If history is any indicator, the ceremonial yet significant role as the chair of the Baltimore City House Delegation was destined to be led by a West Baltimore legislator. Baltimore’s once dominate side of town, which encompassed the old powerful fourth council district that produced political leaders such as the former congressmen Parren Mitchell and Kweisi Mfume, former House committee chairmen such as Howard ‘Pete’ Rawlings and Larry Young and former Baltimore City Mayors Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Catherine Pugh and Sheila Dixon; is now the least influential of the two sides.
Touting a sitting chairwoman, the majority whip in the House and the Senate President, the Eastside of Baltimore now can add to that list of leaders the new chairwoman of the city’s House Delegation; as 45th district state delegate Stephanie Smith was elected by her colleagues this morning to lead the fifteen-member house delegation. Smith, a freshman lawmaker who has impressed anyone who has ever heard her speak or watched her move with grace and precision, will now take over for the disgraced former chairwoman who recently resigned her seat in the East Baltimore district that Smith also represents.
Former Delegate Cheryl Glenn resigned her seat in December days before being charged federally for bribery and wire fraud, related to a pay-to-play scheme that landed her roughly $33,750 in bribes according to U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur. Something that could land her a stay in federal prison for the rest of her life. The once powerful chair of the state’s Legislative Black Caucus, before becoming the chair of the city’s house delegation, Glenn worked tirelessly during her three terms in office representing the 45th district. But it appears as if good old basic greed got the better of the East Baltimore native. And while lawmakers in Annapolis will likely be gathering to hear the State of the State address from Governor Larry Hogan on Wednesday, January 22nd, the former delegate will be in U.S District Court listening to her own speech that day, this one being doled out by the judge presiding over her case.
And while a replacement for Glenn’s vacant delegate seat has yet to be named (the hearing for that set for this Monday evening), it appears as if the rest of the city delegation didn’t mind giving the leadership role Glenn once held to one of her district colleagues. However, while Glenn’s election as the delegation chair was filled with its own fireworks, as West Baltimore state delegate Nick Mosby challenged her for the position during the 2018 session; it appears as if the entire delegation felt good about electing Smith as their new leader.
“She is someone that over the short amount of time she’s been in Annapolis has shown to be able to work well with others, listening before speaking, diligently learning the process while showing a willingness to compromise for the betterment of the whole,” says longtime 40th district state delegate Frank Conaway Jr., who himself comes from a long bloodline of political hierarchy. Now, the 38-year old attorney and city planning assistant director will have to show that she can lead with the understanding that while her side of town wields the most power now, it’s the Westside of Baltimore that has paved the path that she now walks.
Smith will have to be able to deal with the egos of fourteen other members of the House of Delegates, each elected in their own right for whatever reason, that feel as if their legislative priorities should be first on a crowded agenda of wants and needs. She will have to find a way to galvanize the troops to help bring home the bacon while convincing legislators in surrounding jurisdictions that her delegation has a firm grip on how to help city leaders quell the storm of bloody violence that has paralyzed an entire state. Gone are the twelve-hour debates over whether Johns Hopkins deserves its own police force, the whispers of members sexual harassment allegations or the heated conversations around guns in our schools. But what remains is the growing chorus around how Baltimore can afford future Kirwan funding or if Pimlico legislation goes too far or not far enough.
However, regardless of the conversation, the latest hop topic or controversy, those who know Chairwoman Smith believe that she’s built for the tough times that lie ahead. Those who have witnessed her birth a child that wound up putting her in a wheelchair and a walker, while juggling family duties with the rigorous stress of campaign life – as she battled through a crowded field of democratic candidates to become the chosen representative of the district electorate; realize that despite what comes, this first-term delegate is ready to face it head-on!
And my money is on her winning that battle.