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Politicsby Fern Shen5:56 pmJul 22, 20220

Court Clerk candidate Xavier Conaway faces legal challenge about the use of his well-known name

The brother of opponent Lenora Dawson has filed a complaint with the State Board of Elections alleging that Conaway, who leads in the primary vote count, did not run under his legal name

Above: Conaway is referred to as “Xavier Washington” in a 2019 tweet identifying him as a “campaign manager” for Rise Temple University, a student group. (@risetempleu)

Xavier A. Conaway, the 25-year-old who appears poised after Tuesday’s primary to become the next Baltimore City Circuit Court Clerk, is facing a legal challenge alleging that he did not file to run under his legal name as required by state law.

Conaway is the grandson of former Circuit Court Clerk Frank J. Conaway Sr. and son of Register of Wills Belinda K. Conaway, but his father is Milton D. Washington.

He went by the name Xavier Washington when he attended Temple University in Philadelphia, according to a spokesman for the school.

He has been registered in Baltimore as Xavier Conaway-Washington, according to records on file with the City Board of Elections.

But he updated his voter registration information last February 2, records show, changing his name to Xavier A. Conaway.

Two weeks later, under that name, he filed to run for the Circuit Court Clerk seat, one of five candidates in thr Democratic primary.

Lively line-up competing in open Circuit Court Clerk’s race (7/13/22)

With mail-in ballots still being counted, Conaway leads with slightly over 26% of the vote.

The next highest vote-getter, Lenora Dawson, with nearly 23% of the vote, is crying foul.

Conaway says Dawson – and any other critic of his name change – are “wrong,” but declined to comment in detail.

“My name is Xavier A. Conaway – that’s all I want to say,” he said when reached by The Brew. “I don’t know why it’s being debated by people. It’s that way in the DMV and in voter registration records.”

When his mother was running for office and questions were raised regarding her residency in Baltimore City or Baltimore County, Conaway said, “the media was trying to stalk me in inappropriate ways.”

This may account “for why there is some hesitation” over the use of his name. he said.

In one media report from that time, published in 2011 when he was 13, he was referred to as Xavier Washington.

Clerk of Court candidate Leonora Dawson campaigning outside an early voting center last week. (Fern Shen)

Clerk of Court candidate Leonora Dawson campaigns outside an early voting center earlier this month. (Fern Shen)

Famous Last Name

His candidacy has drawn scrutiny in part because of the responsibility he would be assuming at such a young age.

Whoever ends up serving as City Circuit Court clerk will be in charge of an office budgeted at $27 million for a staff of 297 employees responsible for managing more than a million records annually.

Dawson said she does not believe Conaway ever legally changed his name to match the one he ran on and thinks he did not follow state law that sets out a procedure to use an “alternate name.”

“As a woman of integrity, I firmly believe that all candidates should follow the laws and rules governed by the Maryland State Board of Elections,” she said in a statement released to The Brew.

Her brother, Timothy Dawson, said voters were tricked by an individual breaking the rules in order to use the name of his politically well-known family to get elected.

“I know his family, and I know he’s not a Conaway,” said Dawson, who filed a complaint today with the State Board of Elections and is directing his attorneys to seek an injunction to stop Conaway’s candidacy.

“He wouldn’t have won if he hadn’t switched to that name. He’s 25 years old, for god’s sake”  – Complainant Timothy Dawson.

“Everyone has to play by the rules,” Dawson said, asserting that Conaway was required under state law to file specific affidavits and failed to.

The name change, he said, was crucial to Conaway’s success as a candidate.

“He wouldn’t have won if he hadn’t switched to that name and everybody in the city knows it. He’s 25 years old, for god’s sake,” said Dawson, a former Baltimore City Public Schools principal.

Who’s Responsible?

Jared DeMarinis, director of the state election board’s candidacy and campaign finance division, was asked on Wednesday what is required for a candidate to use a name other than their legal name on the ballot.

He pointed The Brew to provisions of state law (COMAR 33.01.06) that permit a candidate to use an “alternate name” on the ballot “if the person is generally known by that alternate name” in the community.

The candidate must document this by submitting either “press accounts” or affidavits submitted by two witnesses “certifying under penalty of perjury” that the person is widely known by that name, DeMarinis said.

Asked the place where those documents must be filed, DeMarinis said the local election office – in this case the Baltimore City Board of Elections.

But officials did not have that documentation from Conaway, explaining that they do not require it and that their office is not responsible for verifying that a candidate is filing under their legal name.

“We don’t have the authority to verify it. It’s up to the state to do that if somebody challenges it,” said election program manager Wendy Paige.

Paige pointed to the wording on the form used to apply for – and to update – a voter registration:

“Under penalty of perjury, I hereby swear and affirm . . . the information in the application is true to the best of my knowledge and information and belief.”

“They sign that. They say that the information is correct. That’s all we’re authorized to go by,” Paige said, reiterating that her office is required only to make sure a candidate uses the name “that is in the system” for them as a voter.

“You’re right. It is a loophole” – Mary C. Wagner, voter registration director for the State Board of Elections.

When The Brew reached out today to ask how many complaints he received about Conaway’s candidacy, DeMarinis responded with this email:

“The candidate submitted a voter registration name change prior to filing as a candidate. All procedures were followed,” he wrote back.

Asked what provision in state law permits “alternate names” to be used after only a voter registration name change, DeMarinis referred The Brew to Mary C. Wagner, director of the Division of Voter Registration and Petitions. Wagner was unable to cite any other COMAR provisions.

We asked Wagner: what’s to stop a person from changing their voter registration to any arbitrary name and then using that name when they run for office?

“You’re right. It is a loophole,” Wagner said, adding that if someone wants to challenge Conaway’s candidacy at this point, after the primary has been held, they might have to do so in court.

Timothy Dawson said he plans to do exactly that.

“I think they made a mistake to allow this and they just don’t want to admit it,” he said.

No Such Name in College

Xavier Conaway’s online LinkedIn resume says he attended Temple University, but he did so as Xavier Washington, according to school officials.

“There is no Xavier Conaway from that time,” Stephen C. Orbanek, Temple University director of communications, told The Brew.

Orbanek confirmed that the person going by Xavier A. Conaway on the primary ballot was attending the school as Xavier Washington.

He graduated in 2019 with a BA in Strategic Communication, Orbanek said.

Reviewing the record, Ornabek said there are multiple online references to Washington due to his participation in various clubs and student government activities.

He sent some links, including a 2018 student newspaper story identifying Washington as an “at-large representative” to the Student Government Association and a video highlighting international students at the school (above).

The video shows Washington guiding international students – one from Russia, another from Saudi Arabia – through downtown Philadelphia.

Conaway’s LinkedIn also lists him as working at Zenith as a national video investment negotiator.

Last September, when he participated in an online Gen-Z Town Hall as part of an “Advancing Diversity Week” event, he was identified as Xavier Conaway-Washington, Negotiator, National Video Investment at Zenith.

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