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Gov. Moore’s Maryland Stadium Authority nominee won’t back down, finds community support

An increasingly diverse group of politicians and business leaders from around the state are throwing their weight behind one of Gov. Wes Moore’s nominees for the Maryland Stadium Authority – a nine member financial board with most of its members nominated by the governor and confirmed by the senate.

The nominee, Yolanda Maria Martinez (who goes by Maria), is a Latina business owner who lives in Ellicott City whose nomination was not confirmed by the Senate Executive Nominations Committee on March 14.

Nine days later, a small group of Black business and community leaders gathered in Nancy Cafe on North Avenue in Baltimore to share their experiences with Martinez. They are among a growing faction of leaders asking lawmakers to reconsider their initial decision.

“Business is one of those things where you do fail daily. And if you're not failing, you're not stretching, right?” said Shelona Stokes, president of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, a nonprofit that contributes to economic development efforts.

If confirmed, Martinez would serve on a board responsible for overseeing the issuance of tax-exempt bonds to finance projects statewide, a powerful but unpaid role.

Maryland lawmakers hesitated to confirm Martinez when Maryland Matters, a nonprofit state government centric news organization published an investigation into Martinez’s personal and business financial history on March 13, one day before her confirmation hearing.

The investigation revealed that Martinez filed for personal bankruptcy protection in 2019 with $7.2 million in debt but was also dealing with lawsuits. Over the past 35 years, there have been 64 lawsuits or liens for unpaid debts filed against the business owner.

Her supporters spoke about how she would hop on the phone at almost any hour to solve a problem, describing her as giving with everything – time, money, and expertise. And that she’s been a leader in the business community for decades and has served on dozens of boards in the past.

On March 21, more than 80 politicians statewide signed a joint letter in support of her nomination.

That letter did not acknowledge Martinez’ bankruptcy or other financial troubles.

But on Friday, the group rallied around Martinez and wanted her to be given a second chance.

Martinez can still be confirmed. The Moore administration stands by her, a spokesperson said last week that the governor “fully supports” her.

Martinez says she has moved on from her financial issues and began to take a defensive stance.

“I would like to remind everyone that I am one of several individuals who will be making decisions,” she said.

The bankruptcy was related to her company Respira, a medical respiratory equipment company, which began to fail in 2018 after government reimbursements decreased, explained Martinez.

“I did everything to the best of my ability,” she said. “I went into personal bankruptcy because at that point, I guaranteed a lot of the loans and things that the company was obligated to.”

She also attributes some of her financial woes to what she describes as abusive past relationships, including an arranged marriage from when she was a teenager.

Martinez would be the only Latina on the board and that unique perspective is a critical component for the economic development executive and supporter, Stokes.

“We need to make sure there's a voice of the minority business, who knows what it's been like to go through, and… thrive and grow,” she said.

The nominee nodded to the Moore administration’s aspirations to increase minority and women-owned business contracts to hit state goals.

“It will really be a pleasure to add my piece with the 29% minority goals that the governor has,” Marinez said. “I think I am the person to do that.”

The Stadium Authority oversees hundreds of millions of dollars for capital projects and leases.

Those are important things to consider, said State Sen. Mary Beth Carozza, a Wicomico County Republican during the Executive Nominations Committee last week.

“When our constituents raise concerns about a challenged fiscal history and background that’s being applied to an appointment to one of the most important and prestigious [boards] in the state, those are legitimate questions,” Carozza said.

Constituents wonder if there are better choices without such financial challenges, she said.

Emily is a general assignment news reporter for WYPR.
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