Meetings of the Prince George’s County Democratic Central Committee are usually pretty quiet, but that wasn’t the case at a recent gathering.
During the July 24 meeting, broken up into two sessions lasting more than three hours each, emotions rarely seen when the group convenes were on display.
“It is encouraging that a lot of people came out. It allowed them to see what’s going on … because they do things when people are not paying attention,” said Wala Blegay, who ran unsuccessfully for delegate in the 25th legislative district. “It was also discouraging because a lot of people are still being controlled.”
Part of the meeting at the FOP Lodge 89 in Upper Marlboro focused on choosing a new committee chair.
Theresa Mitchell Dudley, president of the county’s Education Association, was one of two people nominated to replace Salome Peters, the outgoing chair.
She placed a chain on a table to make her point that the county is controlled “by the master who lives in Calvert County,” referring to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. Miller, who also represents a portion of Prince George’s.
Wayne “Thunder” Williams, a member of the committee from District 47, asked Dudley “how do you intend to use your style of leadership of take no prisoners and blow the mother up and plan to rebuild the bridges” between Democrats to lead the committee.
“Just because your person didn’t win, don’t take it out on me,” said Dudley, who voted for former NAACP President Ben Jealous in the gubernatorial primary. Jealous defeated eight other opponents including Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III who had support from high-ranking state Democrats such as Miller, former Governor Martin O’Malley and Attorney General Brian Frosh.
“I’m supporting Ben Jealous because we need a change,” Dudley said.
Cheryl Landis was nominated over Dudley by a 17-3 vote, with three members abstaining.
Landis, who Baker supported, read prepared remarks with hopes of unity.
“We have the beginning of a very, very long journey and for all intense and purposes, we really don’t know one another that well,” she said. “But in spite of that fact, it remains contingent upon us to establish ourselves as a committed and highly respected group of professionals [serving] the community.”
In a show of compromise, members unanimously chose Dudley as the committee’s first vice chair.
Peters, who served eight years on the committee, declined to comment on the tension during the meeting.
“I’m neutral — I have no expectations,” she said outside the FOP Lodge as the board reorganized. “I just serve the public.”
The all-volunteer group comprised of 24 members from eight legislative districts help preserve and speak on behalf of the Democratic Party. It can also recommend appointments to the governor to serve in the Maryland General Assembly, such as January 2017 when the committee chose Delegate Jazz Lewis (D-District 24) to fill the seat of former Delegate Michael Vaughn.
According to the committee guidelines, some of the members’ responsibilities include fundraising, perform voter registration and “distribute political literature on behalf of Democratic candidates.”
On July 23, members received a letter and petition started by Blegay to request the committee ban the phrase “official sample ballots” from all Democratic campaign literature during primary elections.
As of Friday, nearly 700 signatures had been collected. A letter along with the signatures will be sent to state Democratic Party Chairwoman Kathleen Matthews.
In neighboring Montgomery County, its Democratic central committee said in a letter it endorses candidates only during general elections, not in the primaries.
Concern grew in Prince George’s when Faye Martin Howell, treasurer for the central committee, handed out paraphernalia to voters on behalf of prospective candidates during last month’s primary while wearing a central committee badge. Howell apologized at last week’s meeting for her error in judgment.
Instead of an outright vote on the official ballot question, Landis suggested to create an ad hoc committee to conduct more research and discuss the topic on Aug. 21.
The committee voted in favor of the suggestion, which didn’t sit well with several in attendance.
“The petition has been out since June 28. So you’re telling me … no one did any research on this?” said Jana Parker of Temple Hills. “We are here because we care about Prince George’s County and [the] Democratic Central Committee. We are here because we have issues.”