Advocates rally in support of Maryland Stadium Authority nominee

This content was republished with permission from WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

Latino lawmakers and community leaders rallied Wednesday morning outside the State House to show their support for Gov. Wes Moore’s nominee to the Maryland Stadium Authority board and demand that the Senate confirm her appointment.

Members of the Legislative Latino Caucus and other elected officials from across the state joined representatives from CASA Inc., the advocacy organization that provides social services to immigrants, and other leaders to endorse Moore’s nomination of Yolanda Maria Martinez, whose name has been held up by the Senate.

The Senate Executive Nominations Committee held Martinez’s nomination last week, after Maryland Matters reported she had a troubled 35-year financial history that included a recent $7.2 million bankruptcy and dozens of lawsuits and judgments for bad debts filed against her. Since then, Moore, his staff and Martinez supporters have pressured the Senate — both publicly and behind the scenes — to approve the Ellicott City businesswoman’s nomination.

At their press conference, Latino leaders made clear they wanted representation on the nine-member board of the powerful Stadium Authority, which oversees hundreds of millions of dollars in state construction undertakings each year and has authority to issue bonds for capital projects.

Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA, speaks at gathering of Latino advocates who support the appointment of Maria Martinez. (Courtesy Bryan P. Sears)

“We don’t have representation of the Latino community on this very, very important commission,” said Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA. “And … Maria is the right person to do it. She knows our community, she knows our state.”

Torres went on to cite a letter signed by more than 80 current and former elected officials — including former Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) — and community leaders sent Tuesday to members of the Senate urging them to confirm her nomination.

Del. David Fraser-Hidalgo (D-Montgomery), chairman of the Legislative Latino Caucus, also referenced the letter in underscoring his support for Martinez.

“I would just encourage everyone here to support her,” he said. “The governor is supporting her, and anyone in their right mind is supporting her. So, here we go.”

Another speaker, Del. Deni Taveras (D-Prince George’s), a member of the Legislative Latino Caucus, seemed to cut right to the heart of the matter for some elected officials.

“Let’s talk facts and figures: She’s built many a politician in this room and in these hallways,” Taveras said. “Now it’s our opportunity to lift her up. Okay?”

Over the last 20 years, Martinez has been generous in her financial support of politicians, contributing nearly $150,000 to Democratic candidates, including $6,000 to Moore in the general election last year.

Baltimore City Councilmember Odette Ramos (D) spoke about why it was important to have Latino representation on the Stadium Authority board, specifically citing the agency’s overseeing of two programs in the city — one tear to down vacant buildings and the second to construct new schools.

“In Baltimore City, our Latino population is growing so quickly that we need a voice at the table of this powerful entity that has been doing good work in our city,” Ramos said.

The councilmember also made passing reference to Martinez’s financial difficulties, which have resulted in her wages being garnished, automobiles repossessed and properties she owned foreclosed upon, as well as the millions of dollars in judgments filed against her.

“Maria Martinez has been through a lot in her life, just like so many of us, and her experience will be what brings the best voice onto that board,” Ramos said. “But also, let me just say this, all of the various … sort of financial things that people are seeing, many of our white … businessmen and women, white-led organizations, have also had these financial issues. So why are they picking our Latina? Why? Why? All right. She’s the right person for this job. There’s no doubt about it. And we are here to support her.”

Del. Joseline A. Peña-Melnyk (D-Anne Arundel and Prince George’s), caucus vice chair, raised similar points, noting that Martinez had served on three other state boards or commissions requiring Senate approval — chair of the Governor’s Commission on Hispanic Affairs; the board of the Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund; and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Board of Review.

“You will never hear anything that she did wrong on any of those boards because she did the job,” Peña-Melnyk said.

“Maria Martinez is also committed to advancing the success of minority-owned business — because often time we’re not represented, often time we’re an afterthought, often time we’re not in the room,” she said.

“And yes, we’re not perfect,” Peña-Melnyk said. “It is hard to come to get where we are. It is so rough to be here, because people often don’t give us a look. They don’t give us an opportunity because we don’t come with a pedigree than most people have.”

Other speakers were Montgomery County Councilmember Natali Fani-González (D) and Veronica Cool, former chair of the Maryland Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

None of the 15 Senate members of the Legislative Latino Caucus were present.

Martinez has said her financial problems started years ago, when she was caught up in the 1994 bankruptcy of a company owned by her abusive former husband — circumstances that she said affected her for years.

After overcoming being a victim of domestic abuse, she said she was able to found a successful medical equipment company, but that was forced to close its doors in 2018, after 17 years.

Some state senators have raised concerns about Martinez being appointed to the board of an agency that has such power and sweep, given her past financial problems.

“I think that at the end of the day, the Stadium Authority is a fiduciary of state resources,” Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said Tuesday. “And so I think … we have to make sure that there’s a full level of confidence in the financial acumen of the appointees.”

It remains unclear whether the Executive Nominations Committee will vote on the Martinez confirmation before the legislature adjourns April 10.

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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