(Largo, MD) On a sweltering Friday afternoon in May, Maryland Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown surrounded by family, friends, and supporters stepped out of the Governor’s shadow and had the spotlight. Brown, the former member of the House of Delegates, announced his intention to seek the Democratic nomination for Governor.
Using Prince George’s County Community College as his backdrop Brown had nearly 300 people on hand to validate his support. Holding "Brown for Governor" signs, it was a cross section of the county. There were young and old, Blacks, Whites, those from the Asian, African, and Indian Diaspora in the crowd. There were a number of members of the legislature including State Senators Thomas V. “Mike” Miller and Ulysses Currie, Delegates Veronica Turner, James Proctor, and Darren Swain and Maryland Congresswoman Donna Edwards (MIA, Prince George's Co. Exe. Rushern Baker).
Representative Edwards is under no pretense on appealing to constituencies outside of your comfort zone. She was with Brown several weeks ago in Western Maryland when he came in first place in a straw poll. It’s an unlikely place to go looking for voters, “look there are Democrats in Western Maryland.”
Expected to join Brown in the race for the Democratic nominee may be as many three other politicians. They may include current Attorney General Douglass Gansler, Howard County Executive, Ken Ulman, Delegate Heather Mizeur, and Congressman C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger. The winner of the Democratic primary normally has an easy path in the General Election with Democrats holding nearly a two to one margin over Republicans.
With his early announcement the Lieutenant Governor has the opportunity to shape this race. Brown hit on accomplishments. He talked about his signature achievement of creating the health insurance exchange. Despite this, the crowd really wanted to know “What can you do for me now?” He pointed to states school system being rank number one in the nation, but that accomplishment fails to win fans in the Washington suburb. Why because Prince George’s is either in last place or next to last place in state school jurisdictions. “It’s not enough to have best school system in county unless every child in Maryland whether they are from Capital Heights or Chevy Chase gets a world class education. “ The crowd showed their approval with applause.
Taking care of your base is key. You must start with the folks you know. Delegate Swain who was appointed to a seat vacated by Delegate Justin Ready reaffirmed why he was supporting Brown, “he knows the issues.” Swain understands why coming out early is important. It's about the fundraising (Gansler has $5.2 mil in the bank) and getting people to endorse your candidacy. According to Swain, Brown has to answer a simple question for supporters ”Am I worthy of an investment?" The Prince George’s delegate is part of a unique cadre of supporters who know about long odds. Several of his friends reminded him of the campaign to get Wayne Curry to be the first African American County Executive; they equated that campaign to this campaign.
Although Senate President Miller was in attendance to support a fellow Prince Georgian this was not an endorsement as several Brown aides reminded me. This however was a “stamp of approval and qualification” according to them.
Problems and Potential Hiccups
It was impressive to see the number of supporters in the crowd at the Community College. There were several key constituencies missing at this rally. Where were Baltimore City, Howard and Montgomery County politicians? Where were the Business leaders of the state? Maybe they are waiting until he shows up in their backyards to stand with the candidate. You would think some of them would be with him every step of the way.
Is the state ready to elect its first Black governor? There are still portions of Maryland that find the concept both foreign and unacceptable. Others will question why that subject is on the table to begin with. The number of conservative Democrats in the state is diminishing. You really can’t worry about those who will not vote for you, but you must maximize your voters. I’m hoping the ugliness of racism is buried, but I doubt it.
Living on the legacy of your predecessor is good way to start. Members of the GOP have been hammering the governor on his varied programs from the last legislative session (repeal of the death penalty, gun registration, gas tax increase and other initiatives). The governor has been confident that he’s right and won the day. I’m not certain if he’s awoke a sleeping giant, but he’s definitely got a lot of them “fired up.”(I saw them daily in Annapolis.) The numbers don’t bode well for an attempt to change the political narrative.
I personally discounted the rumor of a Brown/Ulman ticket. My sources tell me the Howard County Executive has setup an extensive campaign group which believes it has a better than average chance of becoming the Democratic gubernatorial nominee. Observers acknowledge however that a pairing of this nature would be "a slam dunk," In talking with Brown observers they smiled at the suggestion. One even suggested the early poll numbers show Ulman has little chance of gaining ground because of name recognition. This puts Brown and Ulman in the same quandary, name recognition. You can change the formula by buying name recognition or being at the right place at the right time (coming out first definitely benefits, but is it sustainable).
Brown is as squeaky clean as they come. He wasn't a party to the varied politicians in the county who were linked to scandal (Jack Johnson). His closest brush with any impropriety came in his divorce to his first wife. It happened during his first term as Lieutenant Governor. It was quietly done without the ugly innuendos which have plagued other politicians. He has since remarried and takes care of his own children and the son of his current wife.
The Black political power center in the state has always been Baltimore. The largest urban district in the state began laying the foundation for this in the 50’s with the Mitchell’s and others. Prince Georges came to the party in the 70's after a sizable portion of the county had been invaded by transplanted Washingtonians. Those from the Washington suburb often talk about election of County Executive Wayne Curry as changing the tide.
If you asked seasoned politic veterans where the first Black Gubernatorial candidate would emerge I think they would have point to “Bmore/Charm City.” But that’s not the case with Brown. Brown’s resume has a number of pluses including his time in the Iraq, and being selected by then Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley to be his running mate. Brown has one major problem he isn't home grown. He grew up in Long Island, NY. Does that disqualify you?
So why didn’t the political operatives in Baltimore groom someone for the state’s highest office? If you ask Anthony White, a member of the Governor’s cabinet and working on the Brown campaign; he talks about “power.” “Clarence Blount and Howard “Pete” Rawlings,” both of Baltimore, knew they would never be able to be governor, but because of the way the Governor has to submit his budget to the legislature that’s where the real power is.” They became chairmen of the committee’s, appointed members of the Baltimore delegation to committees, and became indispensable to anyone wanting to win the region statewide. “Jealousy! Oh yeah, there will be some,” says White, but he knows those are few and supporters of Brown will fall inline.
There are at least five questions the Lieutenant Governor needs to answer. I don't want be a presumptuous enough to tell him how to answer the questions.
1. Will his early jump out the gate provide dividends i.e. money and support when he really needs it?
2. Can he build a core of supporters outside of Prince George’s County?
3. Is he a living legacy of Martin O’Malley or is he his own man that will chart a different path?
4. Will the state power brokers see him as the leader of the state/party and endorse him prior to the primary?
5. Can he break curse that no Lieutenant Governor has ever succeed to become Governor.
“Get ready to make Maryland better,” said the Gubernatorial candidate to the applause of the crowd. Then with what has become standard fare for politicians he waded into the crowd to shake hands. The candidate will make stops in Baltimore City, and Howard and Montgomery Counties over the weekend and with that the race to become Maryland’s governor has begun.