Work will move forward to install statues of the 19th century abolitionists Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass in Maryland’s Old House Chamber, after a vote Wednesday by the Board of Public Works.
Despite an eventual unanimous vote in support of the project from the board members – Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), Treasurer Nancy Kopp (D) and Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) – the $575,477 contract was first scrutinized by the board and others.
Franchot, an opponent of sole-source contracts, raised questions about the procurement process. The contractor, The Christman Company of Sterling, Va., for the work in the chamber and the sculptor of the bronze statues, StudioEIS of Brooklyn, N.Y., each have experience working in the historic State House chambers, which was part of the justification for not putting the project out for an open bidding process. StudioEIS designed the statue of George Washington in the Old Senate Chamber, and the Tubman and Douglass statues will be created in the same style.
Part of Franchot’s concern was that he thought Maryland-based companies should have been considered for the work. He read from a letter sent to members of the board by Del. Julian Ivey (D-Prince George’s), urging a delay on the vote and questioning the choice of out-of-state vendors and lack of minority business participation.
“I strongly support recognizing Ms. Tubman and Mr. Douglass, and I think the project’s concept is long overdue,” Ivey wrote, before noting concerns with the contract and a lack of communication about it with the Legislative Black Caucus.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) have voiced support for the project for years. The Maryland State Archives, which leads the state’s procurement efforts for fine art and has implemented the restoration of the historic House and Senate chambers, negotiated the bid for the work.
“I’m going to vote for it, but I raised my objection. I think Delegate Ivey made some excellent points,” Franchot said, before adding that he guessed Kopp and others knew ahead of time that the work would never be offered to a Maryland artist and were OK with it.
“I’m not saying that. I’m saying that the explanation is one that seems to me is protective of the fabric of this old building. And the project ought to go forward,” Kopp said.
The legislature passed a bill in 2017 that exempted some of the Archives’ work on fine art restoration and care from the state’s procurement rules; a bill this year would exempt the Archives’ acquisition of fine art from the rules. Any purchasing contracts affected by the bill would still face scrutiny from either the legislature or the Board of Public Works.
Last week, Elaine Rice Bachmann, deputy state archivist, said the Old House Chamber project is expected to be completed by early 2020.
Future visitors to the State House will meet Douglass and Tubman in the Old House Chamber – similar to the experience of “encountering” George Washington in the Old Senate Chamber.
In the same room where the legislature adopted the Maryland Constitution of 1864, which abolished slavery in the state, a new exhibit will interpret what the abolition of slavery meant to Tubman and Douglass, who were both born into and escaped slavery on the Eastern Shore, Bachmann said.
The exhibit will also include information about the state’s initial rejection of the Reconstruction Amendments after the Civil War.