Valerie Ervin’s last-minute entry into the Democratic race for Maryland governor has given the sleepy contest a fresh jolt — both by forcing elections officials to scramble for a solution to include her on the ballot and by stirring conflict among the campaigns.
The Montgomery County Democrat accused rival candidate Ben Jealous of orchestrating an effort last winter to prevent her from joining the ticket of the late Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. Then, she said, Jealous got her fired from her job after she decided to run for lieutenant governor.
Jealous denies the accusations.
Nevertheless, another candidate, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, seized on the reports on Twitter by welcoming Ervin to the governor’s race while linking to a report of her accusations. That led Jealous to retaliate with a series of tweets linking to negative articles about Baker, including a recent report showing that the former NAACP president raised more money than the Prince George’s County chief.
The bickering began when Ervin made the allegations against Jealous on the web radio show “A Miner Detail” on Sunday. In an interview with The Baltimore Sun, she repeated the claim that Jealous and his campaign manager, Travis Tazelaar, tried to block her from teaming up with Kamenetz and, when she decided to run, got her fired as Maryland political director of the Working Families Party.
“They’ve been just up to shenanigans before I even got on the ticket,” Ervin said.
Kamenetz died of cardiac arrest on May 10. Ervin decided to take his place on the top of the ticket and chose former Baltimore County school board member Marisol Johnson as her running mate in the June 26 primary.
Ervin said Tazelaar bought website domains with various combinations of her name and Kamenetz’s name before she joined the ticket. She also alleged that Jealous had called Working Families board members to pressure her not to get into the race. At the time, the party had already endorsed Jealous.
“Ben had already been on a quest to prevent me from getting on the ballot,” she said.
When Ervin decided to become Kamenetz’s running mate, she said she would have liked to have taken a leave of absence from her job or perhaps work on an exit strategy so she could finish up a project before leaving. Instead she said she was dismissed.
“They just said: ‘Well, it was nice knowing you,’” Ervin said.
Joe Dinkin, the party’s campaigns director, was puzzled by the claim.
Dinkin said Working Families endorsed Jealous last August. Early this year, Dinkins said, a blog reported a rumor that Ervin was considering joining the Kamenetz ticket.
“I asked her if it was true, and she told me it wasn't,” Dinkin said in a statement. “So I asked if she would put out a statement to put the speculation to rest. She declined to do so.”
Dinkin said that when Kamenetz asked Ervin to run with him, she voluntarily left the party’s staff.
“Valerie knew fully the binary choice she was making. Sometimes politics is about choices,” Dinkin said. “Needless to say, it would have been impossible for her to stay on our staff while also mounting a campaign against our endorsed candidate.”
Dinkin said that one of Ervin’s roles in her job was to coordinate the party’s political work in Maryland, including its support of Jealous.
“It's an obvious and massive conflict of interest to be running on an opposing ticket at the same time. There's simply no way it would be appropriate to do both,” Dinkin said. He added that running for statewide office is a full-time job and that it would have prevented her from carrying out her work duties.
Dinkin said neither Jealous nor his staff made “any demands or requests” concerning Ervin’s job.
Kevin Harris, a spokesman for Jealous, said Jealous never tried to influence Working Familes’ decision on Ervin’s employment. The campaign also denied that Jealous had called board members or that Tazelaar had bought up web sites with her name.
Ervin joined Working Families in January 2014 after having served seven years on the Montgomery County Council, where she was the first African American woman to serve. Dinkin said her last day on the staff was the day in February she left to announce she was teaming up with Kamenetz.
When Kamenetz died May 10, Ervin had a week to decide whether to replace him. She did, named Marisol Johnson as her running mate and began building her own campaign team. On Thursday the state Board of Elections decided that it was too late to reprint ballots for the primay election. Instead, the board will use notices in polling places to inform voters that ballots cast for the Kamenetz-Ervin ticket will count toward Ervin-Johson.
Ervin has objected to the plan, saying voters will be confused.