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Election 2022 Justice

Peroutka a No-Show at League of Women Voters AG Forum

Clockwise from top right: Maryland Reporter Editor Len Lazarick, candidate James F. Shalleck and League of Women Voters Maryland President Nancy Soreng wait for Michael Anthony Peroutka, who never arrived at a forum for Republican candidates for attorney general. Screenshot.

Sometimes, when a candidate doesn’t show up for a political debate, the organizers leave an empty chair on the stage and let the opponent (or opponents) hold forth for the allotted time.

James F. Shalleck wasn’t so lucky.

Shalleck, one of two Republican candidates for state attorney general, was punctual for a virtual forum Tuesday night, sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Maryland and a host of other organizations, including Maryland Matters. But his opponent, former Anne Arundel County Councilmember Michael Anthony Peroutka, was a no-show.

“The circumstances of the event he is attending prevent him from leaving at the present time,” Macky Stafford, Peroutka’s campaign coordinator, wrote in an email to a LWV official at 7:14 p.m. — 14 minutes after the forum was scheduled to begin. “We apologize for inconveniencing you. We apologize to Mr. Shalleck!”

According to his campaign website, Peroutka, who was the Constitution Party’s nominee for president in 2004, was attending a “Maryland State Senator Town Hall Debate” in Fallston, where other scheduled speakers included one of the Republican candidates for governor, Del. Dan Cox (R-Frederick), his running mate, attorney Gordana Schifanelli, and the GOP state Senate hopefuls running in the three Senate districts that touch Harford County, including incumbent Sens. J.B. Jennings and Jason C. Gallion.

The League of Women Voters forum was not listed on Peroutka’s website.

The league has a policy of not allowing a single candidate to dominate a stage if their opponent is not present, and the organization doesn’t let candidates running unopposed speak at their forums. But as a compromise, the forum organizers let Shalleck, a former prosecutor, deliver what would have been his 2-minute opening statement.

“Ninety percent of life is just showing up, and Jim Shalleck showed up for the forum,” said the moderator, Maryland Reporter Editor Len Lazarick. “I’ve got about 17 questions here and all we’re going to do is your opening statement.”

But Shalleck made the most of it.

“I’m running for attorney general for one reason: and that’s to reduce crime in Maryland,” he said.

Shalleck, 76, then outlined his professional history, including 12 years as an assistant district attorney in the Bronx, N.Y. including 10 years in the homicide division, where he famously helped prosecute the “Son of Sam” defendant, David Berkowitz, in the late 1970’s.

“There is no better place to learn how to be a prosecutor than the Bronx,” said Shalleck, who rose to chief of the homicide division and prosecuted 435 murders in all.

“I know how to prosecute criminal cases,” he said.

And that’s what he wants to do as attorney general, asserting that he aims to convert the state’s biggest legal agency “from basically a civil enforcement office to a criminal enforcement office.”

Shalleck said he wants to create a “major offense bureau” within the agency, focusing on high-crime areas like Baltimore City and Prince George’s County, “to assist or replace prosecutors who are not able or are unwilling to take on certain cases.”

Shalleck has run unsuccessfully for office four times — three times for Montgomery County state’s attorney and once for county executive. But Shalleck said the current crime spike is the time to put his talents to use.

“I know the sound a mother makes when I had to tell her her child was murdered,” he said.

And with that, the forum was over.

“We’re just going to have to say goodnight,” said Nancy Soreng, president of the LWV of Maryland. “I’m sorry.”

But the League of Women Voters and its cosponsors — Maryland Matters, Maryland Reporter, Maryland Nonprofits, Maryland Latinos Unidos and the University of Baltimore’s Schaefer Center for Public Policy — get a chance to do it all over again Wednesday night, when the Democratic candidates for attorney general, U.S. Rep. Anthony G. Brown and retired Baltimore City District Court Judge Catherine Curran O’Malley are scheduled to appear at a virtual forum. It runs from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Click here to register for that event.

On May 31, the Democratic candidates for comptroller, Bowie Mayor Timothy L. Adams and Baltimore City Del. Brooke E. Lierman, will appear in a virtual forum with the same sponsors at 7 p.m. Register here to watch this forum.