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Editorial Advisory Board: Politicians lie low until scandals blow over

Is anyone else concerned about, bothered by or even aware of what seems to be the latest tactic by politicians accused of what would normally be considered, were it you or me, career-ending debacles? That tactic is: lie low, let the dust settle and refuse to resign. Let it pass because, today, all that seems to matter to voters is the current news cycle and the latest tweet.

Exhibit One: Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam. After he won the governorship, it was revealed that Dr. Northam had appeared in blackface in his medical school yearbook, on the single page dedicated to him. His initial response was to apologize. Not long thereafter, no doubt when the apology did not have its intended effect, Gov. Northam took a different tack. He claimed not to recall the photograph and challenged reports that the picture was actually of him. He has refused to resign from office. Since then, Northam has been under the radar, waiting and hoping everyone will forget or, better yet, just move on to the next shocking headline. His strategy appears to have worked. Are there any further calls for his resignation? No. Any public outcries for him to step down? Nope.

Exhibit Two: Del. Mary Ann Lisanti from Harford County, who has refused to resign after first admitting that she referred to a district in Prince George’s County as a “n—– district” and then backpedaling and claiming she did not recall having used the slur, even though she said she was certain “everyone has used it.” Apparently, Del. Lisanti sees no reason for African Americans in her district to be concerned that she can faithfully represent their interests.

Exhibit Three: Baltimore City Mayor Catherine Pugh appears to be stealing a page from Gov. Northam’s playbook. Sure, Mayor Pugh abused her position when, as a member of the city’s spending board, in 2017 she voted to award the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Mid-Atlantic States Inc. a $48 million, two-year contract to provide health insurance for the city’s employees without revealing that, while seeking the contract, Kaiser purchased 20,000 “Healthy Holly” books from the mayor for more than $100,000. And, well, yes, she abused her position on the board of trustees at the University of Maryland Medical System by contracting with the system to sell 100,000 of the books for $500,000. Suddenly, when all of this comes to light, the mayor needs to take a reprieve because the “Healthy Holly” author is, well, not so healthy. Her self-imposed exile, she says, is necessary for her to recover from pneumonia. As soon as she has recovered, she says, she will return to office. But perhaps the reality is that, like Dr. Northam, she will remain in hiding until the storm blows over and the cries for her resignation have ceased because the public has moved on to the next news crisis.

This strategy may work, and once again the city of Baltimore will be led by an untrustworthy, if not unethical, mayor. Part of the reason it will work is because there is nothing in the Baltimore City Charter that provides for the removal of the mayor. Maryland’s Constitution allows for impeachment, but only of the governor, the lieutenant governor and judges. See Art. II, §7, Art. III, §26 and Art. IV, §4. Moreover, Article 11, Section 6 of the Maryland Constitution provides that “[t]he Mayor [of Baltimore] shall, on a conviction in a Court of Law; of willful neglect of duty, or misbehavior in office, be removed from office by the Governor of the State, and a successor shall thereafter be elected, as in case of vacancy.” Art. XV, §2, applicable to all elected officials, provides for the automatic suspension from office of an official who is convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor relating to her public duties involving moral turpitude and that is punishable by incarceration. Removal becomes automatic once the conviction becomes final.

Thus, citizens of Baltimore City who find the mayor’s wheeling and dealing and lack of candor unbefitting an elected official are relegated to hoping she takes it upon herself to resign, since the law fails to provide a means, short of a criminal conviction, for her removal. Mayor Pugh should do the right thing and step aside instead of lying low and hoping the public will lose interest.

EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD MEMBERS

James B. Astrachan, Chair

James K. Archibald

John Bainbridge Jr.

Martha Ertman (on sabbatical)

Arthur F. Fergenson

Nancy Forster

Susan Francis

Michael Hayes

Ericka King

Stephen Meehan

William Michaels

Angela W. Russell

Debra G. Schubert

Mark Stichel

The Daily Record Editorial Advisory Board is composed of members of the legal profession who serve voluntarily and are independent of The Daily Record. Through their ongoing exchange of views, members of the board attempt to develop consensus on issues of importance to the bench, bar and public. When their minds meet, unsigned opinions will result. When they differ, or if a conflict exists, majority views and the names of members who do not participate will appear. Members of the community are invited to contribute letters to the editor and/or columns about opinions expressed by the Editorial Advisory Board.

Find out more about the members of the Editorial Advisory Board.