A powerful Senate committee chairwoman and one of Baltimore City’s most vocal advocates is facing a challenge from a delegate who once ran on the same ticket.
Two-term Del. Mary L. Washington, D-Baltimore City, filed Thursday seeking to challenge five-term incumbent Sen. Joan Carter Conway, chair of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.
The potential showdown comes as the city is facing significant political challenges in Annapolis with a delegation in the Senate that has shrunk in size and seniority. Washington’s announcement would also pit her against two incumbent delegates who are expected to line up behind Conway for the 2018 push.
Washington, in an interview, said the time was right for her to run.
“Like a lot of other people on the local and national level, I asked myself is there more that I can do to make things better,” she said.
Washington said she began considering a run for Senate earlier this year when Conway hinted she might retire at the end of the current term rather than seek re-election. But said she became convinced that the time had come to run, regardless of Conway’s plans.
“You have to look at how you measure service and power and influence,” Washington said. “Having someone sit in a seat is not the only way to measure how someone can make a change.”
Washington inferred that Conway had lost touch with her district.
“I go to the community associations and the farmers markets,” Washington said. “I know the type of work that needs to be done, I have the willingness to think outside the box and develop partnerships and be more assertive and be bold. That’s something I am capable of doing.”
Washington called her campaign “the end of the notion that the way of making a change is through backroom dealing.”
Conway, in an interview, says that she was weighing her options but challenges faced by the city require her attention. Another freshman senator, Conway and others say, would hurt the city.
“We have no one else in leadership,” Conway said. “When you’re sitting on the back seat you will not be making any decisions. You don’t have any input.”
She said she informed Washington and Dels. Curt Anderson and Maggie McIntosh of her intent to run in 2018.
Conway said Washington didn’t answer her when she asked directly if she planned on running.
“This is America and anybody can run for anything,” Conway said. “This is an integrity issue for me. She didn’t have the gall and the professionalism to say she was running.”
Conway said she decided to run again in an effort to ensure the city has a strong voice when it comes to redistricting and for the upcoming debate in school funding and education reform recommendations made by the Kirwan Commission.
McIntosh, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said it was the wrong time for Conway to leave the Senate.
“For me, this is a no-brainer,” McIntosh said. “She’s even more important in the next few years for children and the city than ever before.”
Anderson, who chairs the city delegation, said he and McIntosh will run on a ticket with Conway.
“It’s going to be an all-out effort,” Anderson said, adding that Conway’s return to the Senate is of paramount importance to the city.
“The city is in a downward spiral,” Anderson said. “We need our state partners and we need our current state senators to have the pull and the gravitas to pull these things together.”
“She’s the one person you know (Senate President Thomas V.) Mike Miller won’t mess with,” Anderson said.
Baltimore City has five legislative districts fully within its borders and a sixth one that is mostly in Baltimore County with a senator who is a former Baltimore County delegate.
Two of those senators — Barbara A. Robinson and Nathaniel T. Oaks — were appointed to fill vacant seats and finished their first Senate sessions after multiple terms in the House of Delegates.
Robinson faces a challenge from Del. Antonio Hayes. Oaks is under federal indictment and faces a trial following the end of the 2018 legislative session.
Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, a six-term incumbent and Senate President pro-tem, is likely to face a challenge from one-term Del. Cory McCray, who is expected to announce next week.
There was already underlying tension on the ticket.
In 2002, Washington was hired to help run McIntosh’s campaign.
Four years later, Washington announced her intention to run for the House against three incumbents. And while some believed she was directly challenging Del. Ann Marie Doory, others saw Washington, an openly gay candidate, as a direct challenge and insult to McIntosh, who hired Washington and is also openly gay.
Conway tried to smooth things over by bringing Washington onto the ticket in 2010 after Doory retired.
“She mentored Mary and bringing her on the ticket ensured she would be elected,” Anderson said. “This is (Conway’s) reward.”
Washington rejected claims that she was “brought onto the ticket.”
“I was already running, already raising money and I joined with them after the filing deadline,” Washington said. “From my point of view, I earned my seat from the 43rd District. It was a mutually beneficial relationship to slate up.”
“I don’t get into the politics of personal denigration or attack,” she said.