The winds of change in the Maryland State House have suddenly begun to blow in Baltimore’s direction.
The new Senate president is all but certain to be Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City). Senate Democrats chose the 36-year-old lawmaker to replace Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) on Thursday. The vote followed Miller’s decision to relinquish the gavel after a 33-year run.
January will also find Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) presiding over the House of Delegates for the first time in her new role as speaker. She was elected in May following the death of Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), who led the chamber for 17 years until his death in April.
For a city wracked by a public safety crisis, a loss in population, another scandal toppling a mayor, the lowest-performing school system in the state and the recent death of a political icon, the recent spate of good news from Annapolis is welcome indeed.
“It’s super-exciting,” said Del. Robbyn T. Lewis (D-Baltimore City). “In the 20 years I’ve lived in Baltimore, I don’t know that we’ve had it this good.”
The timing for the Baltimore region’s newfound influence is particularly fortuitous.
The legislature is certain to grapple with two issues next session that have particular impact for the city — the recommendations of the Kirwan Commission on education spending and the proposal to put Pimlico Race Course on firmer financial footing, with more community use and opportunity.
Lewis praised Busch for focusing on the city, but “now we have all these cooperative, intelligent, caring and competent people at all these different levels. It just makes me feel really optimistic,” she said.
It took The Baltimore Sun editorial page all of two hours to note the region’s good fortune on Thursday.
With the ascendance of Jones and Ferguson, “the Baltimore region has an influence in the General Assembly not seen since Baltimore natives Ben Cardin and Melvin “Mickey” Steinberg served as House speaker and Senate president in the 1980s,” the paper’s editorial board wrote.
“That is nothing short of amazing given the growth of the D.C. suburbs, and the clout of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties,” they added.
Lester Davis, a spokesman for Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young (D), said Young “is obviously elated about Sen. Ferguson.”
“He knows him as a very capable leader,” Davis said. “And while this is good for Baltimore, it’s really going to be great for the entire state. Because Bill comes out of the Mike Miller school of thinking where he understands … he has a duty to the entire state of Maryland.”
“I’m really worried about Montgomery County and Prince George’s County,” said Sen. Nancy J. King (D-Montgomery), who chairs the Budget and Taxation Committee.
“We’re kind of left out in the cold, where we shouldn’t be.”
King said she backed Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters (D-Prince George’s) in the race for Senate President in large part because he represents a suburban Washington district.
“If you look at the scale, it’s a little bit lopsided when you look at two big counties like Prince George’s and Montgomery really not having much representation,” King added.
Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D-Prince George’s), who chairs the Senate Democratic Caucus, sought to downplay concern that the D.C. suburbs won’t have clout in Annapolis.
“Half the Democratic caucus is from Montgomery and Prince George’s counties,” he noted on Thursday after the Ferguson vote.
“I want to make sure that Prince George’s County and the Washington area get the help and attention that we need and deserve.”
In a statement, Ferguson sought to offer reassurance that his perspective will be statewide, not parochial.
“President Miller lives in Calvert County, Speaker Busch lived in Anne Arundel County, yet they both ensured that every place in our state had their needs met,” Ferguson said.
“I look forward to taking the same collaborative approach they did, by working with all 46 other Senators to meet the needs of their districts.”
King noted that the Baltimore region will also benefit from having Del. Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore City) serving as head of the Appropriations Committee.
As Montgomery and Prince George’s continue to see growth in their school systems, lawmakers are going to need to focus on resources, she said.
“Legislators from both of those counties are going to have to really pay attention to the budget and work to make sure that our counties do get our fair share,” she said. “I’m a statewide senator, not just a Montgomery County senator, but at the same time you’ve got to take care of your home, too, and that’s what we’re going to have focus on.”