Carter Sworn in to Senate: ‘I Never Thought I’d Be Here’

Democrat Jill P. Carter became the new senator from Maryland’s 41st District Friday, taking the seat of disgraced ex-lawmaker Nathaniel T. Oaks hours after resigning her $121,400-a-year job as head of the Baltimore City Office of Civil Rights and Wage Enforcement.

 

Carter, 54, a lawyer and former 14-year member of the House of Delegates, was sworn in just after noon by Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert), in the Senate chamber, as a handful of family members, friends and colleagues looked on.

 

She was appointed Monday to complete the last 8-1/2 months of Oaks’ unfinished term by Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr., who picked her to succeed the ex-legislator from two names sent him by the 41st District Democratic State Central Committee last month.

 

New Baltimore City Sen. Jill P. Carter is sworn in by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Friday as family and friends look on. Photo by William F. Zorzi 

Carter also is running in the June 26 Democratic primary election to hold the 41st District Senate seat for the next four years. She faces former teacher J.D. Merrill in the primary contest.

 

Oaks, 71, resigned his Senate seat March 29, two hours before pleading guilty to two charges of wire fraud and honest services wire fraud stemming from a federal political corruption probe in which he took $15,300 in bribes from an FBI undercover source.

 

“I’m really honored — and I don’t want to be super emotional – but I never thought I’d be here when I resigned from the House of Delegates,” Carter said. “I’m very honored and I look forward to serving the constituency with honor and integrity and filling a void that has been created — immediately.”

 

After being elected to a fourth House term in 2014, Carter resigned her seat early, in January 2017, to head the Office of Civil Rights and Wage Enforcement for the newly elected Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh (D).

 

Carter said she resigned that post Friday morning because she recently learned that it would be illegal for her to remain head of the office while also a state senator.

 

She said was taking a leave absence as a city employee until after the primary election, which will determine whether she is the permanent senator from the 41st District. If she wins, Carter said, she would take one of two deputy positions in the civil rights office, which Pugh offered her.

 

Carter said Larry G. Ennels, compliance officer from the Wage Enforcement side of the office, would serve as the acting director of Civil Rights and Wage Enforcement.

 

Phone calls and an email to Pugh’s office were not returned Friday.

 

On Tuesday, Charles G. Byrd Jr., whom Carter hired in February as a deputy in the civil rights office, resigned his position with the Office of Civil Rights and Wage Enforcement after The Sun inquired about his disbarment last year.

 

Records show that Byrd was ordered disbarred April 5, 2017, by both the Maryland Court of Appeals and the U.S. District Court of Maryland.

 

He was disbarred “for criminal conduct (misappropriation of funds belonging to his law firm for his personal use and benefit) and engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation,” Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission records show.

 

Carter said Friday her resignation and possible move to the second deputy slot had nothing to do with the Byrd case.

 

Those with her on the Senate rostrum as the oath of office was administered Friday were Carter’s sister, Judy Cox; brother-in-law, Baltimore Circuit Judge Sylvester B. Cox; her “significant other,” Norman Johnson; and Cornelius Scott, who, she said, “is helping me with everything.”

 

Among those looking on from the Senate chamber were: Aisha N. Braveboy, a Democratic former House member running this year for Prince George’s County state’s attorney, after an unsuccessful bid for Maryland attorney general in 2014; and Del. Angela C. Gibson (D-Baltimore City), chairwoman of the 41st District Democratic State Central Committee.

 

Carter, the daughter of civil rights leader Walter P. Carter who consistently won the highest number of votes in the 41st District in each of four elections to the House, has called herself “an independent voice” in what she has described as a hostile world, for her, in Annapolis.

 

Her resignation from the House last year was not a surprise to many.

 

Only one of District 41’s four representatives to the Maryland General Assembly was actually elected to the position he now holds – Del. Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg (D).

 

Carter started off the game of musical chairs in the 41st District when she resigned Jan. 2, 2017, to take the job in the Pugh administration. She was replaced in the House of Delegates by appointee Del. Bilal Ali on Feb. 3, 2017.

 

Meanwhile, Sen. Lisa A. Gladden resigned her seat Jan. 11, 2017, due to health problems, and Oaks was appointed, stepping up from the House to the Senate on Feb. 10, 2017. That, then, left a spot open in the district’s House delegation.

 

So, Gibson was appointed to succeed Oaks and took his seat Feb. 24, 2017.

 

It didn’t end there (and this is the short version).

 

Oaks was soon under federal indictment. He was first charged in a federal corruption probe in April 2017, was later indicted and then indicted again in a final superseding indictment in November 2017. Nevertheless, he filed with the State Board of Elections as a candidate for the 41st District Senate seat and found to be qualified.

 

Hedging her bets, Carter, also filed for the seat – on Feb. 27, the election board’s deadline for candidates running in the June 26 primary election. With that, she became the third candidate for the 41st District Senate seat, along with Oaks and Merrill.

 

She had only been gone from the General Assembly 14 months at that point.

 

As the three Senate candidates were qualified, the state elections board began the involved process of proofing, testing and printing ballots for use in the primary – with the names of Carter, Merrill and Oaks all showing up as the Senate candidates on the 41st District ballots.

 

Then, on March 29, Oaks resigned his Senate seat and two hours later pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Baltimore to two of 10 felony charges on which he had been indicted.

 

That opened up the Senate seat for yet another appointment – someone to finish out Oaks’s term, which technically ends Jan. 9, 2019 – spurring the 41st District Democratic State Central Committee to action, advertising for possible candidates.

 

Merrill, 27, a former Baltimore public-school teacher and former Gov. Martin J. O’Malley’s son-in-law, made a point of not applying for the Senate seat and urged Carter to do the same. He said the central committee should nominate “a qualified neutral candidate to complete the remainder of the term.”

 

But Carter went ahead and joined seven other candidates who submitted their names for consideration for the appointment. Only a total of seven showed up to be interviewed at the April 17 central committee meeting.

 

Ultimately, after five ballots, a majority of the six 41st District Democratic State Central Committee members was unable to agree on a replacement for Oaks. So, they instead sent two names to Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. to pick and appoint the next city senator — Jill P. Carter and Joyce J. Smith.

 

On Monday, Hogan selected Carter.

 

Meanwhile, three activists in the 41st District filed suit April 9 to get Oaks’ name removed from the primary ballot. Without judicial action, Oaks’ name would appear twice on the 41st District ballot — as a candidate for both the Maryland Senate and Baltimore City Democratic State Central Committee.

 

State officials maintained that Oaks’s name should remain on the ballot because he was a qualified candidate at the time of a Feb. 27 primary election filing deadline and the subsequent withdraw and disqualification dates. After that point, they said, there was nothing in state law that allowed the election board to act.

 

The suit marked the beginning of a near-month-long, back-and-forth debate in the courts over whether the Maryland State Board of Elections should be ordered to remove his name.

 

That part ended Wednesday when the Court of Appeals ruled that Oaks’s name would remain on the ballot, despite his pleading guilty to two federal felonies and later cancelling his voter registration to become an ineligible candidate.

 

Game over.

 

Three names will appear on the 41st District primary ballot for Senate — Carter, Merrill and Oaks.

 

Supporters of Carter remain genuinely concerned that Oaks’ name on the ballot will confuse voters and draw votes away from her, to the advantage of Merrill.


And Oaks’ name also will appear in a second spot on the ballot, along with 23 other candidates for the seven-member 41st District Democratic State Central Committee.
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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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