September 1, 2010

Harrison says Momma isn’t going anywhere

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By Megan Poinski
Megan@MarylandReporter.com

After 35 years, Momma is still on the train – and she is not planning to get off anytime soon.

“You can’t throw Momma from the train,” said Del. Hattie Harrison, who is seeking her 10th elected term in office this year. “Momma’s still got too much to do.”

Representing Baltimore City since 1973, District 45’s Harrison certainly has been a mother figure – and someone to look up to – in the House of Delegates. Her campaign nickname, which plays on the 1987 Danny DeVito film comedy  “Throw Momma from the Train,” aptly describes her role in the General Assembly.

More than 30 years ago, she was the first black woman to be named a committee chairwoman when she was chosen to helm the Rules and Executive Nominations Committee. She still holds that post today.

(Harrison does not list her birth date in her official biography, but Wikipedia and other sources say she is 82. She would likely be the oldest member of the General Assembly if re-elected this year.)

Harrison’s path to politics started with active civic involvement. She was first involved with the PTA at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Baltimore. From there, she started working with Clarence “Du” Burns, a City Council member and later mayor, and she got involved in city politics.

Harrison was a founding member of the East Side Democratic Organization and on the state central committee. In 1973, when there was a vacancy for the legislative district, the central committee selected Harrison to fill it.

“I’ve been elected ever since,” she said.

Harrison said that her focus has always been on ordinary constituents. She has also been a strong supporter of unions throughout her tenure, pushing for improvements in union benefits and conditions. Some of her proudest legislative accomplishments have been in behalf of labor, Harrison said.

She also has advocated for constituents in need of services – mostly those who need a hand with insurance, gas and electricity — and worked out arrangements with the companies to help people in East Baltimore.

In her three and a half decades at the State House, Harrison has seen many changes. Different personalities, priorities and leadership styles have altered the dynamic in Annapolis, she said.

“Some of them are good to work with,” she said. “Some are not.”

Harrison has also seen major changes to her district. As Baltimore lost population, her district boundaries have changed, moving the lines to encompass more of the northeast portion of the city.

In 2006, there was a concerted effort to unseat her. It has not revived during this campaign, but Harrison and fellow Democratic incumbents Talmadge Branch and Cheryl Glenn face primary challenges from Kevin Parson and Jamaal Simpson.

If re-elected, Harrison said that she hopes to keep working on issues for her constituents, especially those involving insurance.

“It’s how you work with people, how you get along, and how you make sure to deliver services,” Harrison said.