keith E. Haynes, and perhaps even to bounce him from the No. 2 spot.
A simple enough plan on the surface, but it seemed to be all over before it started, as different factions within the delegation – some with obvious agendas, others not so much – worked their devilment and intrigue.
In the end, however, it was probably the delegation’s own bylaws as much as anything that torpedoed Anderson.
On Friday morning, after discussing last-minute decisions on pending bills and other vital matters, the delegation turned its attention to the final item on the published agenda – Election of New Baltimore City Delegation Officers.
“Mr. Chair,” Del. Bilal Ali of West Baltimore’s 41st District began amid committee murmurs and paper shuffling.
“Yes, go ahead,” Anderson said.
“Point of order,” Ali said. “Have you submitted a letter of resignation to the Baltimore city delegation?”
“No,” Anderson replied.
“So you haven’t?” Ali asked.
Silence. Then whispers among the gathered.
“All right, for the election, we’ll be turning the meeting over to the counsel chair,” Anderson said from his chairman’s perch.
But before the delegation’s staff lawyer could begin the proceedings, Del. Mary L. Washington weighed in, “seeking clarity.”
Washington earlier this year split with Anderson and other colleagues in Northeast Baltimore’s 43rd District when she undertook a bid for the Maryland Senate, an effort to unseat incumbent Sen. Joan Carter Conway, on whose ticket she has run in the past.
“I have a point of order,” Washington said. “Why are we having an election? And I don’t recall a notice two weeks ago, as required in our bylaws, and I haven’t heard a motion.”
There was considerable back and forth involving Washington, Ali and Anderson, points of order raised, irregularities cited, discussion of the delegation’s bylaws, of when and how, and most of all, an endless search for “clarity” and “transparency.”
Eventually, Ali made a motion, of sorts, to hold the election.
The often-reserved Del. Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg, another representative of West Baltimore’s 41st District, then stepped up with a question to the committee counsel.
“What is the process under our bylaws to hold an election at a time earlier than the beginning of a four-year term?” Rosenberg asked.
The committee lawyer explained that the delegation would need to suspend the rules, which requires a two-thirds vote. As there are 16 members of the delegation, a two-thirds vote would be 11 members of the delegation.
Anderson turned to Ali.
“Would you repeat your motion, please?” he said.
But before Ali could, Washington asked the counsel what motion was before them.
“The motion would be to suspend the bylaws for the purposes of holding the election,” the counsel explained to Washington.
Then, continuing her clarity-seeking mission, she launched into reasons for her opposition and why suspending the rules would be “highly irregular.”
Key to the argument by Washington, a self-identified “parliamentarian,” was this: “If the chair was resigning today, there is a process for replacing that: We have a vice chair.”
And therein lay the rub.
In an effort to move the flailing process along, Anderson ignored the persistent quest for clarity and asked, “Any further discussion?”
After a beat, “Roll call,” he said.
The committee counsel began.
“Delegate Ali?” Pass.
Undeterred, down the list he continued: Aye. Yes. No. Yes. Yes. No.
“Present,” Haynes said.
Silence. Then sporadic chuckles.
“What are we voting?” asked Haynes, the delegation’s vice chairman, a lawyer who represents West Baltimore’s District 44A.
“Voting either for or against suspending the rules,” the committee counsel replied.
“You’ve got 30 seconds,” Anderson said.
Finally, Haynes said, “I’m very contemplative about the direction the vote has taken.”
“Point of information,” Haynes said. “If the motion fails, uh, when would the body have an opportunity to revisit or visit this on regular order, under the bylaws?”
The delegation counsel stepped in: “Under the bylaws, the election would be held during the month in September, but not before the Thursday after the first Monday in September at a central location in Baltimore city selected by the current chairman. There’d be written notification announcing the meeting date of the election.”
Haynes considered this.
“And, currently we have, I think I missed a part, but I think Delegate Ali was asking whether there is a vacancy at this point or not, is that, is that correct?” he asked.
“And my understanding is that there isn’t a vacancy.”
“So, we’re suspending the rules to have an election out of regular order when there’s no vacancy? Is that, is that my understanding?”
“That’s correct,” came a response.
“Pass,” Haynes said.
The roll call restarted again: No. Yes. No. Yes. No. Yes. No. Yes. No.
Back to Haynes.
“And Delegate Haynes?”
“Well, the motion has already failed, with or without your vote,” said Anderson, realizing he only had eight ayes, three votes shy of the 11 he needed to suspend the rules.
“Yeah, I’ll record a vote,” Haynes said.
“And, in which posture, sir?” the committee counsel asked.
“Suspend the rules?” Haynes said ambiguously.
“So that’s a yes?” Ali piped up. “I wanted clarification, I just want to know …”
“He voted yes,” Anderson said.
“OK, we gotta get transparent around here …,” Ali started, before Anderson invoked his prerogative as chairman and cut him off.
Then Haynes popped back up.
“I didn’t record a vote that’s official,” Haynes said. “I have the right to suspend the rules.”
“At any rate, there will be no election today,” Anderson concluded.
It was the final scheduled House delegation meeting before the General Assembly adjourns its regular 90-day session Monday.
There then was praise for Anderson, a thank you and applause.
“That means a lot to me,” he said, clearly choked up.
“Is there any new business?” he asked.
“Is there a motion?”
“Move to adjourn,” came a voice from the panel.
“OK, thank you very much,” Chairman Anderson said.