Tears were shed on the Maryland Senate floor on Wednesday, as an old tradition entered a new world.
The chamber bestowed three First Citizen Awards to former members during the morning floor session, including now-U.S. Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D).
“We all know him very well, and the country has certainly gotten to know him after his efforts as the lead manager in the most recent impeachment trial this year,” Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said. “So the country saw what we all knew: one of the most talented and smart individuals that Maryland has ever brought into public service.”
Ferguson noted that Raskin’s role as an impeachment manager — shortly after the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and the death of his son — was not the first time he’s legislated through personal pain.
In 2011, Raskin worked through the legislative session while undergoing treatment for cancer, not only getting through the session, but fighting as floor leader on consequential bills including legalization of same-sex marriage, which would ultimately go on to be approved a year later.
Raskin was surprised by the award, after being virtually cajoled into the chamber with the ruse of a meeting about Maryland’s Confederate-inspired state song, which Raskin supports repealing and replacing.
“You brought me here under false pretenses, but I forgive you because this is the greatest honor of my life,” Raskin said, beamed into the chamber from a Zoom call.
Raskin said he missed the chamber “pretty much on a daily basis.”
“I honestly don’t know if I deserve this award, my dear colleagues, President Ferguson,” Raskin said. “But I’ll spend the rest of my life working to deserve this award.”
Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery), Raskin’s successor in the Senate, said the congressman has “made us all tremendously proud.”
“And we do miss you here in the state Senate, but we are so tremendously proud that you now belong to the nation,” Smith said.
Nathan-Pulliam honored for health care work
The chamber also honored former Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, who was the first Caribbean-born and first African-American registered nurse elected in the Maryland General Assembly.
Nathan-Pulliam was elected to the House of Delegates in 1994 and represented Baltimore County’s 10th District for 20 years. She was then elected to the Senate, where she represented the 44th district from January 2015 until her retirement in 2019.
“The resume of task forces she has chaired or served on throughout her legislative career is a testament to her dedication to giving voice to underrepresented segments of our society,” Ferguson said.
He read from her own remarks as part of the Library of Congress’ History Makers Collection, the largest compilation of African-American oral histories in the nation.
In that interview, Nathan-Pulliam remembered her grandfather’s emphasis on “being at the table.”
“I know for a fact that if I wasn’t at that table … many of the issues that I’m talking to you about would never be discussed, from HIV/AIDS to Hepatitis C to substance abuse,” Nathan-Pulliam said in the 2004 interview. “You name the issues that I brought up before and anytime that I thought that racism played a part and we were not getting our point out, I made sure I spoke loud enough and clear enough that I was understood.”
Several senators stood to honor Nathan-Pulliam’s career — how hard she worked as a senator, and the work that she’s still doing today from outside the chamber.
“While she’s not on this floor, she’s our 48th senator,” said Sen. Charles E. Sydnor III (D-Baltimore County), who was appointed to Nathan-Pulliam’s seat after her retirement. “Constituents, she tells me daily, they’re still reaching out to her and she’s certainly reaching out to me … to make certain that we’re still moving issues that she cares deeply about forward here in Maryland.”
Sen. Delores G. Kelley (D-Baltimore County) had a similar message.
“She still calls the Health department and give them orders and suggest what they ought to be doing. She’ll call me to make sure that bills that are worthy have been getting proper consideration,” Kelley said. “She’s the queen of health care on several continents.”
Sen. Adelaide C. Eckardt (R-Middle Shore) recalled scheming with Nathan-Pulliam and a larger group of nurses about running for office, to increase the focus on health care issues.
“We deeply appreciate your commitment particularly to dealing with health disparities, and we will carry that banner for you into the future,” Eckardt said.
Nathan-Pulliam said she was overwhelmed by the honor.
“I can’t even find words at this moment. Because I used to sit in my seat and watch other people get the First Citizen Award and said, wonder if I’d ever been worthy of it,” Nathan-Pulliam said. “Here I am.”
Craig honored for lifelong career in public service
Also honored Wednesday was David R. Craig, a veteran Republican lawmaker whose political career began as a Havre de Grace city councilman in 1979.
Until 2014, he served in several elected roles, including in the Maryland House of Delegates and Senate, twice as mayor Havre de Grace (from 1985 to 1989, and again from 2001 to 2005), and as Harford County executive.
Craig also had a long career in Harford County Public Schools as a teacher and assistant principal.
“We are so deeply, deeply, deeply thankful for your service, your model of what it means to be a true public servant,” Ferguson said.
He also lauded Craig for his interest in and promotion of Maryland history, noting his recent service as executive director of the Maryland World War I Centennial Commission.
Craig said he was very honored to receive the award, and shared news of his most recent election victor: as a church historian. He’s spending most of his time now with his nine grandchildren, and meeting weekly with former colleagues in Annapolis.
Sen. Jason C. Gallion (R-Harford) noted that Craig was a graduate of Havre de Grace High School, where the motto “Enter to learn, leave to serve,” hangs over the door.
“David Craig embodied that service,” Gallion said.
Gallion also mentioned that Craig was the longest-serving executive in Harford County history. That’s partly because Sen. Robert G. Cassilly (R-Harford) was among the county councilmembers who voted to have Craig fill a two-year vacancy in the position.
“David, you have so many awesome titles from husband and father and grandfather and senator and county executive and Mayor and Councilman, and so many others,” Cassilly said. “…What’s always impressed me and my colleagues here has been your amazing dedication, really selfless dedication, not only to the citizens of Havre de Grace, but really to the entire state of Maryland.”