Valerie Ervin criticizes Ben Jealous as she supports Rushern Baker for Maryland governor

Valerie Ervin officially ended her gubernatorial campaign at a news conference Wednesday in Langley Park where she announced her support for Rushern L. Baker III and criticized the character of his leading rival, Ben Jealous.

Ervin said she decided to end her last-minute campaign a day before early voting begins across Maryland after she could not get her ticket with running mate Marisol Johnson listed on state ballots.

Ervin had been the running mate of Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, a leading Democratic candidate for governor who died May 10. The former Montgomery County councilwoman said she lacked the time and money to effectively campaign to win the June 26 Democratic primary election.

Her decision to support Baker, the Prince George’s County executive, comes at a time when polls show him statistically tied as a front-runner with Jealous, a former national NAACP president.

According to a new poll of registered likely voters for The Baltimore Sun and the University of Baltimore, both Baker and Jealous would receive about 16 percent of the vote in the Democratic contest.

Other candidates who have built credible statewide campaigns are attorney Jim Shea, state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., entrepreneur Alec Ross and former Michelle Obama policy aide Krish Vignarajah.

In addition to her endorsement, Ervin’s backing could come with additional money for Baker. Ervin reported having $164,000 of cash in her campaign account.

She has the option of transferring up to $12,000 to Baker’s campaign — $6,000 to Baker’s account and $6,000 to the separate campaign committee of his running mate, Elizabeth Embry. She also could leave the money in the bank for a future political race, donate it to charity, return it to donors, award scholarships or transfer it to the fund that provides public financing for gubernatorial campaigns.

At the news conference, Ervin did not address the future of her campaign funds.

Instead, she expressed disdain for Jealous, whom she blames for getting her fired from a job with a progressive advocacy group when she joined the Kamenetz ticket.

Her feelings are an about-face from last year, when she tweeted that Jealous was a progressive champion of working people.

Asked what has changed, Ervin said: “Everything’s changed.”

She refused to say whether she would join in a display of Democratic unity if Jealous wins the primary and goes on to challenge Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

Ervin accused Jealous of running a dishonest campaign.

“The character that he is showing in Maryland is not the character of the next governor of Maryland that I want to support,” she said.

Ervin contrasted the California-born Jealous, whom she called a “carpetbagger,” with Baker, whom she called a “stalwart son of Maryland.”

Jealous campaign manager Kevin Harris shot back with a dig at Ervin’s origins.

“It’s ironic someone from New Mexico would allege another candidate is a carpetbagger, but what else would you expect from a person who lies about how and why they lost their job?” Harris said. “Rushern Baker must be pretty desperate to want that kind of support."

Baker appeared delighted to have the endorsement, even as Ervin boasted that there was little “fire” in the race until she brought it there. He indicated that if he wins in November, there would be places for Ervin and Johnson, a former Baltimore County school board member, in his administration.

The county executive praised the two women for their experience with public budgets and, without naming him, took a swipe at Jealous’ spending proposals.

“How do you pay for that,” Baker said. “What are you willing to cut?”

The campaign stopped in Baltimore as well to rally campaign workers at their new North Howard Street office. Baker and his running mate, Elizabeth Embry, appeared with many Baltimore-area elected officials and Democratic luminaries, including former Gov. Martin O’Malley.

Kamenetz had been the best-funded Democrat in the race. But Ervin did not have access to his campaign war chest after he died. She said she would need at least $1 million to run a competitive race — money she doesn’t have.

The Board of Elections refused to reprint ballots to include the Ervin-Johnson ticket. Instead, the board’s remedy was to place signs at ballot places that indicate that votes for Kamenetz would count as votes for Ervin. Those signs will remain in place as the Kamenetz-Ervin ticket will remain an option for voters to select.

Jared DeMarinis, the board’s director of candidacy and campaign finance, said the notices already have been distributed to early voting sites and with absentee ballots. He said Ervin’s action to drop out doesn’t change her legal status as a candidate.

“Candidates withdraw all the time. It doesn’t mean they’ve officially withdrawn,” he said.

But Ervin continued to express frustration with the board.

“We can and must do better to protect our democratic processes,” she said. “We need to stand up for voting rights in Maryland.”

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