Hectic scene in Arundel as council deadlocks on nominee

The day after an emotional Anne Arundel County Council meeting ended without a selection to fill the open District 1 seat, council members said they remained firm in their positions but were hoping to end the stalemate before they reconvene Tuesday.

The council met Thursday night to fill the position vacated by former Councilman Daryl D. Jones, who began serving a five-month federal prison term last month. The 41/2-hour meeting was marked by shouting, a racial slur, accusations of bullying and a 3-3 deadlocked vote over two candidates.

Former state Sen. Michael J. Wagner of Ferndale and Marine reservist Peter I. Smith of Severn were selected as finalists among 10 Democratic applicants in a process that included 101 rounds of voting. The council ultimately voted to resume the process next week.

"Hopefully, we can work out some kind of agreement," Council Chairman Derek Fink, a Pasadena Republican who supports Wagner, said Friday. "Somebody's got to … change their vote. There will be a lot of back-and-forth phone calls and emails and text messages in trying to get somebody to compromise and go one way or the other."

On Thursday, the fireworks started within the first 10 minutes of the meeting in downtown Annapolis.

Lewis A. Bracy, a retired federal worker who was one of 10 applicants for the seat, said he thought he should get the appointment, in part because "people in the county need to see a diverse person on the podium."

Bracy is African-American. Jones, a Democrat, was the second African-American to serve on the council.

Fink, who presides over the all-male and all-white body, was incredulous. "I can't believe that today I'm being asked to vote for someone … solely on diversity. It just blows my mind."

Bracy countered: "When's the last time you had an African-American in your house for dinner?

Fink responded, "I don't even have my brother over for dinner. … It's a ridiculous question."

The deadlocked council adjourned about 11:30 p.m. without picking its new member. The council has until Wednesday — 30 days after Jones' seat was declared vacant — to appoint a replacement.

Councilman John J. Grasso, a Glen Burnie Republican, asked all the applicants the same series of questions: Would you do the job for free? If you were Daryl Jones, would you have resigned? What's the definition of "diversity"?

When applicant Gloria Criss, a retired federal worker, hesitated as Grasso asked for her opinion on Jones, Grasso shouted, "Pick a side!"

While questioning a candidate with a military background, Councilman Richard B. "Dick" Ladd, a Broadneck Republican, used an ethnic slur to describe his service during the Vietnam War, saying, "I was there chasing down the gooks."

The comment elicited gasps from the audience assembled to watch the process play out. Ladd later apologized.

About 10 p.m., after the council had finished the interviews, it took its first vote, with each council member casting a voice vote for the candidate of his choice. Smith, Wagner and Richard W. "Rik" Forgo, an Air Force veteran from Linthicum, moved forward to the next stage.

Then came Round Two: three votes for Smith — Democrats Jamie Benoit of Crownsville and Chris Trumbauer of Annapolis, and Republican Jerry Walker of Gambrills. And three votes for Wagner — Grasso, Fink and Ladd.

Ninety-nine more ballots would come, and each councilman would stick to his vote, repeating the same name each time council administrator Beth Jones called for the voice vote. "No candidates are a majority," Jones repeated over and over.

After six ballots, Grasso said jokingly, "All right, ladies, we're going to be here all night."

Three ballots later, Grasso demanded an explanation from his colleagues as to why they weren't backing Wagner.

Benoit said: "I'm looking for someone who's going to help us and help the county executive … create a tomorrow kind of place. And Peter Smith, I think, best embodies the future in this county. I want to look forward, I don't want to look backward."

Foreshadowing what was to come, Benoit said, "And I'll vote for him over and over and over and over and over again."

Grasso, who said he chose Wagner because of his experience in government, then set his sights on Trumbauer. "I still haven't heard Mr. Trumbauer's reason for supporting Mr. Smith. … I think people deserve an answer."

Trumbauer answered: "I'm not going to sit up here and let you bully people anymore," said Trumbauer, which was met by loud applause. "I listened to 10 excellent candidates. … His background and experience and his situation is exactly what I was looking for."

Grasso replied: Thank you, Mr. Trumbauer. Was that so hard? I'm not trying to bully anybody. [You] want to act like a bunch of kids and keep going in circles. … I have a very strong personality, and I speak up and say what I need to say. … I'm not going to beat you up."

Trumbauer countered: "When this is all over, I'll give you a handshake. … Raising your voice is not helping us understand your position any better. … I'd rather have a discussion at this level rather than being yelled at. I don't think it's appropriate for you to yell over the dais at me or anybody else."

After many more ballots — and expressions of frustration from many of the members — the council voted 5-1, with Grasso voting no, to reconvene next week.

Asked after the meeting whether they'd be willing to change their votes, the council members were still divided.

Fink said, "Not an option."

Ladd said, "I'll sleep on it."

Grasso said, "Hell no."

Members reached Friday said they remain firm in their positions. Trumbauer and Walker said they would stick with Smith. Fink says he plans to continue supporting Wagner.

Benoit said that perhaps the four-day hiatus, which includes Monday's Presidents Day holiday, will help.

"I think everybody is entitled to a little time to think about this. I am sure all the interest groups are going to be applying whatever pressure they deem necessary to apply before we have a vote on Tuesday," said Benoit. "My hope is that political maturity will prevail. ... It is an embarrassment. It was gross."

nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

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