Frank DeFilippo: When Being on the Government Payroll Is a Family Affair

Del. Nick J. Mosby (D-Baltimore City) is running for Baltimore City Council president. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines

Bedfellows make strange politics.

Nick and Marilyn Mosby, husband and wife, House of Delegates member and state’s attorney, are two peas in a pod. They’re not the first Baltimore elected officials to consider the municipal payroll a family affair. It’s nice work if you can get it, and they have. Not that there’s anything wrong, legally, with that.

And now Nick, as he has considered before, is seeking a resume upgrade and a salary increase. He’s running for president of the City Council, where he once served as a member, and why not, as long as the last name’s out there grabbing headlines that might translate to the ballot.

All politics are local. Nick was among the first to encourage Gov. Larry Hogan (R) to go territorial and track coronavirus victims by race and neighborhood to assure a balance when applying lifesaving measures and equipment to the dreaded germ. State officials now release detailed demographics, including zip codes, and have established testing stations in predominately black areas where contagion is greatest – notably in Mosby’s Baltimore district.

Frank!
Frank A. DeFilippo

Marilyn has made headlines, too, not all of them great, but the name was spelled correctly. She received both good and bad attention following the Freddie Gray riots and the prosecution of cops. She has been defiant about not prosecuting low-level marijuana users, feuding with police who said they would continue the arrests anyway. And she has been out front about releasing short-time and vulnerable prison inmates from the crowd dangers of COVID-19 contaminants.

Separate but equal entitlement to government paychecks has a long and tortuous history in Baltimore, going back as far as the mind can stretch, more than 70 years. Consider the D’Alesandros, Cardins, Mitchells, Currans, Conaways, Rawlings-Blake and the O’Malleys. And again, the Mosbys. Miss anybody?

In a sense, the family ticket is a variation of the old name’s-the-same game perfected by yesteryear’s political bosses. These days, though, elected officials’ salaries are set by independent commissions.

The Mosbys have been this route before, back in 2015, when Nick considered running for mayor, which he might do again if he wins City Council president and takes the next and ultimate step on the city’s political escalator.

In politics, pillow talk is a powerful weapon. Nick was already established as a City Council member, elected in 2011, when Marilyn, a relative youngster at 35 and mother of two, upended state’s attorney Gregg Bernstein when he wasn’t paying attention to become Baltimore’s top law enforcement officer in 2014.

Nick’s councilman’s pay at the time was $62,918 a year while Marilyn was hauling in a hefty $238,772. The Mosby family cookie jar was taking in a combined $301,690. Then Nick took a pay cut to run for the House of Delegates where the current salary is $43,500, plus per diem.

Marilyn’s salary is still $238,772, but might increase in the next term, as commissions usually set salaries for the incoming four-year terms of office. And if Nick were to win his election, his new salary as City Council president would be $119,000, at the current rate, but, as with Marilyn’s, could increase with the new term.

But beyond the money pot, there are uncommon possibilities for conflicts if Nick were to win. Foremost among them would be his awkward position of having to usher the state’s attorney’s budget – his wife’s office purse strings – through the City Council to enactment. And he’d referee the police department’s budget and policies which are often in direct conflict with his wife’s prosecutorial side of criminal justice business. (Consider the feud between Mosby and the cops over the investigation into the shooting death of city detective Sean Suiter.)

Overall, the City Council president sets the tone, timing and tactic of all legislation that passes through the Council chamber. Committee assignments and hearing schedules can be critical in the life or death of legislation (and budget requests) in a city that is dealing with a broken criminal justice system, and enough blame to share.

The power of pillow talk can be very persuasive.

There are seven Democrats and one Republican competing for the open seat as City Council president In the June 2 primary election: Mosby; Leo W. Burroughs; Marques Dent; Leon F. Pinkett 3d; Shannon C. Sneed; Daniel J. “Dan” Sparaco; and Carl F. Stokes. The lone Republican is Jovani M. Patterson.

By far the most intriguing plank put forth is Sparaco’s proposal to abolish the very office he’s running for. We don’t get offers like that very often. Baltimore City is likely the only one of the state’s 24 subdivisions that elects a council president in a citywide election. The others elect council members and the winners choose a president, on a rotating basis, from among their peers. That’s Sparaco’s idea – tried, test-driven, and workable.

Baltimore politics is all in the family. Stephanie Rawlings-Blake ran for the City Council, the youngest member ever elected, when her father, Del. Howard “Pete” Rawlings, was at the peak of his power as chairman of the General Assembly’s House Appropriations Committee. She later ran for City Council president, and then for mayor.

That was a two-fer on the government payroll, one on the state, the other on the city. And when Pete, the father, wasn’t busy legislating, he collected another government paycheck as vice president of the Community College of Baltimore.

That job appeared magically after he was elected to the House of Delegates’ key money committee. Even Rawlings-Blake’s brother claimed it was his father’s deathbed wish that the son succeeds the father in the House. He lost the sentimental attempt, but nice try.

Rewind to the bad old days when it was said that a good politician was one that stayed bought. Thomas D’Alesandro Jr., affectionately remembered as “Old Tommy,” was a member of Congress from the old 1st District (East Baltimore) before he became mayor.

He was followed later by his son, Thomas 3d, “Young Tommy,” who ascended to the mayor’s job from the City Council presidency by virtue of a vacancy (and an accurate vote count of supportive Council members.)

Tucked in there somewhere was a brother or two, from among the three, who held municipal cynosures, one specifically at the city’s election board. Nancy D’Alesandro Pelosi, as everyone knows, continued the family franchise. She serves in Congress, the first woman House speaker, where her father had served, and after his tenure as mayor and a loss for the U.S. Senate in 1958, was appointed to the Federal Renegotiation Board by President John F. Kennedy.

The Mitchell family, long identified with civil rights in Maryland, has been a petri dish for the state’s politics. The begat story also spans several branches of the family tree.

Lillie Jackson, founder of Baltimore’s NAACP branch, begat Juanita Jackson, who married Clarence Mitchell Jr., the NAACP’s Washington lobbyist. His brother, Parren, was repeatedly elected to Congress after his first victory in 1970, following a defeat in 1968, by the dime-thin margin of 38 votes.

Juanita and Clarence’s sons, Clarence 3d and Michael, alternated for years between City Hall and the State House – Clarence in the House of Delegates and the Senate, and Michael in the City Council, House of Delegates and the Senate. Clarence 3d begat a son, Clarence 4th, known as C-4, as did his father and uncle, also served in both the House of Delegates and the Senate. He later switched from Democrat to Republican.

Clarence Jr.’s, other brother, Keiffer, also begat a son, Keiffer Jr., who was a city councilman and a state delegate. He ran for mayor and lost, but was later reborn as a top staffer to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, though he remains a Democrat.

(Footnote: Brothers Clarence 3d and Michael Mitchell were indicted in 1987 for using their uncle Parren’s name in vain. They were accused of a shakedown of a federal contractor by claiming they could influence a congressional investigation headed by Parren Mitchell, then chairman of the House Small Business Committee.)

The Jewish Kennedys

Before there were the Currans and the O’Malleys there were the Cardins, of Northwest Baltimore’s old 5th District, often characterized as the Jewish Kennedys because of their wealth, influence and prominence in politics and community affairs. Jerome Cardin was a banker and businessman who never served in public office but chose, instead, to fund those who did, kind of an all-in-the-family arrangement.

Among those family beneficiaries were his brother, Meyer, who served in the House of Delegates and went on to become a judge and eventually chief judge of what was then the Supreme Bench (or bunch, in the pejorative). A second brother, Maurice, also was elected to the House of Delegates and from there was appointed a judge of the Workmen’s Compensation Commission.

Meyer was the invisible hand, as chief judge, who orchestrated the appointment of his son, Howard, as Baltimore state’s attorney. And most recently, Howard’s son, Jon S., returned to the House of Delegates, the Cardin family launch pad, after three terms and a defeat for attorney general.

But it’s Meyer’s other son, Benjamin L. Cardin, who carries the family torch and the dynastic legacy. The youngest Maryland delegate ever elected, at 21 and still in law school, Ben rose to the House speakership and from there to Congress and, finally, to the U.S. Senate where he is second ranking Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

The Conaways are another family that realized that in government service the price is right. At the highly vendible peak of their prominence, there were four Conaways – father, mother, son and daughter – on the receiving end of the public payroll.

Del. Frank M. Conaway Jr. (D-Baltimore City)

The paterfamilias, Frank, served in the House of Delegates and after losing he later found a permanent home as Baltimore’s clerk of the court, where he served for 16 years, once running for mayor and finally metamorphosing into a Republican.

Frank’s wife, Mary, was simultaneously the city’s register of wills while son Frank Jr. served in the House of Delegates and daughter Belinda was a City Council member. Belinda succeeded her mother as register of wills (she couldn’t locate her father’s will when he died), where she now works. What’s in a name? Plenty, if it’s Conaway.

But no one cashed in on family names like the blended families of Curran and O’Malley. Begin with the father, J. Joseph Curran Sr. (no kin to the legendary Baltimore political boss of the 1940s-50s, William “Papa” Curran.) Curran was co-equal boss of the old 3rd District’s Curran-Riscuitti faction and a member of the City Council.

His son and namesake, J. Joseph Curran Jr., rode the gravy train from the House of Delegates, to the Maryland Senate, to the lieutenant governorship and, finally, as the longest-serving attorney general in Maryland history, five terms. Joseph Jr. retired from the attorney general’s job, only to claim another six-figure salary at the quasi-public Maryland State Workers’ Insurance Fund.

Another son, Robert, succeeded his father on the City Council where he served five terms. And still another Curran, Gerald, served several terms in the House of Delegates.

And then Martin O’Malley met Catherine Curran, the daughter of Joseph Jr., the former attorney general. Both were lawyers and eventually they married. Martin began his ascent in politics through the state’s attorney’s office as an assistant prosecutor. He ran and won a City Council seat and eventually ran for mayor and won as a “zero tolerance” crimebuster, a hardline approach that has since been discredited but, nonetheless, produced results.

Two terms later, he won and re-won successive terms a governor. And in 2016 he was a Democratic candidate for president. While O’Malley was mayor, his brother in-law and son of the attorney general, Joseph Max Curran 3d, was a patronage appointee to the Public Service Commission after an unsuccessful run for House of Delegates.

While Martin was still mayor, his wife, Katie, as she became known, was itching to become a judge. Her political connections were said at the time to be a handicap, likely the only time in Maryland history when family influence blocked a patronage appointment.

But eventually, Gov. Parris Glendening, never one to demean himself politically, relented and awarded Katie a District Court judgeship in Baltimore. And while O’Malley was governor, his brother, Peter, who had served as campaign manager, held several other coveted positions on public payrolls – chief of staff to Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith and the same job with Rawlings-Blake at City Hall.

Peter was, ever so briefly, his brother’s appointee as chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party. While Martin was governor and Katie a judge, the couple earned more than $300,000 a year. And, incidentally, Martin O’Malley’s father was an assistant state’s attorney in Montgomery County and his mother worked for Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski.

To complete the roundelay in a minor key, Rep. John Sarbanes currently serves in the Congressional seat once hold by his father, Sen. Paul Sarbanes, the much-maligned ink-blot 3rd District, which is now recognizable only by its number. The elder Sarbanes, who began his political career in the House of Delegates, used his House seat as a catapult to the Senate where his name is affixed to the Sarbanes-Oxley law regulating business.

Ambrose Bierce, in his cynically entertaining Devil’s Dictionary, describes politics as “public service for private gain.” Anyone who finds that line of work appealing can run for election in Maryland and follow the money.

Frank A. DeFilippo
Frank A. DeFilippo is an award-winning political commentator who lives and writes in Baltimore. DeFilippo has been writing about the comic opera of politics for more than 50 years. He reported on the Maryland General Assembly for 10 years before joining the administration of former Gov. Marvin Mandel (D) as press secretary and speechwriter. Between times, he was a White House correspondent during the administration of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, and he has covered six national political conventions. DeFilippo is the author of Hooked, an alleged work of fiction, and an unpublished manuscript, Shiksa: The Rise and Fall of Marvin Mandel.