The Baltimore City Democratic State Central Committee for the 41st District meets Tuesday evening to pick a replacement for Nathaniel T. Oaks, who resigned his seat in the Maryland Senate last month, two hours before pleading guilty to two felonies in federal court.
Eight people have submitted their names for consideration by the 41st District Democratic State Central Committee, whose seven members will interview each of the candidates before voting for the replacement to serve out the last eight months of Oaks’ term, through Jan. 9, 2019.
The wild card, however, is Oaks himself — whether he will show up and, as an elected member of the central committee for the 41st District, whether he will cast a vote for his own successor.
“As of this hour, if Nat shows up, he will be allowed to vote,” said Del. Angela C. Gibson, chairwoman of the 41st District committee.
The seven voting members of the 41st District Democratic State Central Committee members are Gibson, the chairwoman; Del. Bilal Ali; former City Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector; Joyce J. Smith; Chezia T. Cager; Wanda Wallace; and Oaks.
The Baltimore City Democratic State Central Committee’s bylaws, and not Maryland election law, govern whether Oaks can continue on the central committee after pleading guilty.
Democratic activists in the 41st District have circulated petitions seeking to oust Oaks from the central committee and submitted them to the Baltimore City Democratic State Central Committee, but whether the matter will be resolved before the vote seems unlikely, as the effort seemed to lose steam, deliberately or not, and time has just about run out.
The full Baltimore City Democratic State Central Committee is not scheduled to meet until Wednesday, a day after the vote on Oaks’ replacement.
The Democrats who have submitted their names for Oaks’s seat include Jill P. Carter, director of Civil Rights and Wage Enforcement for Mayor Catherine E. Pugh (D).
Carter, a former member of the Maryland House of Delegates, is also running for Oaks’ seat in the June 26 Democratic primary against J.D. Merrill, a former public-school teacher and administrator who made a point of not applying for the Senate seat and urged her to do the same.
At the time of Oaks’ resignation and guilty plea, Merrill said the central committee should nominate “a qualified neutral candidate to complete the remainder of the term.”
The other candidates up for consideration by the central committee are:
Gary Brooks; James Butler; Wade Moragne-el; Charles Smith; Joyce J. Smith, a member of the 41st District Democratic State Central Committee who ran unsuccessfully for House of Delegates in 2014; Jay Steinmetz; and Shawn Z. Tarrant, a former delegate from the 40th District who was defeated in the 2014 primary in his bid for a third term in the House. Tarrant also ran for Baltimore City Council in 2016 from District 7 and lost in the primary.
Oaks’ name currently appears twice on the 41st District ballot – as a candidate for both the Maryland Senate and Baltimore City Democratic State Central Committee – because he was qualified at the time of the state’s Feb. 27 primary election filing deadline and the subsequent withdraw and disqualification dates [see related story].
Although under indictment at the time of the filing deadline, Oaks, 71, pleaded guilty a month later – March 29 – to one felony charge of wire fraud and one felony charge of honest services wire fraud, stemming from a scheme in which he took $15,300 in bribes from an FBI undercover source.
Oaks is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett on July 17, three weeks after the primary election. Under Maryland law, he would not lose his right to vote until actually entering prison, and thus would still be eligible to be on a ballot until that time.
Two cases now pending in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court seek to have a judge order the State Board of Elections to delete Oaks’s name from both spots on the 41st District ballot.
Neither case, however, deals with the actual seat on the Democratic State Central Committee – which he still holds.
It is conceivable that Oaks could be elected again as one of the seven members of 41st District Democratic State Central Committee in the June 26 Democratic primary. If that were the case, he could again take the seat, once the results are certified by the state board, which is usually about a week after the election.
There is some question about whether he would lose the central committee seat upon Bennet imposing a sentence – or whether he would lose it upon entering prison, when he would lose his right to vote and therefore no longer be qualified to hold the position.
Oaks was most recently a member of the House of Delegates for 22 years, until Feb. 10, 2017, when he was appointed to the Maryland Senate, replacing Lisa A. Gladden who resigned her seat due to health problems.
Earlier, Oaks also had been a member of the House of Delegates, first elected in 1982, but he was forced to forfeit his seat in 1989, after being convicted of theft charges related to double-billing his legislative expenses. That conviction was changed in 1990, at his request, to probation before judgment by a Baltimore judge.