It was three years ago, when a shaken Democratic Party – led by its de facto leader Congressman Elijah Cummings – coalesced around the most likely of candidates, who with their resources could defeat the democratic front-runner for Mayor at the time, Sheila Ann Dixon.
So, these officials hatched a scheme to ensure, by any means necessary, that State Senator Catherine Pugh was declared the winner of the democratic primary, which ultimately led to a mismanaged election process that wound up being decertified for the first time in state history.
Dixon, the former Mayor of Baltimore City who was convicted of one count of fraudulent misappropriations due to a gift card program that she herself created as the city’s Council President, had led in every major poll from the start of the 2016 mayoral race up until the end. In fact, earlier that year, when the January annual filings were set to be published by every candidate running for office, the Pugh campaign realized that they had to appear to have enough money to at least compete with Dixon, otherwise their campaign would take a hit that it was unlikely to come back from.
So, they devised a plan that sought to ensure that Pugh’s financial numbers, which would be looked at by every major political donor and news outlet, showed that she was able to outraise everyone else in the 13-candidate mayoral race – remaining competitive with a field of major names. And at first glance, she did just that; having hauled in over $660,000 compared to Dixon’s $320K, Elizabeth Embry’s $416K and Councilman Nick Mosby’s $320K. The only person who had more money than Pugh at that juncture was millionaire longshot David Warnock, who had $1.3 million thanks to a $950K loan to himself.
However, as first reported on by the City Paper at the time, it appears that the Pugh numbers were as fake as the hair on Donald Trump’s head. The City Paper investigated and found at least 11 checks made out to Pugh for the maximum amount under state law, $6,000, from individuals and/or businesses that did not exist, most tied to Pugh’s campaign financial advisor, Gia Blatterman. Here is part of that coverage:
Many of the allegedly bounced checks came from people or entities with ties to Giovanna Blatterman, a Little Italy figure and former city official. One came from her son, Eric, who donated purportedly as “Eric Blaise.” One came from her mother, Rose DiFatta Aquia, whose name was mangled in the filing to “Rose Difett.” Two $6,000 checks came from a rowhouse across the street from Blatterman’s daughter’s restaurant.
Four $6,000 checks came from a building Eric Blatterman’s LLC owns. Two were from tenants in a rowhouse there, Nicholas Rossi and Lauren Gugliuzza (spelled several different wrong ways in Pugh’s filings), one each from “Sophie Staffing, Inc.” and “MC, LLC,” neither of which was listed in state records. They all bounced.
However, review of those financial records today still points to even further financial deception from the Pugh camp. There are numerous “Anonymous” donors included in the report, with an address that states “0123 address” with each being for either $6,000 or $3,000. A few of the “Anonymous” contributors listed Frederick Memorial Hospital, Redivision Real Estate or Stricker Abstracting as their employer. But it goes even further than these phantom donations.
Upon further review, many of the contributors with real names and addresses appear to have given way more money that what is allowable under the law. Individuals such as Ms. Jacqueline Anderson, who is said to work for the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), is listed as given upwards of $10,000 in donations, with another $2,000 donation being listed in red meaning it was to be deleted.
A city Housing employee, Rowine Chandler, reportedly gave five different $3,000 checks totaling $15,000, with a separate $3,000 donation being marked as deleted – which is way over the $6,000 individual donor limit. And it seems former Superintendent of Maryland Schools, Nancy Grasmick – who the campaign misspelled as Gasmick in several of the contributions – reads as if she gave $4,000 in donations, while giving a separate donation with her name spelled correctly for $800. However, in the March 15th 2016 Pre-Primary report, it shows that Grasmick was only attributed to the one $800 donation, completely erasing the $4,000 that was shown in the original January report.
These kind of “errors” go on and on during the January 2016 reporting for Pugh, including having one individual by the name of Olumuywa Olaniyam – a self-reported homemaker – who contributed 13 checks of $1,000 a piece, on top of a separate $4,500 check given days before the filing deadline, making her haul in the range of $17,500 – almost three times the legal limit. But it appears that the campaign knew that while these things can be fixed at a later date, when nobody was looking, they also understood that it was the initial look at those financial records that the media would report on and that the democratic establishment would make their decisions based off of.
(To put this in context, the Pugh report was filled with amended and deleted contributions of varying amounts, while the Dixon, Embry and Mosby reports for instance had none, combined.)
These contributions, including a $5,000 donation from the now infamous Healthy Holly LLC, largely went overlook during these critical months leading up to the April primary election. In fact, it was only after the race was officially declared that multiple campaign finance violations were acted upon, including the $18,000 that led to the downfall of longtime Pugh confidant and employee, Gary Brown, who funneled this money to the Pugh campaign by depositing the money into an account and then having three members of his family contribute the maximum.
It also was found that Jim Smith, the former two-term Baltimore County Executive and now City Hall gatekeeper who was hired after Pugh’s victory to a $175,000 a year position, illegally “loaned” the campaign $100,000 from Smith’s Victory Fund Political Action Committee. But the state prosecutor, as well as the Democratic Party and its establishment, decided to once again turn a blind eye to the repeated financial misgivings of the Pugh campaign – merely fining Smith a whopping $3,000 and letting Brown off with probation before judgement but never finding the source of said cash.
In fact, despite all this, Congressman Cummings and his merry band of democratic lackies chose to rally around the Pugh campaign weeks before the Primary election, including cutting a deal with one mayoral candidate, Mr. Mosby, having him drop out of the race ahead of the election in order to endorse Ms. Pugh. His reward for this action, he received the state delegate seat that became open thanks to Senator Pugh’s vacant seat, which was filled by Delegate Barbara Robinson, whose seat was promised to Mosby once Gary Brown was indicted – voiding the deal they made to him for this seat.
All of this to ensure that the woman they knew owed none of them a damn thing, who would go down to City Hall and shake things up upsetting their governmental Ponzi scheme, did not win!
Dixon, who was tossed out of office when the establishment decided that her advocacy for black-owned business inclusion, working to address a systemic homeless crisis and her canny ability to connect with average, everyday citizens was becoming a problem, made it known that she had learned her lesson from her earlier conviction and was not willing to “play ball” for the sake of political expediency. Therefore, she became a political liability instead; and it became clear that they would do whatever was necessary to keep her from her rightful place in history – including rigging an election.
If all this wasn’t enough for you to say damn, than the political shenanigans that occurred during the actual election process will certainly make you shake your head. During a week of Early Voting and thirteen hours of Election Day, the city’s Board of Elections committed over 1,800 procedural errors, almost ten times the amount of the state’s other twenty-three counties combined.
The elaborate scheme they hatched was being orchestrated via an election process that had recently been changed from electronic voting machines to paper ballots, which caused headaches for those looking to secure a tainted election. They were caught red-handed turning voters away from the polls that were Dixon strongholds, sending voters to other polling locations only for them to find that they were actually right all along. Seven flash drives that had secure voter data on them went missing for upwards of twenty-four hours or more.
Letters went out to former felons informing them that they were not eligible to vote in the mayoral election, despite having recently regained their voting rights as long as they weren’t incarcerated due to a law just passed by the Maryland General Assembly. And even Dixon’s sister Janice had to vote via provisional ballot due to “someone already voting in her name during Early Voting”. But to top it all off, the board decided to certify the election results casting Ms. Pugh the winner, before someone found a box of uncounted ballots stuffed in a corner of the board’s warehouse, causing the state board of election to intervene and decertify the city’s election results – something that has never happened in the history of the great state of Maryland.
An ad hoc group of concerned citizens came together to cast doubt on the election results due to these errors, causing the state to decertify and filing a federal lawsuit to throw out the results. But the establishment intervened and got the courts to dismiss the lawsuit due to a “technical violation”, while the state board director Linda Lamone said that the process was so skewed that she wouldn’t know where to start in trying to fix it. So, they recertified the results, declared Pugh the victor without so much as an internal or external investigation, and neither Armstead Jones – the city’s Board of Elections director – or any member of his team were ever held accountable.
In fact, not one member of the democratically controlled City Council or its party ever whispered a peep of this elaborate electoral scheme since. Instead, they went with business as usual, hoping that time would heal all wounds, and everyone would get what they were promised from the deal.
Well I have news for you, the gig is up – and yal got some explaining to do!
**This opinion piece is not in anyway to try and implicate those mentioned in the current crimes or unethical dealings being investigated and reported on in the Healthy Holly scandal. But rather, it is to show that the political establishment decided to put their thumb on the scale of electoral justice three years ago, which in the writer’s opinion, led us to the point we are at today.