The Maryland Senate Executive Nominations Committee quietly held off approving two of Gov. Wes Moore’s agency heads Monday evening, including the at-times controversial, yet nationally recognized appointee named to head the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services.
The committee voted unanimously to hold the appointment of Acting Juvenile Services Secretary Vincent Schiraldi at the request of the Senate Republican leader, mostly owing to reservations that members of the GOP Caucus has raised about past comments and policy actions.
Sen. Stephen S. Hershey Jr. (R-Upper Shore), minority leader, made the motion to hold Schiraldi’s name, saying “We have some senators that still have not been able to meet with him yet.”
“I think that’s fair,” said Sen. Pamela Beidle (D-Anne Arundel), chair of Executive Nominations.
After the vote, Hershey later explained, “He’s a little progressive for some of our members.”
“We have some more specific questions on his policies that he has implemented and written in the past,” Hershey said. “So, we want to be able to talk that over amongst the [Senate Republican] Caucus.”
It is doubtful the Republicans could derail Schiraldi’s appointment, but they could make it difficult for him in the coming weeks.
The panel also held the name of Anthony C. “Tony” Woods, whom Moore has appointed secretary of veterans affairs, but that appeared to be a mere formality, to afford members of the committee more time to meet with him in person this week.
Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore), also a member of Executive Nominations, suggested to the committee that “we hold him and consider a midweek voting session.”
“Certainly the secretary for veterans affairs seems eminently qualified, but I also want to make sure the senators have the opportunity to meet with him directly, personally … tomorrow or the next day,” Ferguson told Beidle.
The names of seven other secretaries appointed by Moore were approved and sent to the full Senate.
Those seven were: Paul Wiedefeld, acting transportation secretary; Serena McIlwain, acting secretary of the environment; Jake Day, acting secretary of Housing and Community Development; Carolyn Scruggs, acting secretary of public safety and correctional services; Rafael J. López, acting secretary of human services; Atif Chaudhry, acting secretary of general services; and Rebecca Flora, acting planning secretary.
After a two-hour hearing Monday, the committee without comment held a total of 6 appointments of 121 names Moore sent to the Senate for approval, including the name of Charles “Chip” Stewart as state chief information security officer. A short time later, Stewart’s name and two others were formally withdrawn by the Moore administration during the 8 p.m. Senate floor session.
The remaining 118 names were approved by the committee, including the appointment of Wiedefeld, the transportation department appointee, who was expected to face some tough questioning from committee members. Those questions never surfaced – the result of some behind-the-scenes maneuvering by the Moore administration, one official said.
Moore ignored questions by reporters about his appointees being held by the Senate as he left the State House Monday night for the Government House residence.
Nothing in the questions posed by senators on Executive Nominations — including Republican members — was contentious, and little offered a hint that the committee would hold Schiraldi’s name.
Sen. Justin D. Ready (R-Carroll) questioned Schiraldi closely about the acting secretary’s idea of favoring “healing and resiliency” over “punishment and surveillance.”
“How would you do that?” Ready asked.
“I think we need a balanced system for young people in our state and in our country. I think in the past our system has swung too far in one direction and we need to bring some balance back to that,” Schiraldi said.
Ready then asked him about “restorative justice” and offending juveniles “making amends” to victims.
“Part of restorative justice,” Ready said, “was we want to restore the person, but they’ve got to make amends, they’ve got to learn to take accountability and make amends, and when you talk about ‘balance’ … I feel like our balance is way off in a different direction than maybe you feel,” the senator said. “How can we do a better job in juvenile services … in the making amends part?”
“We need to have the opportunity for people who have been victimized, if they want to, to face the person who’s victimized them and to work out what would make them whole in that circumstance,” Schiraldi said in response.
“I’ve seen many restorative practices where young people are actually in dialogue with people who have been victimized by crime,” he said. “And there can be an apology letter, they can paint the store if they graffitied, they pay back the stuff that they stole. There’re lots of different things young people can do to restore those victims and I think that victims deserve that.”
Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (R-Lower Shore) picked up on Ready’s questioning.
“Public safety is job number one, for all of us involved, and we talked a little bit about the balance, and I have to tell you many of my constituents believe that the balance right now in society, between rehabilitating the offender and protecting the general public, is outta whack,” Carozza said.
“So, many in Maryland don’t feel we’re doing enough to protect them against violent offenders and violent juveniles; so, my specific question is, what are your specific plans and approaches to violent juveniles?” she asked.
The courts, Schiraldi explained, put the juveniles either in custody or back in the community.
“If they’re in custody, I want to expand the kinds of programs that are going to help those young people turn their lives around, and when they return back to the communities, I want to make sure we’re wrapping re-entry services, … aftercare services around them, so that we, first of all, we know what they’re up to, particularly the high-risk ones, and second of all, we’re giving them every opportunity possible to make a better choice so that everybody in their community’s safe,” he said.
Schiraldi most recently has been a senior research scientist at the Columbia University School of Social Work and co-director of the Columbia Justice Lab in New York.
Before that, he was commissioner of New York City’s Department of Correction, which oversees the long-troubled Rikers Island, a position to which former Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed him in May 2021. He attempted to close the New York jail and eliminate the practice of solitary confinement, as well as managing to anger the unions representing jail employees, before the new mayor, Eric Adams, fired him after he took office in late 2021.
Schiraldi had previously worked in the de Blasio administration from 2014 to 2015, when he was a senior adviser to the director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. For four years before that he was a commissioner of the New York City Department of Probation. Earlier, in 2005, he was director of the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services in Washington, D.C.
During Monday night’s Senate floor session, the chamber voted unanimously and without discussion to confirm nine of Moore’s Cabinet nominees, who received preliminary approval from the Executive Nominations Committee last week. They are: Secretary of Aging Carmel Roques; Secretary of Agriculture Kevin M. Atticks; Secretary of Budget and Management Helene T. Grady; Secretary of Commerce Kevin Anderson; Secretary of Health Laura Herrera Scott; Secretary of Information Technology Katie Savage; Secretary of Labor Portia Wu; Secretary of Natural Resources Josh Kurtz; and Secretary of State Susan C. Lee.
Danielle Gaines also contributed to this report.
(Editor’s Note: The Maryland Department of Natural Resources secretary is of no relation to the Maryland Matters reporter by the same name.)