More than 40 people attended an energetic rally on the windy morning of March 2 at the Pikesville library, where Pikesville attorney and Bernie Sanders supporter Sheldon H. Laskin launched his campaign against Democratic incumbent Sen. Bobby Zirkin for the 11th District state senate seat.
First elected in 2006, Zirkin, 46, is in his third term and has run unopposed since being elected. Laskin, 67, describing himself as a social justice advocate, community activist, 20-year District 11 resident and “progressive champion,” said that the overarching reasons he’s opposing Zirkin are “justice and fairness.”
“They cut though all the substantive issues,” he said. “Overall, it’s the sense of a lack of justice, a lack of fairness from people who are in power.”
As an attorney, Laskin said he has represented migrant workers, litigated employment discrimination and served as a Maryland assistant attorney general and worked as an activist with organizations such as CASA, Jews United for Justice and Working Families Maryland.
He said he is concerned about Zirkin’s record on paid sick leave, bail reform, immigration and voting rights.
“Bobby Zirkin no longer represents who we are and no longer represents what we value as a community,” Laskin said.
During his campaign speech, supported by his wife Fran, daughter Erica, campaign chair Dana Vickers Shelley and Charly Carter, executive director of Maryland Working Families, Laskin said that Zirkin has changed since he was elected 12 years ago as a reformer. Now, Laskin said, Zirkin’s policies align more with Republicans than Democrats.
“Overall, it’s the sense of a lack of justice, a lack of fairness from people who are in power.” — Sheldon H. Laskin
Laskin also noted that the bail bonds industry has contributed more to Zirkin’s campaign than to any other Maryland legislator. According to a Common Cause Maryland 2016 study, Maryland ranked third in the nation for bail bond industry state campaign donations between 2011 and 2016. Zirkin, head of the judicial proceedings committee, received $21,000 in campaign contributions from bail bond companies in 2016.
Zirkin declined to comment on specific issues that Laskin brought up, but has said in the past that addressing major bail reform and pretrial reform are complex issues that cannot be addressed quickly and should be based on sound data.
“Pretrial reform has been a controversial topic for years, and reforming our criminal justice system in a way that protects public safety is vitally important to me,” Zirkin wrote in an op-ed for the JT in April 2017 (“I Vote on Substance, Not Party”). In the column, Zirkin noted legilsation his committee sprearheaded that included several criminal justice reform measures. “Pretrial issues, and specifically bail reform,” Zikin wrote, “were not included in [that legislation], as the prevailing thought was that major reform should be based on data and not anecdote.”
Phil Branner of Pikesville, who attended the Laskin rally, said he didn’t know much about Laskin, only that he was running against Zirkin.
“He runs as a Democrat, but seems to have his own agenda and I think that’s OK,” Branner said. “But if you’re going to espouse any particular party’s platform, I think you owe some allegiance to that platform, and I don’t think that Sen. Zirkin has so far in the years that I’ve lived in this state.”
“If there are issues that [Laskin] or anybody else wants to bring up, they should come and testify in Annapolis,” he said. “We are right smack dab in the middle of a legislative session that’s focusing on cyberbullying and guns and increased violence in Baltimore City and education funding, the Kirwan Commission. There’s a lot of big issues to focus on. Focusing on campaigns is just not what we’re doing right now.”