The election flyer that landed in Prince George’s County mailboxes on Friday, October 21, looked typical. Banner top front: “2016 Democratic Sample Ballot for the General Election,” above screamer “Democrats 2016.” Banner bottom front: “VOTE DEMOCRATS 2016” and “DEMOCRATIC GENERAL ELECTION,” with the election date. Heading on the reverse: “2016 Democratic Sample Ballot.” Also, “Take this with you when you vote.”
The flyer endorses four Prince George’s County Circuit Court judges–incumbents Herbert Dawson, Dorothy Michelle Engel and Karen Mason, and nominee Ingrid Turner, who defeated Judge Erik Nyce in the primary. The four judicial candidates are pictured beneath photos of Hillary Clinton, Senate candidate Chris Van Hollen, and House candidates Anthony Brown and Steny Hoyer.
The flyer also endorses five school board candidates. Unlike sample ballots, it includes just one candidate for each position–David Murray in District 1, Patricia Eubanks in District 4, Cheryl Landis in District 5, Alexander Wallace in District 7, and Edward Burroughs III in District 8. Murray is unopposed. Trying to find out more, I emailed the mailer to local school activist Genevieve Demos Kelley. As Kelley noted in her blog, the mailer looks at first sight like any official Democratic Party mailer, but the county’s Central Democratic Committee voted not to endorse in school board races this year.
Committee flyer endorses four Prince George’s County judges and five P. G. school board candidates
The flyer was actually mailed by the Prince George’s Committee to Elect the Sitting Judges; see below.
Five of the Prince George’s County Board of Education seats, as mentioned, are up for rotation November 8. Two contests include school board members who in August wrote a letter to County Executive Rushern Baker, asking the board’s chair and vice chair to step down after revelations of abuse in county schools. And one of the two has a challenger endorsed on the “2016 Democratic Sample Ballot.” That is to say, Verjeana Jacobs in District 5 not only has an opponent, but her opponent has the implied blessing of ‘Democrats 2016’ from Clinton on down to Van Hollen and Brown and/or Hoyer. (Two other members on the letter, Beverly Anderson and Sonya Williams, are not up for reelection this fall; one is vacating her seat; and one, Edward Burroughs III, received an endorsement.)
The Washington Post endorsed for school board only incumbents and/or non-participants in the letter. Full disclosure: The troubled Judge Sylvania Woods Elementary School is in District 4, my district, and I myself voted for challenger Abel Olivo in early voting yesterday. And speaking of full disclosure–
On the reverse, bottom left, smallest print on the page, comes the required-by-law “Authorized by: David S. Coaxum, Treasurer, Prince George’s Committee to Elect the Sitting Judges” and “Committee for reCharge At-Large, Calvin Brown, Treasurer.” The return address (top front left; they don’t make this easy) reads “P.O. Box 2072, Upper Marlboro MD 20773-2072.”
Directories and public records show the postal address as held by Michelle Lynn Fanning, now Michelle Williams, of Gambrills, Maryland, in the Bowie area. Principal Michelle Williams is suspended from her position at the head of Judge Sylvania Woods Elementary School, near Bowie. The telephone number listed for the address is out of service, and Principal Williams has not replied to an emailed query. The main office at Judge Sylvania Woods Elementary did not return a call.
As has been widely reported, a volunteer aide at Sylvania Woods produced child pornography at the facility, using students for his videos. Additional reports are linked here and here. Law firm Joseph Greenwald Laake has filed a lawsuit on behalf of parents of some Sylvania Woods students. All of this might reasonably raise a question as to why a suspended principal is engaged in politicking. Another question is why it is allowable for the principal to engage in behind-the-scenes politicking for either judges or school board candidates. In the near future, both the courts and the school board in Prince George’s County may have to weigh in on issues arising at Sylvania Woods Elementary, among other issues.
The Committee to Elect the Sitting Judges sent out a similar mailer for a fundraiser back in February. Same contact information. Somewhat different candidates, since one went down to defeat. An email to Judge Erik Nyce has not been returned.
The same flyer was being handed out at early voting locations yesterday. I spoke briefly with Ms. Engels’ husband, who happened to be standing near a box of the mailers.
Along with Coaxum, the Maryland state Board of Elections campaign finance website lists as chair of the committee Elizabeth Marie Hewlett of Bowie. No one answered the phone at the number provided. Along with chairing the Committee to Elect the Sitting Judges, Hewlett is also chair of the M-NCPP Prince George’s County Planning Board. Questions placed by telephone with an assistant to Ms. Hewlett have not been returned.
This committee looks interesting. The Maryland campaign finance database makes information on contributions fairly accessible. The Prince George’s Committee to Elect the Sitting Judges has received many contributions, loans or transfers since its founding. Many are small donations; many donations of varying amounts into the thousands have come from attorneys, law firms, lobbyists, judges’ relatives and others in the legal community.
In February 2016, the Joseph Greenwald Laake firm–which is representing stakeholders at Sylvania Woods Elementary in the lawsuit–donated $4,000.00 to the committee. A telephone call and an email to Joseph Greenwald Laake have not been returned. Judge Engel’s husband, Michael C. Engel, donated $4,000 on March 8, 2016. The similar Montgomery County Committee to Retain the Sitting Judges of Montgomery Co MD PAC also transferred $4,000 in March 2016. Prominent attorneys and key lawyer-General Assembly members like Joseph Bonsib, Gerard Evans, Mike Miller and Joseph Vallario also made four-figure donations.
Emails to County Executive Rushern Baker, Principal Williams, Coaxum and Brown have not been returned. Calls to the offices of Coaxum and Brown have not been returned. This seems to be a quiet and modest group of people.
The mailer also includes a small-print disclaimer that “This message has not been authorized or approved by any other candidate or committee.”