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Eye on Annapolis

The Daily Record's Maryland state government blog

Anderson review prompts Democratic working group, questions about timing

Del. Curt Anderson, D-Baltimore, said he is enthusiastic about the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services’ proposal to start school later in the day, something he previously has backed for academic reasons. ‘If it’s also talked about in relationship to public safety, I think that gives it another push,’ he said. (File photo)

The Democratic Party is distancing itself from Del. Curt Anderson, D-Baltimore, who is under an ethics probe for sexual misconduct claims that he says are false. Some are questioning why the party didn’t disavow Anderson during the primary campaign and not after he emerged victorious. (File photo)

A legislative review of sexual harassment allegations against Del. Curt Anderson is prompting the creation of a working group inside the Maryland Democratic Party.

At the Aug. 4 state party central committee meeting, officials will announce the creation of a panel to study how the party should deal with members — elected officials and candidates — accused of  sexual harassment or other ethics issues, said sources close to the party, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

The planned working group follows on the heels of an announcement by state Democratic Party Chairwoman Kathleen Matthews that effectively cuts ties with Anderson, the Baltimore City Democrat seeking an eighth term in the House of Delegates.

“As you may know, the Democratic Party runs the statewide Democratic coordinated campaign, and we have no plans to campaign with Del. Curt Anderson in 2018,” Matthews wrote in emails sent to party officials late last week.

Matthews, in her emails, said the party “received multiple emails and calls regarding the allegations of sexual harassment against Del. Curt Anderson, and we have been informed that the Baltimore Women United may protest at our upcoming August 4 Democratic State Central Committee meeting.”

Odette Ramos, co-chair of Baltimore Women United, said: “People wouldn’t have voted for Curt if they had known” the party would sever its ties with the delegate.

Ramos, who said she was aware of the creation of a Democratic Party working group, applauded Matthews and the party for acting, but she said the party is responsible for not having a way earlier to address concerns about Anderson.

“The party just felt the squeeze,” said Ramos when asked about the timing of the announcement. “I think it’s a good thing, but we do hold the party complicit. There should have been a policy in place to hold a candidate accountable. This is not the first time and it won’t be the last time.”

Ramos said Baltimore Women United still plans on holding a “small protest” at the party gathering this weekend.

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Del. Mary Washington, right, who is set to become the new state senator in the district, says voters deserved to know more about the allegations against Del. Curt Anderson. (File Photo)

Del. Mary Washington, who represents the same district and is the new senator-elect given that she faces no opposition in the general election, called on legislative leaders to produce a report on the Anderson investigation or provide a timeline for when it would be completed. She said it is not clear if that would have changed the outcome of the June 26 primary that saw Anderson move forward to the November general election.

“What we do know is that if voters have information they’ll make good decisions,” Washington said. “In this case, they did not have the information.”

In a year of the “#MeToo” movement and stronger sexual harassment laws covering the legislature — championed by Democratic women lawmakers — the party during the primary campaign remained silent on Anderson as it did with the federal investigation and conviction of Sen. Nathaniel Oaks, who also remained on the primary ballot.

In emails sent to state party officials in advance of the public break, Matthews declared a “zero-tolerance policy” when it comes to matters of sexual harassment.

The state party, however, is limited by law and internal practice in how it deals with candidates. While party officials can pressure candidates privately, they have no power to remove candidates from the ballot.

Anderson, in a text message exchange, did not address the allegations — he has previously denied any wrongdoing — but said he was unaware of the state party severing its campaign relationship with him.

“This was new to me,” Anderson wrote. “No one from the Democratic Party has contacted me.”

Anderson, before the primary, voluntarily removed himself from a campaign slate with Sen. Joan Carter Conway and Del. Maggie McIntosh. He finished third in an eight-way race for three seats, defeating Nilesh Kalyanaman, a physician, by 431 votes.

There is one Green Party candidate and no Republicans on the November ballot.

A spokesman for the Democratic Party declined to comment on the timing or the lack of action prior to the primary, which in this district often is the only competitive election.

“They should have done it in April, but they didn’t,” Ramos said of the party’s announcement it was breaking from Anderson. The belated action came after pressure from her group and others, she said.

Washington said the party needs to make a clear, strong public statement on sexual harassment and on the need for the legislature to be “more transparent and expedient” in resolving such allegations.

The delay in any legislative findings into complaints against Anderson means that, barring an election defeat or his withdrawal from the race, no legislative sanctions would be levied until the General Assembly meets again. Anderson, if found in violation of the legislative sexual harassment policy, could face sanctions up to and including expulsion. The Democratic Central Committee in the district would then be responsible for naming a replacement.

“Why put the Democratic Central Committee in that position when this could have been resolved months ago?” asked Washington.

Allegations against Anderson and an ongoing ethics investigation involving Anderson were publicly known before the primary election.

Anderson, who did not respond to a request for comment, has previously denied any wrongdoing.

Talk of a sexual misconduct investigation of Anderson surfaced late in the 2018 legislative session as he unsuccessfully attempted to quietly step down from his role in leading the delegation.

Anderson, in an interview with The Daily Record at the time in April, denied knowledge of such an ethics committee review or any complaints of sexual misconduct.

In an interview with The Baltimore Sun in June, before the primary, Anderson acknowledged there was an ethics panel review, but he denied any misconduct. In that interview he said he has not been charged with a crime or violation of legislative ethics.

Del. Ariana Kelly, D-Montgomery, championed changes in the last session of how the legislature handles sexual misconduct complaints, including the creation of an independent investigator. She said that the party announcement, despite the timing, is a positive development.

“I think (Matthews) is doing a good thing and a brave thing by standing up,” said Kelly. “The important thing is the party is taking a stand at all. I wish it could have happened sooner but I’m glad it’s happening now.”

The work of the legislative ethics committee is private by law. Members of the committee are barred from talking about proceedings, and many lawmakers are hesitant to even mention the committee. The panel’s next meeting is scheduled for Thursday morning, but it is not known if Anderson will be on the agenda.

Kelly said she has been “discouraged and demoralized” by the lack of public progress when it comes to the cloud hanging over Anderson.

She’s since asked a legislative task force that is looking at the overall issue of how the General Assembly should handle sexual misconduct claims to recommend the addition of a timeline for investigations.

“These can seem to drag on,” Kelly said. “It could be perceived by the public to be done for political purposes.”


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