Maryland Democrats Keep Fragile Peace on Del. Anderson Sexual Misconduct Case

Maryland Democratic Chairwoman Kathleen Matthews has brokered an uneasy peace between women’s groups urging party officials to take an aggressive stance against state Del. Curtis S. Anderson (D-Baltimore City) – who has been accused of sexual misconduct – and leaders of the Legislative Black Caucus seeking due process for their embattled colleague. Whether the controversy spills into the fall campaign or dampens Democratic turnout remains to be seen. During a meeting of the state party’s executive committee in Lanham Saturday, Matthews formally announced the formation of a working group to study sexual assault and harassment issues and laid out internal procedures for the state party to prevent assault and address accusations of bad behavior. Every staffer, operative and central committee member must, at a minimum, go through a training session on sexual harassment. “The Democratic Party has heard from a broad constituency on this issue,” Matthews said in an interview after the meeting, noting that she had invited leaders of the black caucus and the group Baltimore Women United, which is seeking to remove Anderson from the general election ballot, to Saturday’s session at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 26.  Maryland Democratic Chairwoman Kathleen Matthews “From the very beginning I’ve tried to tell everybody that the state Democratic Party has zero tolerance on sexual harassment,” Matthews said. The half-hour meeting – which served as a prelude to a gathering of the broader Democratic State Central Committee and a pep rally for the statewide Democratic ticket – was tense at times and showed the fine line party leaders are walking when it comes to Anderson. The Baltimore Sun reported in mid-June that Anderson, a 28-year lawmaker who is chairman of the Baltimore City House delegation, has been accused of sexual misconduct on multiple occasions. Although the story was published less than two weeks before the primary in the Northeast Baltimore 43rd District, Anderson managed to finish third, enough to advance to the general election as one of the three Democratic nominees. Since then, women’s groups and other activists have called on Anderson to turn down the nomination and have urged party leaders to pressure him to step aside before the Aug. 28 deadline for political parties to fill ballot vacancies. At the same time, the legislature’s ethics committee has launched an internal investigation into the charges against Anderson. Matthews told party leaders in late July that the Democrats were essentially cutting ties with Anderson – that they would not campaign with him and that he would not be the beneficiary of any work the Democratic coordinated campaign does this fall (though as a practical matter, Democrats are almost certain to sweep in the 43rd District). Matthews also said the party could not forcibly remove Anderson from the ballot and that any disciplinary action has to be taken by the legislature. The internal ethics process in Annapolis is secret and the timetable for meting out punishment is never clear. But leaders of the Legislative Black Caucus believe the state party has already gone too far by disavowing Anderson. “They don’t have the right to do that,” said Del. Cheryl D. Glenn (D-Baltimore City), the immediate past president of the caucus. “He’s still the nominee of our party.” While Glenn said she supported the party’s “zero tolerance position on sexual assault,” she noted that Anderson has not yet been found guilty of criminal or ethics violations. She also pointed out that when white lawmakers have been accused of wrongdoing, they were not sanctioned by the party in any way – citing Del. Dan K. Morhaim (D-Baltimore County), who was accused of failing to disclose his ties to a company that was seeking to distribute medical marijuana in the state, and Del. Charles Barkley (D-Montgomery), who was accused online of being “handsy” with women earlier this year. Morhaim, who is retiring at the end of this term, was reprimanded by the House of Delegates in 2017 and lost a leadership post. Barkley faced no disciplinary action; he ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Montgomery County Council this year and will also give up his seat in January.    Glenn said that all too often, black men are considered guilty of alleged crimes before they can be found innocent. Del. Darryl Barnes (D-Prince George’s), the current black caucus president, said he would advise Anderson to “stand fast” and stay in the race. Glenn said that if Anderson eventually faces disciplinary action from the legislature and is forced to resign – or if he is found guilty of crimes – the procedure for replacing him would be the same as it would if he sought to withdraw from the fall election now. Either way, the Democratic Central Committee in Baltimore City would choose a ballot replacement – or nominate a successor.“The end result is the same,” she said. “Why ask the [ethics] committee to rush” its investigation? But the women continue to seek a swift resolution of Anderson’s case – later this month, if possible. “It’s frustrating,” said Denise Gilmore, a co-chairwoman of Baltimore Women United. “It’s not the days of ‘Mad Men’ anymore. It’s 2018.” Gilmore – who is black – said she was disappointed that members of the black caucus were defending Anderson and “making this a race issue when it’s really about making sure that people don’t abuse their positions of power.” Matthews rejected complaints that the party should have sought to block Anderson before the primary, as soon as the Sun story was published. “We did not want to be seen as tipping the scales,” she said. Leaders at both Baltimore Women United and the Legislative Black Caucus will continue to follow the Anderson case closely, and said they could not predict whether there would be any political fallout. Gilmore said the group was prepared to continue making an issue of Anderson’s status “all the way to the start of the [January 2019 legislative] session, if necessary.” Asked whether a rush to judgment against Anderson by Democratic leaders could depress African-American turnout in the fall, Glenn warned, “If the Democratic Party wades further into this process, there will be backlash.” [email protected]

Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.

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