Heading into an election session that features an unexpectedly competitive U.S. Senate race, the Maryland Democratic Party announced new top staffers this week.

Karen Darkes will be the party’s executive director, with Joe Francaviglia as deputy executive director.

Darkes is leaving the national organization Emerge, which trains Democratic women to run for office. She’s been the major gifts director at Emerge. Darkes is a graduate of Morgan State University and began her career in politics fundraising for the Anthony Brown-Ken Ulman gubernatorial campaign in 2014. Ulman is now the chair of the Maryland Democratic Party.

“We have an extraordinarily consequential election this November and Karen is the right person at the right time to help lead us to victory,” Ulman said in a statement.

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Francaviglia most recently has worked as director of government affairs for Comptroller Brooke Lierman, and also managed her campaign. Before that, he was executive director of the advocacy organization Strong Schools Maryland and also worked as a public school teacher.

— Pamela Wood

General Assembly honors

Both chambers of the General Assembly took a break from passing laws this week to bestow honors on Marylanders.

The House of Delegates held its annual Speaker’s Society celebration on Wednesday night, and congratulated its honorees during a floor session earlier in the day.

U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who plans to retire after 2024, was awarded the Speaker’s Medallion, given to a Marylander who has made outstanding contributions to the state.

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House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones said Ruppersberger is a “statesman,” “a steadfast advocate for our nation’s veterans,” and “a consummate champion for Baltimore County” whose public service career has stretched 38 years.

Ruppersberger said he promised his wife he’d only serve in Congress for 10 years, but has stayed for 22. “She finally has had it. She said: ‘You have got to retire,’” Ruppersberger told delegates.

Since he announced his upcoming retirement, Ruppersberger said many constituents have stopped him to thank him for his work.

“I consider myself incredibly lucky that the citizens of my district have trusted me to represent them,” he said.

Former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III was honored with the Thomas Kennedy Award, named for a delegate from the 1800s and given to a former delegate for their efforts in public service.

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“This was my favorite job I ever had,” said Baker, who served in the House from 1994 to 2003.

After a teenage Baker complained about an ineffective local politician, his father nudged him to run if he thought he could do better.

When Baker was 35, he was able to bring his father — then in the last year of his life — to Annapolis to see his son sworn into office as a delegate.

“That memory has stayed with me to say our time here in these positions that you are given — it is our obligation and our duty to do all we can to make sure that those who aren’t watching us are taken care of,” Baker said.

Del. Luke Clippinger was honored with the Casper R. Taylor Jr. Founder’s Award, given annually to a current member of the House.

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The Baltimore Democrat, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said he was surprised to receive the award. Clippinger worked to keep his composure when thanking his partner of 12 years — “the love of my life!” — for supporting him.

“He makes it possible for me to be here and torment all of you,” Clippinger said to a few laughs. “I hope that you’ll all remember those people in our lives who help us to be able to serve the people of the state of Maryland. Because it’s so important, the work they do to help us be here.”

In the Senate, President Bill Ferguson awarded two Marylanders the First Citizen Award. Established in 1992 by former Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., the honor is given annually to dedicated public servants who have made government work “for the benefit of all.”

Ferguson chose former Gov. Marvin Mandel, posthumously.

The Democratic governor served from 1969 through 1979 and is often credited with modernizing Maryland’s government. Mandel created the Maryland Department of Transportation and the Department of Natural Resources and what is now Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

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Mandel’s award was accepted on behalf of his family by retired Maryland Court of Appeals Judge Alan M. Wilner. Wilner served as Mandel’s counsel and chief legislative officer.

“It is a well-deserved honor to a man who knew and truly cared about the welfare of the state and all of the people,” said Wilner.

Wilner highlighted how Mandel created pathways for people being discriminated against to purchase auto insurance and his creation of the state’s shock trauma center.

“How many lives have been saved because of Marvin’s courage, his foresight, his tenacity?”

Reverend Dr. Frances Murphy “Toni” Draper, the CEO and publisher of media company the AFRO American newspapers, was also honored. She is the first woman and fourth-generation member of her family to lead the longest running Black-led media outlet.

Draper, a retired pastor, was invited to give the daily prayer. She said she was taken by surprise when Maryland State Archivist Elaine Rice Bachmann started to introduce her as the honoree.

The Morgan State University and Johns Hopkins University alum’s life and career, Bachmann said, “embody the critical and historical intersection of the Black church, the Black press and civil rights, an integral partnership that has enabled a slow march toward a more equitable society.”

As she thanked Ferguson and the chamber, she said that someone in her line of work receives many honors, but this award, “Is like none other.”

Pamela Wood and Brenda Wintrode

Turn on the vacancy sign

The Maryland Senate is about to have another open seat, as Sen. Ariana Kelly plans to depart to join Gov. Wes Moore’s administration after the end of the General Assembly session.

Kelly, a Montgomery County Democrat, will be the new executive director of the Maryland Commission for Women, she announced in a letter to constituents this week.

Del. Ariana Kelly talks about proposals to protect access to abortion during a press conference at the State House in Annapolis on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023. She's joined by other leaders including House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, Gov. Wes Moore and Senate President Bill Ferguson.
Ariana Kelly, then a state delegate, speaks at a press conference on reproductive rights in early 2023. Soon after, she was appointed to the state Senate and now she’s announced she’s joining Gov. Wes Moore’s administration. (Pamela Wood/The Baltimore Banner)

“While women’s rights are being rolled back across the country, Maryland can show strong leadership, and serve as a model for supporting women and families,” she wrote. “I’m so excited to be committing myself to this work full time!”

Kelly joined the Senate a little more than a year ago, having joined the chamber to fill a vacancy when then-Sen. Susan Lee joined the Moore administration as secretary of state. Kelly previously served more than 12 years in the House of Delegates.

The Montgomery County Democratic State Central Committee will be charged with nominating a replacement for Kelly; the final decision rests with the governor.

Pamela Wood

Women’s Caucus picks new leaders

The General Assembly’s Women Legislators of Maryland announced its next set of leaders and, once again, it’s a one-party affair.

Only Democratic women have been leading and participating in the women’s caucus ever since a rift between Democrats and Republicans two years ago. Prior to 2022, the caucus alternated between Democratic and Republican leadership, but that year, Democrats put forward one of their own as president over the Republican who was in line.

The new slate of leaders announced this week: President Del. Dana Jones of Anne Arundel County; First Vice President Del. Michele Guyton of Baltimore County; Second Vice President Del. Jennifer White Holland of Baltimore County; Secretary Del. Brooke Grossman of Washington County; Treasurer Del. Linda Foley of Montgomery County.

At-large board members are Del. Kym Taylor of Prince George’s County and Del. Jackie Addison of Baltimore City.

The caucus also announced honorary members: Dawn Moore, the wife of Gov. Wes Moore; Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller (a former state delegate); and Comptroller Brooke Lierman (also a former state delegate).

Pamela Wood

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