Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Plan to replace Wynn unsettled

With Congressional District 4 seat possibly open for seven months, a decision on a special election is up in the air

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U.S. Rep. Albert R. Wynn’s announcement Thursday that he was leaving Congress in June has left Maryland political leaders with the question of whether to hold a special election to replace him.

His departure will leave the 4th Congressional District without representation for seven months.

Gov. Martin O’Malley has no timetable for making a decision, a spokesman said Tuesday.

‘‘He’s had conversations with the Attorney General and he’s conferring with legal counsel on options,” O’Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said.

County Council President Michael J. Knapp supports a special election because important issues are pending in Congress and the district should be represented.

Knapp, a Wynn supporter, said he could understand Wynn’s decision to join a Washington law firm even though a special election could cost taxpayers $2 million.

‘‘It’s a delicate balance,” said Knapp (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown. ‘‘On the one hand, when a good business opportunity comes up, will it be there nine months later. On the other hand, you made a commitment to public service.”

Part of the problem was caused by having a primary so early, leaving any incumbent who lost a lame duck for almost a year, Knapp said.

Wynn’s resignation is effective in June, seven months before the end of his term in January 2009. He will join Dickstein Shapiro LLP.

Donna Edwards defeated Wynn 60 percent to 35 percent. She faces Republican Peter James for Wynn’s seat in the general election in November. Edwards first ran for the seat in 2006 and came within a few percentage points of defeating Wynn.

In announcing his resignation, Wynn, 56, said his early departure from the district, which includes parts of Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties, would help Edwards in a potential special election to replace him.

Wynn’s statement read: ‘‘My leaving early will allow ... Edwards the opportunity to successfully navigate a special election and be sworn in this summer. This will not only give her seniority in the incoming Congressional class of 2009, but more importantly, will allow her to get off to a fast start in serving the citizens of our community.”

Edwards issued the following statement: ‘‘In the spirit of a dedicated public servant, Congressman Wynn is looking out for the interest of his constituents and I commend him for that.”

Wynn’s announcement caught many lawmakers off guard.

Under the timetable Wynn announced for his departure, O’Malley may ‘‘allow the office to remain vacant for the remainder of the term,” as provided in Maryland election law, said David Paulson, spokesman for the Maryland Democratic Party.

‘‘It just happened so quickly, we haven’t had time to run the constitutional traps on that one,” the governor told reporters during a press conference in Annapolis today.

O’Malley spoke with Wynn earlier Thursday about his resignation.

‘‘I wish him well and I thank him for his service to the people of this state. He was in public office for some 25 years, so we congratulate him on his move to the private sector and thank him for his public service,” he said.

The governor’s decision on a special election — state law is ambiguous on whether one must be called — could be decided by congressional recesses. The House will not be in session from Aug. 11 to Sept. 5. Then on Sept. 26, the House starts another recess until after the November election.

One consideration is whether to risk not having a District 4 representative to vote on issues that could come before Congress in that short period.

A possible special election to replace Wynn follows another special election scheduled next month to replace Marilyn J. Praisner, the county councilwoman who died Feb. 1. The council special election — limited to just once council district in one county — will cost more than $1.2 million.

James, the Republican challenger, said Thursday he thought it was ‘‘pretty amazing” that Wynn would step down during a time of a weak national economy.

‘‘Given the state of finances, having a special election may or may not be a wise choice. It certainly doesn’t help the people,” he said.

Staff Writers Daniel Valentine, Margie Hyslop, Marcus Moore, Alan Brody and C. Benjamin Ford contributed to this report.