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Politicsby Fern Shen4:26 pmMar 29, 20180

As disgraced Oaks resigns, 41st District political maneuvering begins

Jill Carter rejects rival J.D. Merrill’s call for her to refrain from seeking a committee appointment to fill Oaks seat

Above: Then-senator Nathaniel Oaks at a 2013 community meeting in Northwest Baltimore. (Fern Shen)

Nathaniel T. Oaks resigned from the Maryland Senate this morning,  hours before pleading guilty to two federal corruption charges. But the 71-year-old is still casting a shadow over politics in his Northwest Baltimore 41st District.

The district’s Democratic Central Committee must now fill the vacancy for Oaks, even as his name remains on the ballot for the June 26 Democratic Primary. (And Oaks himself remains a member of the Committee.)

The longtime political fixture, whose sentencing is scheduled for July 17, will siphon votes away from the two other candidates on the ballot for the 41st District senate seat, Jill P. Carter and J.D. Merrill.

The timing of Oaks resignation also virtually ensures that the district would be without representation for the remainder of the 2018 legislative session. (The central committee has 30 days to hold an election, but its rules requiring two-weeks notice make it impossible for one to be scheduled before the end of the session on April 9.)

“We are in the process of identifying a site to hold the election and getting out notices,” said Del. Angela C. Gibson, committee chair.

Meanwhile political watchers are waiting with interest to see who will get the the nine-month gig to sit in Oaks’ seat.

Will it be a placeholder? Or will the nod go to one of the two announced candidates, giving that person the advantage of being an incumbent?

Merrill said on social media today that he will not submit his name for consideration and called on Carter to do the same.

“I believe that the choice between the candidates running for State Senate should be made at the ballot box, not in a backroom,” he said.

Carter reacted indignantly to Merrill’s suggestion, saying she will submit her name for consideration and that her phone “has been ringing off the hook” with people telling her to do so.

“It’s a no-brainer,” she told The Brew.

“It’s my belief that I should have had the seat a long time ago as the strongest candidate and the top vote-getter in the district,” said Carter, a former member of the House of Delegates who left the legislature in 2016 to take a job with Mayor Catherine Pugh directing the Office of Civil Rights and Wage Enforcement.

Responding to Merrill’s “backroom” comment, she said. “I have never been an insider – he is much more of an insider than I am.”

(2) J.D. Merrill for State Senate - Home - Mozilla Firefox 3292018 52039 PM

Merrill is a former city school teacher and administrator who is also the son-in-law of former Gov. Martin O’Malley. Carter is the daughter of the late civil rights activist Walter P. Carter.

The seven-member Central Committee played a key role in the saga of the tarnished senator, triggering criticism from some that their actions typified the worst of Baltimore insider politics.

Carter reacted indignantly to Merrill’s suggestion, saying she will submit her name for consideration and that her phone “has been ringing off the hook” with people telling her to do so.

When a Senate vacancy opened up there last year, the Central Committee’s choice to fill it was Oaks, a member of the House of Delegates who had left the legislature in 1989 after being convicted of stealing thousands of dollars from his campaign account. (Voters sent him back to Annapolis in 1994.)

Three months after he was selected for the Senate seat, he was indicted by a federal grand jury for accepting $15,300 in cash.

In a superseding indictment last November, prosecutors charged Oaks with obstruction of justice as well as taking bribes from an informant who had posed as a businessman in exchange for help getting government grants and other assistance.

This morning Oaks changed his plea from innocent to guilty. He faces the possibility of 10 years in prison and the loss of his pension.

Spector: “We were played”

Exiting U.S. District Court today with his lawyer after his plea, Oaks would not comment.

Meanwhile the comments were cutting from longtime city councilmember Rochelle “Rikki” Spector, a member of the 41st District central committee that placed Oaks in the Senate despite his  1989 conviction.

“We did the right thing and gave him another chance – we didn’t know he was in the soup with the feds for something else. But he did,” she said. “We were played.”

Oaks’ decision to file for the primary while under indictment and then resign and plead guilty at the last minute, she said, hurt the district and ensured that whoever fills his seat will have little to do between now and the 2019 legislative session.

She said she’ll attend the central committee meeting to fill Oaks’ seat but won’t support any candidate.

“I’m not going to participate in a phony election,” she said.

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