Eight try out as Democrats hold casting call for candidate for Maryland governor

Eight candidates for governor auditioned Saturday as Maryland Democrats held a casting call for the role of nominee to challenge Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

The joint appearance before the Democratic Party State Central Committee at a Lanham union hall was the first to bring all eight together in the same forum.

It was not a debate, but the event gave the candidates the opportunity to show off their skills at pummeling Hogan’s record and excoriating President Donald J. Trump. For some of the less well-known candidates, it was an opportunity to introduce themselves to the hundreds of party stalwarts who filled the hall.

An unspoken subtext was that some of the novice candidates could also have been looking to impress their better-known fellows, all of whom are still in the market for a credible running mate who could bring diversity to the ticket. The party’s ticket will be decided in the June 26 primary.

Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. underscored that diversity as he pointed to the pictures of himself and the seven other candidates projected on a screen. The group includes two women, one African-American and one an immigrant from Sri Lanka, two African-American men, and four white men.

Despite polling showing that Hogan remains one of the most popular governors in the country, state party Chairman Kathleen Matthews expressed confidence that the next governor was in the hall.

“We believe Democrats are well-positioned to defeat Larry Hogan in 2018,” she said.

Entrepreneur Alec Ross, one of the five first-time candidates, boasted of being a “wonk” who is “not doing tweet-sized policy.”

“Talent is everywhere in Maryland. Opportunity is not. I’m running to change that,” he said.

Jim Shea, the former managing partner of the Venable law firm, lambasted the priorities of Hogan and the Republican Party.

“They do not want to invest in the future,” he said. “They want the money now.”

Former national NAACP President Ben Jealous promised to champion progressive values.

“You do not beat a lightweight Republican by running as Republican Lite,” he said. “It’s time for us to get back to being movement-building Democrats.”

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III praised his rivals, saying “each one of us who are running have great bios.” But he said the people he meets as he travels the state are concerned about Maryland’s direction.

“In their eyes you see the quiet anxiety,” he said. “They’re worried about health care. They’re worried about whether the quality of the education where their children go is going to help them get a job.”

Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, owner of a small consulting firm and former congressional staffer, decried the level of income inequality in Maryland.

“We have many people who are being left behind,” she said. “In fact Maryland is punching below its fighting weight and we can do better than Governor Hogan.”

Krish Vignarajah, a former policy adviser to Michelle Obama, spoke of her gratitude to the state her family moved to after fleeing civil war in Sri Lanka. Vignarajah, whose eligibility to run has been questioned because she voted in recent elections in the District of Columbia, said she is the only candidate to have attended Maryland public schools from kindergarten to 12th grade.

“Maryland allowed me to go from Edmondson Heights to the Ivy League,” she said. Among her promises: universal pre-K.

Madaleno, who represents Montgomery County, touted his “record of getting things done in Annapolis” and rattled off a list of Hogan actions he has fought.

“Larry Hogan has done nothing for the people of Maryland,” he said. “We can’t afford an untethered governor with an unhinged president.”

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz found an applause line when he boasted of cracking down on an apartment rental company owned by Trump’s son-in-law that had more than $3,500 in unpaid fines.

“I made one of the Trumps pay. I fined Jared Kushner for being the slum landlord he is in Baltimore County,” Kamenetz said. “We need a governor who’s going to stand up to Donald Trump.”

A Kushner Cos. spokeswoman has said that the firm has been in “compliance with all state and local laws.”

Meanwhile, the current governor was across the Potomac River in Virginia, stumping for GOP gubernatorial nominee Ed Gillespie ahead of Tuesday's election.

Jim Barnett, Hogan’s campaign manager, dismissed the complaints of the Democratic hopefuls.

“What we are seeing from the candidates on the stage is a contest for who can be the most divisive, angry, partisan and fast and loose with the truth -- which sadly looks a lot like what people see coming out of Washington, D.C., and it’s not something they want infecting Maryland,” he said.

mdresser@baltsun.com

twitter.com/michaeltdresser

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