High political drama is known to erupt periodically in northwest Baltimore. But thanks to a delegate’s voting record on abortion bills and an all-white Orthodox political slate, controversy is intense this election year, even for the 41st District.
“It is the most stressful election I’ve ever been in, and I don’t even have a race,” says Senator Jill Carter, who is running unopposed, but is in the thick of both controversies.
Carter and her fellow 41st District incumbents – delegates Sandy Rosenberg, Tony Bridges and Dalya Attar – are running together on a slate in the July 19 Democratic primary.
But Attar is being singled out and targeted for defeat by reproductive rights advocates for her votes on abortion bills.
Following the Supreme Court’s rollback of constitutional protections for abortion, activists are scrutinizing Democrats who voted against a measure that expands the kinds of clinicians who can perform abortions in Maryland.
“There is no room in the Democratic Party or in any progressive movements for anti-abortion elected officials. Period,” Lily Bolourian, executive director of Pro-Choice Maryland, told Maryland Matters recently.
Carter, one of Annapolis’ most liberal legislators, is coming in for criticism for including Attar on the slate. She says she was unaware of Attar’s voting record.
“Look, I’m in the Senate. She’s in the House. I didn’t know about this,” Carter told The Brew, adding, “It’s not like her vote made a difference.”
The other controversy spilled out into the open last month thanks to a tweet by District 40 Senator Antonio Hayes.
“I recently learned that there is a City Council representative that is pushing and funding an all-white slate of candidates to the Democratic State Central Committee in this majority African-American community,” Hayes wrote. “This should be exposed for what it is.”
Hayes was referring to a slate that includes City Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer and five fellow members of the Orthodox community: his cousin Sandy “Ronnie” Rosenbluth, Alex Friedman, Bassheva “Shevy” Friedman, Tzvi Skaist and Tzvi Topper.
Among the politically aware, Schleifer’s slate has raised eyebrows because central committees wield considerable behind-the-scenes powers, including the power to fill legislative vacancies.
In response to the Schleifer slate, Carter has formed a central committee slate of her own.
Including both white and Black candidates, it “reflects the demographic and geographic diversity of the 41st,” tweeted one of the slate’s members, Evan Serpick, a Jewish resident from Mount Washington.
The dueling slates appear in one of the city’s more ethnically mixed districts. Roughly 26% white and 63% Black, the 41st wraps around the northwest corner of the city, encompassing voters in Yale Heights, Edmondson Village, West Arlington, Grove Park, Cheswolde, Pimlico, Fallstaff, Roland Park, Cross Keys and Mount Washington, among other neighborhoods.
Tensions have historically flared between the communities on either side of Northern Parkway, where the leaders of distinct African-American and Orthodox Jewish communities have sought to co-exist and collaborate. The slate square off appears to be one of those flare-ups.
“For Yitzy to put together a slate of only Orthodox Jewish people in one of the most diverse parts of the city is outrageous – it’s offensive,” declared Carter, who said she put her slate together after she heard about Schleifer’s.
Schleifer has not responded to repeated requests for comment from The Brew, leaving it to Carter to characterize the situation.
Carter accused the 5th District Councilman of telling people he formed his slate in response to hers, reacting to the fact that hers includes no Orthodox candidates.
She disputes him in no uncertain terms. “It’s a blatant lie,” she said.
Carter said she did not decide to form her slate until after someone sent her a screenshot of the orange signs advertising Schleifer’s. She didn’t need to include any Orthodox candidates, she said, because the other slate had so many.
Schleifer responded today [SEE FULL STATEMENT BELOW] strongly disputing Carter’s version of events, saying his slate was in response to Carter’s.
“There are six Orthodox Jews running, and yet she neglected to put even one on her ticket and ensure her ticket reflects the diversity of the 41st district,” Schleifer said.
“I had no intention to create any slate, nor spend the time and money to send mailers and put up signs, but I was left with no choice after the senator blatantly left out that entire community,” he continued.
To some political observers, concern about the all-Orthodox team is overblown. Political consultant Hassan Giordano, who is Black, recalled an all-African American slate from a previous election.
“If it’s okay for one group, it’s okay for the other,” Giordano says. “They’re doing strategically what they’re supposed to do. They’re saying [to voters] to come out and vote for their people.”
Attar’s Record on Abortion
Others, like 41st District resident Tess Carpenter, of Roland Park, disagree, finding Schleifer’s slate “too homogeneous.”
“I’m very excited about the diverse slate Jill Carter formed,” she said.
But as a firm believer in reproductive rights, Carpenter is not happy about Carter and other prominent Democrats supporting Attar.
“It’s very concerning that the only woman representing us is anti-choice, and yet it’s not well known at all,” said Carpenter. “In Baltimore City, I’m sure the average voter would assume any woman running as a Democrat would be pro-choice.”
Attar has not responded to multiple requests from The Brew for comment. The freshman lawmaker attracted attention four years ago both as the top vote-getter in her race and as the first Orthodox Jew elected to the House of Delegates.
“It’s very concerning that the only woman representing us is anti-choice” – 41st District resident Tess Carpenter.
Carpenter and the other pro-choice advocates are urging voters not to return Attar to Annapolis because of her votes on two bills.
The delegate voted “no” on the Abortion Care Access Act, which allows nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and physicians assistants to perform abortions. It also mandates that insurance companies cover the procedure unless they can cite a legal or religious exception.
The bill passed this year, but Attar was one of six Democrats who voted against it.
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed the measure, but the legislature overrode him. Attar was one of five Democrats who voted against the override.
“Did you know this about Dalya Attar, people?” 41st District resident Marla Goldstein Lewis wrote on Facebook when she heard about that vote, tagging Attar.
Attar also voted against HB1171, introduced by House Speaker Adrienne Jones, that would have set up a November referendum to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution.
The bill passed through the House, but stalled in the Senate.
“It’s not just one bill with Dalya. It’s her whole record on this issue,” Carpenter said.
Two More in the Mix
The two non-incumbents vying for one of the three delegate seats – community activist and trucking company owner Christopher Ervin and former delegate Bilal Ali – are both on record as supporting abortion rights.
Ervin, who twice ran unsuccessfully for a 5th District City Council seat, is the founder of The Lazarus Rite, a reentry program for the formerly incarcerated and the underemployed. A community leader in Howard Park, he promises to reduce “crime and grime” in the district.
Event producer Bilal Ali was appointed a 41st District delegate in 2017-18 following the election of Catherine Pugh as mayor and the retirement of Sen. Lisa Gladden. He currently is executive director of CMDS (Clinic Management and Development Services), the controversial administrative arm of the Turning Point Clinic in East Baltimore and a treatment center in West Baltimore.
He promises to fight for “economic prosperity and safer neighborhoods” and to promote “educational excellence.”
Warning to Democrats
Carter says she stands by her own record on abortion rights, but doesn’t find Attar’s past votes concerning enough to move away from her.
“We’ve worked well together for the district over four years. I’m not going to react on this one issue,” Carter said. “I don’t agree with a lot of the things the other delegates do, and they don’t agree with things I do, but we support each other.”
Carter sent The Brew a statement from her, Rosenberg, Bridges – and Attar – asserting that “each believes in a women’s reproductive rights.”
How to square that statement with Attar’s voting record?
“You’ll have to ask her that,” Carter answered.
“We’ve worked well together. . . I’m not going to react on this one issue” – Senator Jill Carter.
Marla Goldstein Lewis, who co-organizes a northwest Baltimore food drive for the needy, said Attar’s votes are all the information she needs.
“Nobody should be told what they can and cannot do – it seems we are regressing back on Roe v. Wade,” she said, referring to the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling, now overturned, affirming the right to an abortion.
“Rulings like this that take away people’s choice hurts democracy.”
Goldstein Lewis, who is Orthodox like Attar, said she didn’t want to speculate about whether religious beliefs were the reason for Attar’s vote. “I just know how I feel about” the issue, she said.
Carpenter, meanwhile, said the Supreme Court decision, the rise of Trumpism and other signs of a rightward shift in the country should be a wake-up call for Democrats in blue states like Maryland not to be too complacent.
“There could come a time when we are at risk of losing rights we have taken for granted,” she said. “It could happen in a few election cycles.”
Central Committee Missteps
While the clash over 41st District slates has caused some to worry about the future, others look to the past.
The 41st District has been Exhibit A for good government advocates who decry the central committees put in place by the state’s Democrats and Republicans.
When a 41st District Senate vacancy opened up there in 2017, the central committee’s choice to fill it was Nathaniel T. “Nat” Oaks, a member of the House of Delegates.
The 41st District has been Exhibit A for good government advocates who decry how central committees operate.
They made this choice despite the fact that Oaks had left the legislature in 1989 after being convicted of stealing thousands of dollars from his campaign fund. (Voters sent him back to Annapolis in 1994.)
Three months after the committee selected Oaks for the Senate seat, he was indicted by a federal grand jury for accepting $15,300 in cash bribes.
The committee was once again in the spotlight when it came time to meet to fill the vacancy created by Oaks’ forced resignation.
The disgraced ex-senator – himself a central committee member – was almost able to participate in the vote for his replacement.
State party leaders said he could not be kept away even though he’d pleaded guilty to two corruption charges. Their reasoning: He had not yet been sentenced.
In the end, Oaks was a no-show, skipping the meeting and sparing the central committee another embarrassment.
Councilman Schleifer’s Full Statement:
“I made the decision to run for State Central Committee because I want to help more Democrats get elected into office and I feel that the Central Committee needs to be doing more to fulfill that mission.
After the filing deadline, the list of candidates fortunately included a diverse group – individuals from all over the district. My plan was to run on my own and let the other 7 best candidates win the seats.
Shortly after the filing deadline, Senator Carter created a slate of 8 State Central Committee candidates. The Senator neglected to include at least just one Orthodox Jewish candidate from Northwest Baltimore. There are 6 Orthodox Jews running, and yet she neglected to put even one on her ticket and ensure her ticket reflects the diversity of the 41st district.
This sincerely offended me and many constituents across the district. I therefore created my own slate with the remaining strong candidates who were excluded from the Senator’s ticket.
“This is part of an ongoing pattern of neglect and exclusion of the Orthodox community” – Councilman Yitzy Schleifer.
This is part of an ongoing pattern of neglect and exclusion of the Orthodox community.
Again, I had no intention to create any slate, nor spend the time and money to send mailers and put up signs, but I was left with no choice after the Senator blatantly left out that entire community.
My hope is that the top 8 vote-getters on the State Central committee reflect the diversity of the 41st district and we can use this as a learning experience that NO community should be left behind and ignored.
In addition to all this, she has endorsed candidates who support Green Party and Republican Party candidates. The members of the Democratic State Central Committee should be 100% committed to electing Democrats, and yet this is not the case with some candidates on her slate. As a Democrat, this is extremely concerning.
I am proud of my strong diverse ballot that will include a variety of positions and many candidates and will be handed out at the polls on Election Day.
Thank you for reaching out to me about this and giving me an opportunity to explain why I created a slate with the remaining candidates who were neglected by the Senator’s ticket.”