If state Sen. Brian Frosh has his way, voters will pick Maryland's next attorney general based on experience — his 28 years in the General Assembly, 11 of them as a committee chairman who pushed through measures such as the state's new gun control law.
Del. Jon S. Cardin wants citizens to focus more on his vision for fighting cyber crimes — computer attacks he calls the law-enforcement issue of the future.
And Del. Aisha N. Braveboy is hoping folks are concerned enough about social-justice issues to prefer her hands-on legal work to protect families from foreclosure and young people facing imprisonment.
The three Democrats are facing off in the June 24 primary to succeed Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler as Maryland's top legal officer. While they share many of the same priorities, each candidate has emphasized a different platform and a different leadership style.
"It's an important office," says J. Joseph Curran Jr., who held the job for 20 years. "You can be a proactive factor in the state or you can just side with the governor. If you're proactive, that really touches the lives of average citizens."
The contest is unusual in that the candidate with the most money and high-profile endorsements — Frosh — has not been leading in the polls. Cardin, the nephew of U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, was leading the field with support from 26 percent of likely Democratic primary voters, according to a poll for The Baltimore Sun published this month. Frosh had 16 percent and Braveboy 7 percent. More than 40 percent were undecided.
The race has been marked by criticism of Cardin, who was chided by both of his opponents after The Sun reported he missed nearly 75 percent of his committee votes in the House of Delegates this year. Cardin said he missed the votes in part to spend time with his pregnant wife, but Frosh and Braveboy said legislators have an obligation to be in Annapolis.
In another controversy, Cardin at first promoted but then rejected the endorsement of a rap artist with a criminal record now facing human-trafficking charges in Baltimore County.
Cardin, 44, says the race should be about the candidates' vision for the office.
The three-term delegate from Baltimore County tells voters the next attorney general needs to fight cyber crimes, including hacking, "revenge porn" and violations of online privacy.
"I'm the only candidate with a vision," says Cardin. "We're not running for legislator of the year. I'm running for attorney general to keep us two steps ahead of the new threats facing our families."
He says he'll be an active attorney general and won't back down from confronting powerful interests such as state contractors, energy companies and even area schools. "When children are being harmed in schools, I am not afraid to sue a school system," he says.
Cardin has specifically pledged to bring a $100 million lawsuit against Noridian Healthcare Solutions, the company state officials have blamed for Maryland's botched online health insurance exchange.
His proposals in Annapolis have won him the support of some child advocates. Joan D. Harris is president of Citizens for Jessica's Law — legislation Cardin promoted that ended parole for sexual predators.
"He is a breath of fresh air," Harris says. "He is not part of the good-old-boy network. He's a sincere and genuine person."
Frosh, 67, says he wants voters to consider his experience, skill and judgment as a lawyer. The Montgomery County lawmaker has said he will eliminate warnings for polluters if elected. He says too often under Gansler, companies who pollute get off with only a warning.
"I will crack down on polluters," he says.
Frosh also points to the many pieces of legislation he's pushed through the Judicial Proceedings Committee. He successfully sponsored measures to promote the cleanup of contaminated sites called "brownfields," ban oil drilling in the Chesapeake Bay and establish a statewide recycling program. He's also helped pass legislation intended to protect domestic-violence victims from gun attacks. He notes that he supported Maryland's same-sex marriage law and helped write the state's sweeping gun control bill.
Frosh has been endorsed by a wide range of lawmakers from across the state, public safety groups, and environmental organizations. The state's former attorneys general — Curran and Stephen H. Sachs — both back Frosh.
"I know the office and I know the man. It's a perfect fit," Sachs says. "There's a chasm between the qualifications of Brian and the qualifications of either Cardin or Braveboy."
Braveboy, 39, a Prince George's County delegate with eight years in office, says she's running to help end unequal treatment of poor and minority communities. The chairwoman of the legislative black caucus, she says she'll take a tough stand against human traffickers. She's done pro-bono legal work for families facing foreclosure and a diversionary program for juvenile offenders.
"I practice what I preach," she says.
"It is a travesty that the state of Maryland has been defiant and arrogant in its treatment of historically black colleges," says Braveboy.
State Del. Jill Carter, a Baltimore Democrat, backs Braveboy.
"She's the only candidate that has the demonstrated integrity and intelligence to put people first over politics and corporate interests," Carter says, noting that Braveboy voted against the state's redistricting map, which good-government advocates have condemned. "She is also a tenacious and relentless advocate for justice. She won't deliver justice to people based on race or socioeconomic status."
While each candidate has highlighted his or her positive attributes to voters, the race has taken a decidedly negative tone in recent weeks, with Frosh saying that Cardin "lacks the rudimentary judgment" to be attorney general.
"I will show up every day and I work hard, and that's in sharp contrast to Jon Cardin," Frosh says.
Cardin has offered different explanations for his approximately 120 missed votes last session. He says some were due to observing the Jewish Sabbath; others were to give out certificates at the Baltimore Child Abuse Center; and still others were to spend time with his daughter and pregnant wife.
Sachs said he doesn't believe talented lawyers will want to work under Cardin, who he notes wasted police resources with a stunt marriage proposal.
"The litany of his misadventures is by now well known. It doesn't make him a bad man, but he doesn't have or deserve the reputation that will bring the respect for the office that Brian will bring," Sachs said.
Sachs and other Frosh supporters say Cardin is benefiting from his family name. At a recent event where U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings endorsed Frosh, state Sen. Nathaniel McFadden of Baltimore told voters: "The real Ben Cardin in this race is Brian Frosh."
Cardin criticizes Frosh for his stances against mandatory minimum sentences for child sex offenders. He's also criticized Frosh for backing a proposal in which a computer model would be used to determine if a defendant should be held before trial or freed on bail. Cardin calls the system "Orwellian" and "un-American," Frosh has said Cardin has a "comic book" understanding of the issue, and that the system would have saved money and kept nonviolent offenders from jail.
Marc Klaas of the KlaasKids Foundation, which aims to stop crimes against children, says he was disrespected by Frosh when he testified in Annapolis on Jessica's Law — and Frosh left before the bill was called.
"He failed to show for the testimony on this bill," Klaas said. "I think it sent a loud and clear message. I'm not sure much in support of Cardin as I am opposed to Frosh. I think he would be an absolutely terrible choice."
Frosh says he had to leave the hearing early to attend a business meeting. "I meant no disrespect," he says.
The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican Jeffrey N. Pritzker, a Towson attorney, and Libertarian Leo Wayne Dymowski, a parole commission hearing officer, in November.
Aisha N. Braveboy
Job: state delegate, lawyer with Gabriel J. Christian & Associates, LLC.
Education: B.A., University of Maryland, College Park. J.D., Howard University law school.
Jon S. Cardin
Job: state delegate, runs own law office
Education: B.A., Tufts University. M.P.S., University of Maryland, Baltimore County. M.A., Baltimore Hebrew University. J.D., University of Maryland law school.
Home: Owings Mills
Family: Married, one daughter
Job: state senator, attorney in private practice.
Education: B.A., Wesleyan University. J.D., Columbia University law school.
Home: Chevy Chase
Family: Married, two daughters