As she prepares for her first three-day bus tour of the state, Del.-elect Mary Washington is openly ecstatic. “I’m really looking forward to this,” she said, after rubbing her hands together for warmth in the back seat of a large commuter bus.

On the near-freezing Monday morning, Washington greets the two other new delegates for Baltimore City—Keiffer Mitchell representing West Baltimore and Luke Clippinger of South Baltimore—as they stow their luggage in the lower parcel of the bus parked in an M&T Bank Stadium lot.

During the trip, they will visit Washington, Calvert and Frederick counties, College Park and finally Baltimore City—greeting Maryland residents along the way.

Before she and the other legislators-to-be drove off, Washington sat down with the {AFRO} to discuss her journey to the Maryland House of Delegates, issues most important to her East Baltimore district and the unique qualities she brings to her new post.

Last month, 48-year-old Washington, a Philadelphia native, won the third House seat for the 43rd district. When she takes office, she will presumably be the only state legislator with a doctorate and only the second Black openly lesbian state legislator in the country.

She says her degrees in sociology and statistics help her pinpoint facts and remain open to other opinions. And when it comes to her sexuality, she says she had to be honest with voters. “I feel that if I can’t be honest about myself and who I am, how can I be honest with my constituents about the challenges that are facing them?” she said.

This was her second House run. She ran a close but unsuccessful bid in 2006 with little political experience and minimal media exposure. She had settled in Baltimore after earning a doctorate degree from Johns Hopkins. The scholar soon realized most of her neighbors did not understand state government.

“I think we have a really good understanding of the Congress,” she said. “I think we have a good understanding of City Council but I think we have trouble with that middle place. People often don’t know what a delegate is.”

She decided to run, she said, to fill that knowledge gap. “I hope if I can say one thing at the end of my first term, everyone in my district will know what a delegate is and what we’re in charge of.”

Washington’s first defeat may have been a blessing, she said, giving her four years to lick her wounds and really learn Baltimore. She got involved in city government, working for the data bank Baltimore Neighborhoods Indicator’s Alliance, the Baltimore City Commission on Sustainability, and most recently, the Parks and People Foundation.

This election year, she campaigned early and had a better understanding of her positions, she said. She also ran with the support of two House veterans in her district.

“I hate to say it because I didn’t want to lose, but I believe that I’m going to be a better delegate now than I would have been,” she said. “I think my approach would have been more intellectual and now…I have the ability to combine both my understanding of social science and research and economic trends with my work with foundations and city government.”

The challenges in her district mirror those in the entire city, she said, beginning with education.

“We’ve got some great schools and we have schools that have challenges in our district,” Washington said. “We have some of the wealthiest people in the city in the district and we have the poorest. So, I think one of our biggest challenges straight off the bat is addressing that gap. Addressing the disparities in employment and healthcare and in education.”

She said she wants to breathe life into commercial corridors such as Greenmount Avenue and the Alameda. The people in her district are looking for a fresh approach to politics, she said. “They want quality change,” she said.

Accompanying Washington on the bus ride is a man with an iconic family name—Del.-elect Keiffer Mitchell Jr. Mitchell, who comes from a long line of civil servants, says public service is in his blood. His grandfather Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. was a prominent civil rights figure, his grandmother Juanita Jackson Mitchell was an NAACP activist, and his great-uncle Parren J. Mitchell was the state’s first Black U.S. congressman. Hosts of other relatives have been heavily involved in politics.

Although the 2007 mayoral candidate and former councilman has been active in city politics for over a decade, this will be his first post as a state legislator.

Mitchell, 43, had stepped away from politics after his unsuccessful mayor’s bid, opening a consulting firm and working as a small business lender.

According to campaign reports, the Bolton Hill resident raised more money than any other House candidate as he replaced seven-term Del. Ruth Kirk.

He supports tax credits for small businesses and is a proponent of charter schools.

Then there is Prince George’s County assistant state’s attorney C.T. Wilson, who will become Charles County’s first Black delegate in January. Wilson, 38, won an open House seat after two-term Del. Murray D. Levy retired. Wilson, who grew up in foster care, had a tough upbringing compared to the other Black delegate-elects. He was separated from his drug-addicted mother at age 4 and suffered physical abuse from his adoptive parents.

But the troubled youth prevailed and earned a scholarship to Howard University School of Law, joined the Army and become a prosecutor. He advocates for school construction funds to reduce overcrowding and promotes fiscal accountability.

Despite some concerns about Wilson’s close ties to Prince George’s County businesses, he captured 19 percent of the vote in a race split between seven Democrats.
The three new Black delegates will be sworn in Jan. 12.

Shernay Williams

Special to the AFRO