After Del. Jolene Ivey told a Baltimore crowd she hopes to be Maryland's first African-American female lieutenant governor, she discussed what it means to be a fair-skinned black woman whose racial heritage is often questioned.
Ivey, 51, is the daughter of a white woman who was raised by her black father and stepmother. She said her racial heritage was the "No.1 issue" when she launched her first political campaign in 2006 — repeatedly being asked by voters to "clarify" her racial identity.
"As much as I'd like to believe that we're in a post-racial country, we're not," Ivey said during an interview after Democrat Douglas F. Gansler announced her as his running mate in the 2014 race for governor.
The Prince George's County lawmaker emphasized her roles as a black woman and mother of five boys. "I am Trayvon Martin's mom," she said.
Ivey joins a contest in which Gansler has taken fire for his remarks on racial politics — in particular, for accusing chief rival Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown of having a campaign slogan of "Vote for me, I want to be the first African-American governor of Maryland."
When asked about Gansler's comments that Brown relied on his race in the absence of substance, she sidestepped the question. "I would say [Brown] was only running on endorsements," she said.
Gansler, the state attorney general, introduced Ivey with anecdotes showing she has felt the sting of prejudice. "Jolene Ivey understands what it's like to be a victim of sexism. She's going to help us fight discrimination," he said.
Ivey added: "We both understand the need to be a voice for the voiceless."
Ivey is a former broadcast journalist in Baltimore, a graduate of Towson University, and holds a master's degree from the University of Maryland. She is a founder of Mocha Moms, a support group for stay-at-home mothers of color, and helped grow the organization to have a national presence.
In 2006, she took on and defeated an incumbent legislator in the primary, at times campaigning as her youngest sons rode their bicycles alongside her, she said. She rose quickly in the General Assembly and serves as chair of the Prince George's County delegation.
She said Monday that Gansler's choice in naming her, following through on his strategy revealed this summer to name an African-American running mate, signaled that "he's a pretty smart man."
"He wanted someone who would speak her mind," Ivey said. "He didn't want a Doug Gansler clone. He wanted someone who provides a different point of view."
For Ivey, that includes the point of view of a lawmaker who has voted for legislation that Gansler now criticizes in his bid for governor — an increased corporate income tax rate and gas tax among them. But she says it also means she brings the point of view of a mother who worries her black sons will be mistreated.
"I worry about what happens to my boys when they're out in the world and they're dealing with people who may not know them the way I know them," said Ivey, who is married to former Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn Ivey.
"When you see what happened to Trayvon Martin, it just scares the crap out of you," she said.
The pick by Gansler, who is from Montgomery County, of a Prince George's lawmaker marks a departure from conventional wisdom in Maryland politics that tickets require geographical balance between the Washington and Baltimore regions. Some Baltimore political leaders have chafed that neither of the leading Democrats vying for the governorship have close ties to the city, but Ivey dismissed the complaint about the city's eroding political influence.
"You all still have both U.S. senators," Ivey said. "What do you want?"