Face-to-face fundraising returns, with a heavy dose of Democratic governor campaign

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One of the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the absence of large-scale political events in Maryland for a year and a half. No chatter. Not in a good mood. No speech.

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Rushern L. Baker III (left) and Michael Rosenbaum (right) greet each other Thursday evening, as lobbyist Leonard N. Lucchi looks on. (Josh Kurtz / Maryland Matters)

One of the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the absence of large-scale political events in Maryland for a year and a half. No chatter. Not in a good mood. No speech.

But that changed dramatically and emphatically on Thursday night, when seven of the eight Democratic gubernatorial candidates gathered outdoors outside the Olney Theater in Montgomery County and spoke, one by one, to a crowd of politicians. , party activists, donors and states. Home lobbyists.

Officially, it was a fundraiser for House Majority Leader Eric G. Luedtke (D-Montgomery), a prominent figure in Annapolis. But Luedtke had the presence of mind to invite all declared and likely Democratic candidates for governor.

“To my surprise, most of them decided to show up,” Luedtke said.

And suddenly a nice political meeting on an unusually pleasant late spring evening turned into an event.

“This is my first real and real campaign event,” marveled one of the gubernatorial contenders Michael Rosenbaum, a Baltimore tech entrepreneur and first-time candidate.

The evening was divided into four parts: First came the preliminary schmoozing, snacks and soft drinks, mostly without a mask and with awkward handshakes, punches and hugs – as well as more greetings. emphatic.

“Shake hands now?” A campaign agent asked a man who reached out to him.

Then came the more traditional fundraising program: House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) and US Representative Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) Extolling the virtues of Luedtke, Jones calling out each member of the Chamber present, perhaps 20 in all, to join her with Luedtke in front of the crowd. Then Luedtke spoke, sending praise to Jones and Raskin.

House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) with her colleagues at a fundraiser for House Majority Leader Eric G. Luedtke (D-Montgomery). (Josh Kurtz / Maryland Matters)

Luedtke quickly shifted gears and became the moderator of an impromptu Governors Forum. Among the candidates in the Democratic field, only former attorney general Douglas F. Gansler, who was attending a conference of the Democratic Attorneys General Association, did not run.

Luedtke, like other pillars of the party, stressed the importance of electing a Democrat in 2022 after eight years of Republican Governor Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R).

“We had a governor who, in my opinion, has no vision for this state and does not work well with others,” Luedtke said. “… We need a governor who believes in people, who helps people. “

Each candidate then made his pitch. The crowd, used to giving speeches at political events because they had heard all the lines before, were remarkably respectful, seriously evaluating the candidates, aware that this was the public’s first significant exposure to Democrats who would be governor. They remained silent when Wes Moore, the foundation’s former executive and best-selling author, spoke.

All in all, it was a useful barometer of where the candidates think they are and the messages they want to get across to this small core of Democratic activists, the few who actually pay attention to the one-year and 11-day contenders. the primary:

  • Comptroller Peter VR Franchot highlighted his experience, which includes 14 years as a state-wide elected official and 20 years in the legislature, and his commitment to customer service, calling himself a “pragmatic progressive”.

“I favor results over rhetoric,” he said. “I want to restore the confidence of the Marylanders in the ability of the government to meet their needs.”

Franchot, who spent most of the Hogan administration getting closer to the governor, criticized Hogan for delays in getting unemployment checks to struggling Marylanders, and also presented aspects of his biography that voters may not be familiar with, including his work in opposition to the Vietnam War, his campaign for presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy in 1968, his anti-nuclear activism, and his time as director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.

  • Former US Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. told the audience that “we meet here tonight less than 10 miles from where my great-grandfather was enslaved. , in Gaithersburg ”. He told the story, he said, to think about how recent it was in history, but also “to contemplate that progress is possible.”

King spoke of his struggles in his youth after the death of both parents, but also of his faith in the redemptive powers of education. And he described his work with a new progressive advocacy group, Strong Future Maryland, which worked on issues of race and equity, climate change and tenant protection during the recent General Assembly session.

“I didn’t just talk about problems,” he said. “I didn’t just tweet about the issues. I did not mention cable TV problems.

  • Former Prince George County executive Rushern L. Baker III, a finalist in the 2018 Democratic primary for governor, began by criticizing Hogan, whose decisions, he said, delayed the opening of the new ultramodern hospital in Largo. and the launch of the Purple Line light rail project.

Baker said his career as a county legislator and executive – and now runs an institute at the University of Maryland College Park that trains new public servants – shows he’s ready for the challenges of the future.

“It’s in my DNA to run to a problem and stay there until the problem is fixed,” Baker said. He also verified the name of the late Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Howard P. “Pete” Rawlings (D-Baltimore City), who he said taught him to influence his colleagues and become a more effective leader.

  • Rosenbaum, the tech entrepreneur, touted his progress from an official in the Clinton administration to launching his own businesses, taking risks on Baltimore and finding ways to train struggling Marylanders to enter careers that will help them. would bring in the middle class. He said his experience will enable him to take an entrepreneurial approach to government that will create opportunities for all.

“I took these systems in business and won,” he said. “What we have to do as a state is face these systems and win.”

Jon Baron has created an exploratory committee to run for governor and promised “a big announcement” on Monday. (Josh Kurtz / Maryland Matters)
Jon Baron has created an exploratory committee to run for governor and promised “a big announcement” on Monday. Photo by Josh Kurtz.
  • Jon Baron, another former Clinton administration official who then went to work for philanthropic organizations focused on problem-solving, lamented that the same challenges elected leaders spoke of in the 1970s still exist today. But he said his experience in devising solutions to societal problems can translate into the work of government.

Baron also promised: “I will not take a dime of money from companies or special interests.”

  • Former Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez, a likely candidate, recounted his experiences as a member of the Montgomery County Council, as Maryland’s Secretary of Labor and United States Secretary of Labor, as as head of the civil rights division at the United States Department of Justice and as a board member of the immigrant rights group CASA.

Perez, who chaired the DNC in the 2020 presidential cycle, joked about the size of the Democratic jurisdiction. “There are a lot of people thinking about running for governor. But I’m here to tell you that it’s 18 less than if you were a candidate for the Presidency.

He described his family history – his parents moved from the Dominican Republic to Buffalo, NY, “because of the climatic similarities between Buffalo and the Dominican Republic” – and his philosophy on the role of government in helping others.

“My parents taught me to make sure the ladder is down,” Perez said, adding, “If you want to go to Heaven, you have to get reference letters from people in the shadows.”

  • Moore, who arrived late at Luedtke’s fundraiser and was only able to chat with people after the event was over, opened up his own biography – which was shaped by his father’s death at the age 3. Moore then discussed a creed he learned in the military – which he observed is not practiced in Maryland, where stark disparities remain.

“In the military, the first thing we learn is that we don’t leave anyone behind,” he said. “In fact, we are sending a battalion to collect them. We are leaving no one behind. Why, as a state, do we agree with this?

Moore said he has dedicated his life to fighting inequality and would bring the same determination to the governor’s office.

Moore, more than the other candidates, was mobbed by supporters at the end of the fundraiser. Perhaps it was due to the fact that he was not present for the preliminaries. Perhaps it was because he was less known to that particular political crowd than some of the other candidates. Or maybe it’s because he has a touch of celebrity that the other contestants don’t.

But if there was one winner among the candidates over public applause, it was none of the contenders for governor. This distinction belonged to Del. Comptroller candidate Brooke E. Lierman (D-Baltimore City) – and the only female Democrat to run for a statewide post to date.

Lierman’s quick speech, describing the ways in which the Comptroller’s Office can be a force for gradual change and urging the crowd to “be bold and think big,” generated the most excitement of the evening.

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