By Sean Yoes, Baltimore AFRO

For the first time in more than 20 years, Joan Carter Conway will not be a member of the Senate during the upcoming 2019 legislative session of the Maryland General Assembly. There are many in and out of the political arena who see her as irreplaceable and I don’t see that assessment as a disparagement of incoming Sen. Mary Washington, who defeated Conway by about 500 votes on June 26.

I first saw her in action during the legislative session in 2006; her beloved Morgan State University was in the midst of a struggle to remain independent within the University of Maryland System. A hearing was in progress within one of the committee chambers (can’t remember the name of the committee), and prominent supporters and alumni of Morgan had gathered to testify on the school’s behalf.

Then Sen. Conway entered.

She boldly, and I mean boldly, strutted into the hearing as if she owned every White man assembled in that committee chamber tasked with determining the fate of the venerable HBCU; to say she commanded the room is a massive understatement. In the end, Morgan prevailed and maintained its independence within the University System, with a big assist from the Senator from the 43rd District in East Baltimore; it was a recurring theme during her stellar political career.

Sean Yoes (Courtesy Photo)

Over the weekend I was reminded of just how much Conway will be missed by Morgan State, when I ran into Dr. David Wilson, the school’s president at the 33rd Street YMCA where we both work out. In between sets, Wilson talked to me about Morgan’s efforts to develop Northwood Shopping Center, the Northeast Baltimore property adjacent to Morgan’s Jenkins building, the newest on the campus.

When I brought up Conway’s imminent departure from the Senate Wilson’s countenance literally dropped. “She is unmatched,” Wilson said. “Baltimore City is losing a giant.”

Former state Senator Larry Young, host of the Larry Young Morning Show on 1010 WOLB, is perhaps as qualified as anybody to assess Conway’s legislative prowess and her legacy; they were colleagues in the Senate and he has been one of the most astute observers of Maryland politics since he was expelled from the Senate in 1998 (he was subsequently cleared of all the misconduct charges, which led to his expulsion).

“If it was a Baltimore City issue, she was able to be the floor leader for Baltimore City,” Young said during a phone conversation. “It will be a major loss for us.”

Conway was a mix of toughness, tenacity and legislative guile, operating within a Senate run by President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller, who has run roughshod over that lawmaking body as Senate President since 1987, currently the longest serving Senate President in the nation. Some of their legislative clashes were reminiscent of the legendary battles between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.

“Joan became not only the Senior Senator, but her knowledge of the issues surpassed 90 percent of her colleagues,” Young said. “She was exceptional at the legislative process.”

According to Young and most Baltimore City political observers, Conway’s legislative win-loss record during her career, to use the description of Morgan’s Wilson, is “unmatched.”

“I don’t believe Joan lost more than three votes as a committee chairperson,”

Young said in reference to Conway’s astonishing win percentage.

“There’s nothing going to change for Joan…Something will definitely change for Baltimore City,” Conway told the Baltimore Sun after her defeat to Washington became official. It is a seemingly ominous prediction that resonates with many, including Young.

“The delegation (Baltimore City), hopefully will find ways and means to step up,” Young said.

“But, it is not going to be easy to do.”

Sean Yoes is the Baltimore Editor of the AFRO and the author of Baltimore After Freddie Gray: Real Stories From One of America’s Great Imperiled Cities.

Sean Yoes

AFRO Baltimore Editor