Oaks’ Status Continues to Flummox Democratic Leaders

The Maryland Democratic Party has succeeded in doing what many wish they could have done in the last few months — let disgraced former state legislator Nathaniel T. Oaks slip silently away.

 

The state party’s Credentials Committee had been petitioned to oust Oaks from his 41st District Democratic State Central Committee seat for “malfeasance in office” as a result of his pleading guilty March 29 to two federal felonies. The West Baltimore Democrat already had resigned his Maryland Senate seat earlier that day.

 

On April 18, the Baltimore City Democratic State Central Committee asked party officials to bounce Oaks for malfeasance, rather than deal with the charge of “conviction of a felony,” which could have been a messier ordeal hinging on his federal sentencing, scheduled for July 17.

 

That request to the party came a day after a meeting of six remaining members of the 41st District Democratic State Central Committee to select a replacement to complete the final 8 1/2 months of Oaks’ term — which they managed not to do. They instead sent two names to Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. so he could pick and appoint the next city senator.

 

 Del. Angela C. Gibson  

After much speculation over whether Oaks would post that night to vote on his own replacement, he did not show, mostly owing to the advice of his criminal defense counsel. (Hogan ended up selecting Oaks’ choice, anyway – former Del. Jill P. Carter, who is also running this year to permanently hold the seat.)

 

But six days later, on April 23, Oaks withdrew his Maryland voter registration, at the request of lawyers seeking to strike his name from the June 26 Democratic primary election ballot for the 41st District. And once he made that little trip down to the Baltimore City Board of Elections, he became ineligible to hold elective office.

 

So, without fanfare or notice, Oaks, 71, automatically lost his seat on the state central committee. The matter before the Maryland Democratic Party simply disappeared.

 

That, however, left a vacancy on the 41st District central committee (the business of governance, it seems, is never done).

 

Under its bylaws, the central committee has 90 days from the time of a vacancy to complete the process of advertising, soliciting and selecting for, and filling the slot.

 

But that timetable means the clock runs out nearly a month past the primary election date, when the seven new members of the 41st District committee will be elected.

 

What’s a committee to do?

 

“We will not be filling the vacancy, as new members will be elected on June 26,” explained Del. Angela C. Gibson, chairwoman of the 41st District Democratic State Central Committee.

 

Nevertheless, Oaks’ name will still be on the 41st District primary election day ballot – twice – as candidate for Maryland Senate and the Baltimore City Democratic State Central Committee.

 

On Wednesday, in a 5-2 decision that capped a back-and-forth battle to have Oaks’ name stricken, the Court of Appeals overturned a trial court’s preliminary injunction ordering the Maryland State Board of Elections to remove his name from the 41st District ballots.

 

State elections officials said Thursday that because the high court has not instructed them otherwise, they had no plans to post signs or take other measures at 41st District polling places on election day, in an effort to notify voters that Oaks is not an eligible candidate, despite the appearance of his name twice on the ballot.

 

During oral arguments Wednesday before the state’s highest court, the matter of Oaks’ familiarity among voters came up, given that he has successfully run for office eight times in West Baltimore and the appearance of his name on the ballot could draw votes away from other candidates.

 

In fact, there is genuine concern in the Carter camp that Oaks will take votes away from her, to the advantage of J.D. Merrill, the third candidate for the 41st District Senate seat.

 

But given what could be his familiarity – and arguably his popularity – with voters, what happens if Oaks should win the primary for Senate?

 

The short answer is that instead of Oaks, the 41st District Democratic State Central Committee would pick the party nominee, whose name would then appear on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

 

The determining body would be the new central committee, whose seven members will be elected in the June 26 primary and become official upon certification of the results by the state elections board about a week later.

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William F. Zorzi
Bill Zorzi was a Baltimore Sun reporter and editor for nearly 20 years, focusing on government and politics. An Annapolis bureau veteran, he wrote a weekly column, “The Political Game” for the paper.Zorzi and another former Sun reporter, David Simon, are longtime collaborators on acclaimed television projects, including the HBO series, “The Wire,” and the HBO miniseries “Show Me a Hero,” which dealt with an explosive housing desegregation case in Yonkers, NY.

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