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Hope Locally: Pro-Equality Candidates Head to Annapolis

2010 December 23
by Genya Shimkin

The State House in Annapolis, MD

In January 2011, when the new class of Delegates and Senators is sworn in at the state capitol in Annapolis, Maryland will have seven openly gay elected officials in state-wide office.  Only California has as many, and no state has more.  On top of those seven members, the state will welcome many new pro-equality Delegates and Senators.  A marriage equality bill will likely be considered in the upcoming session, and Maryland now has some strong new voices on the side of equality.

In January 2009 I was elected to the inaugural Board of Directors of Stonewall Democrats of Central Maryland, a political action committee dedicated to supporting and electing LGBT and pro-equality Democratic candidates for local and state office.  During the election cycle, I served as chair of the Endorsements Committee, and am thrilled to report that four of our five endorsed candidates for State Senate and 11 of our 16 endorsed candidates for State Delegate were elected in November.  In addition, 15 of our 31 local endorsees won their races.  (You can find our complete list of endorsements here.)

Of all of the races, there were four I watched especially closely: Delegate-elect Dr. Mary Washington in Maryland’s 43rd District, Delegate-elect Luke Clippinger and State Senator-elect Bill Ferguson in the 46th District (where I live), and Howard County Register of Wills-elect Byron MacFarlane, who after weeks of ballot counting claimed victory by just 250 votes.  Three of them are openly gay or lesbian, and the fourth unseated at 28-year incumbent.  I recently asked Dr. Washington, Mr. Clippinger, and Mr. Ferguson two questions: “What made you decide to run for office?” and “What are you most excited about in terms of the upcoming legislative session?”

Mary Washington moved to Baltimore in 1989 to pursue a doctorate in social demography at The Johns Hopkins University.  She has always been an active member of her community, but swears she never aspired to be an elected official, saying “I always seemed to emerge as a person willing to take on a leadership role.”  In 2006, she ran for Delegate and lost, but received more votes than any first-time challenger for Delegate (a record she still holds).  Much of her motivation to run again came from the citizens of her district, who asked her to run, and who she believed she could serve well by advocating for programs and opportunities at the state level.

I first met Mary at an organizing meeting for Stonewall Democrats; she walked right up to me, introduced herself, and shook my hand.  Mary has an infectious smile and the energy of a woman half her age.  She is articulate, passionate, and bright.  She is also an out lesbian.  Her election makes her only the second African American lesbian to be elected to statewide office in the country (Simone Bell of Georgia was the first).  Though Mary has always been proud of and honest about who she is, she spoke of the challenge of attracting attention due to the historic nature of her campaign.  She explained that she had to manage her image, and demonstrate “the complexity of who I am,” making sure that campaign materials and publicity emphasized her vision for education, jobs, and public safety.

When the new session starts in January, Mary is hoping for a seat on the Appropriations Committee; she is excited about working to address challenges in budgets, education, health care, finding new opportunities for women and minority-owned businesses, and developing new ways to incentivize local small businesses.

I’m interested in a position of responsibility, not just leadership.  I want to learn, to ask questions.

She believes that many of Baltimore’s problems are echoed in Maryland’s rural counties, and wants to work with Delegates from across the state to address those issues and build bridges with Republicans.  I have no doubt that Mary’s tenacity and her commitment to the citizens of her district will make her a tremendous advocate and Delegate.

Like Mary, Luke Clippinger is a founding member of the Stonewall Democrats, which is how we met.  Shortly after he filed for candidacy, I moved into the 46th District, which encompasses all of Baltimore City’s waterfront neighborhoods.  Over the course of the campaign, Luke knocked on thousands of doors in south, southwest, downtown, east, and southeast Baltimore.  After Stonewall endorsed Luke’s candidacy, I proudly displayed his campaign signs in my windows.

Luke is a native Baltimorean; he was raised in the city and graduated from high school here before attending Earlham University (where he was a classmate of Bard’s beloved Bethany Nohlgren!), and pursuing a law degree at the University of Louisville.  After completing law school, Luke returned to Baltimore, where he has served as an Assistant State’s Attorney since 2007, prosecuting drug possession, drunk driving, and domestic violence cases.  Despite the challenging nature of his work, I have never seen Luke without a smile on his face.  He is incredibly warm, which I can only imagine endeared him to my neighbors, just as it endeared him to me.

Asked why he decided to run for Delegate, Luke told me:

I decided to run because I wanted to bring my experience as a native Baltimorean and a prosecutor to Annapolis to work to improve Baltimore’s quality of life.

The 46th District includes some of Baltimore’s strongest commercial areas (the Inner Harbor) and some of its more downtrodden ones (Cherry Hill); it is home to some of the city’s more expensive housing stock (Michael Phelps lives in the district), but has plenty of abandoned buildings and storefronts.  These factors are hardly unique to Baltimore, but Luke’s determination to reach voters in all of these areas was truly inspiring.  On days when the humidity made the air feel like 110 degrees and when rain pounded the formstone stoops, Luke was out knocking on doors.

These visits not only introduced Luke to the people who would later elect him, but gave him a chance to talk to his district about their needs and hopes.  After he is sworn in next month, Luke is excited “to have the opportunity to bring the ideas I’ve heard going door-to-door to Annapolis – and I’m excited to work with legislators who have great experience in getting results for Marylanders.”  I am proud to be represented by Luke, who is an openly gay man.  I know he will do great things for me and my neighbors throughout the district.

Bill Ferguson was born in 1983, the year after George Della was elected State Senator, representing Maryland’s 46th District.  A fifth-generation Marylander, Bill moved to Baltimore to teach ninth and tenth-grade history and U.S. government as a member of Teach for America.  Two years later, he enrolled in law school and began to work closely with Dr. Andres Alonso, CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools.  His commitment to education is what inspired him to run for office:

After teaching at Southwestern High School and working the Baltimore City Public Schools central office, I came to experience the structural barriers that prevent many students and families from maximizing their own potential.  Many times, students’ abilities were not determining their fate, and, instead, the neighborhood in which they were born proved to be more indicative of life opportunities.  I decided to run because I believe that state government can be an effective vehicle to ensure that all children have the opportunity to achieve.  I further believe that government must be the actor that ensures that all people have equal opportunity to choose their destiny.

Stonewall Democrats was the first group to publicly endorse Bill’s candidacy.  The Endorsements Committee was impressed by his dedication to the students of the city, and his tough stance on classroom bullying, which, as a teacher, he addressed by promoting awareness and “attacking bias.”  After receiving our endorsement, Bill called me on my cell phone to personally thank me.  He is a dedicated progressive, and is prepared to be a voice for equality in the State Senate, stating:

I am most excited to learn from experienced legislators how best to support and further a progressive legislative agenda that expands opportunity and equality for all of Maryland’s residents.  While I recognize the challenges I will face as a new legislator, I hope to find avenues through which I can most effectively influence the legislative process.

I am very excited to see how he synthesizes his insights into education and law and uses his background to push for real change in Baltimore City, especially in its schools.

As evidenced by my last two pieces for this blog, I’m concerned about what lies ahead when the GOP takes control of the House of Representatives and a number of state houses across the country.  But I’m very excited about what the next year holds for Maryland.  With a fresh crop of Delegates and Senators ready to dig in and get to work in Annapolis, this could be the year that Governor Martin O’Malley sees a marriage bill, and when he signs it, I know it will be in part because of people like Mary, Luke, and Bill, who have made equality and fairness for all priorities for Maryland.

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