Longtime Maryland lawmaker retires citing health issues

Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam (D-Baltimore County) has resigned. (Courtesy Maryland State Democrats)

This article was written by WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters and republished with permission. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

State Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam (D-Baltimore County), the vice chairwoman of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee who has battled multiple health problems in recent months, has resigned.

Nathan-Pulliam, 80, informed Senate leaders last week that she would resign effective Sunday.

“I will miss her in the Senate,” Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said in a statement. “Her voice was always present, as an advocate for her constituents, especially on issues such as Minority Health Disparities, and Hepatitis C treatment, of which she was so passionate.”

Nathan-Pulliam entered the Senate in 2015, representing a district that takes in parts of Baltimore County and Baltimore City. She previously represented an all-Baltimore County district in the House of Delegates for 20 years.

Nathan-Pulliam is a Registered Nurse who was born and grew up in Jamaica and first worked in England. She eventually settled in the Baltimore area, and served as Baltimore City’s social services commissioner under then-mayor Kurt L. Schmoke (D).

Nathan-Pulliam is the first Caribbean-born person and the first African-Caribbean Registered Nurse elected to the Maryland General Assembly.

Nathan-Pulliam has focused largely on health care issues during her time in the General Assembly, and sponsored legislation creating the Office of Minority Health and Health Care Disparities in the state. Other legislative initiatives include funding for breast cancer diagnosis and treatment programs, oral cancer mortality reduction program and treatment for co-occurring disorders such as substance abuse and mental illness.

Nathan-Pulliam became vice chairwoman of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee at the beginning of this year, when the previous vice chairman, Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), was promoted to chairman.

“Senator Nathan-Pulliam has been a friend and mentor to me and so many other lawmakers in my time in the Senate,” said Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City), who is ticketed to become the new Senate president in January. “She has been a national leader on the issue of health disparities, and making us focus on the entire population in need. “She is a true public servant and my thoughts are with her in her retirement and recovery.”

Nathan-Pulliam has herself suffered from serious health maladies, including major back pain, in recent months. She underwent spinal surgery earlier this fall and was hospitalized for several weeks.

The senator’s resignation will give Ferguson another plum post to work with as he puts together his leadership team. Whether the new vice chair will be someone already serving on the committee or someone currently on another panel isn’t clear.

Nathan-Pulliam won her Senate seat in 2014 by ousting incumbent Sen. Verna Jones-Rodwell by an almost 3-1 margin in the Democratic primary. Last year, she turned back an aggressive Democratic primary challenge from union activist Aletheia McCaskill by a more than 2-1 margin.

Because Nathan-Pulliam’s district covers Baltimore County and Baltimore City, the Democratic central committees in both jurisdictions will have a say in her replacement and will be charged with making a recommendation to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), who officially makes the appointment. If the two central committees recommend different candidates, Hogan must select one.

Del. Charles E. Sydnor III (D) and Del. Patrick G. Young Jr. (D) represent the Baltimore County portion of the district, District 44B, while Del. Keith E. Haynes (D) represents District 44A, in the city.

In addition to a piece of the city, the district takes in the communities of Oella, Woodlawn, Lochearn and portions of Catonsville.

Sydnor and Haynes were both seen as potential candidates to run in the special election to replace the late U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), but chose to remain on the sidelines. Nathan-Pulliam’s resignation now represents another potential opportunity to move up the political ladder.

This article was written by WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters and republished with permission. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

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