Bad-blood feud flares between progressives Valerie Ervin, Ben Jealous as Maryland governor's race nears end

Erin Cox
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

Valerie Ervin may have dropped out of the race for governor, but she has not backed down.

Ervin is trying to harness the attention and support she garnered in her unexpected and short-lived candidacy to help one of her former rivals — Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker — and to make sure another, Ben Jealous, doesn’t get elected.

“My role is to tell people why Rushern Baker is the better of the two candidates,” Ervin said in her first extended interview after ending her campaign. “A lot of it is: Who is the kind of person you want to have as your governor?”

Since leaving the race and endorsing Baker last week, Ervin has used several of her appearances to attack Jealous, the former NAACP chief who shares many of the progressive values Ervin pushed during her campaign. But Ervin said she identifies more with Baker’s “character.”

As Ervin sharpens her accusations against Jealous — accusing him of “bullying” — Jealous’ camp has hit back, saying she relies on “lies.” The Jealous team on Friday began openly attacking Baker over pay raises in Prince George’s County school system, escalating what began as a tranquil primary and is shaping up an ugly end on June 26.

The bad blood between Ervin and Jealous stems from what she called “bullying” that began when she joined the ticket of late Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz in February. It continued, she said, after Kamenetz’s unexpected death on May 10.

Ervin has already publicly aired her belief that Jealous got her fired for considering joining the Kamenetz campaign — accusations that Jealous and her former employer, Maryland Working Families, dispute, saying she was not fired at all.

But in an interview with The Baltimore Sun, Ervin went further and said Jealous continued to meddle in her life after that.

“It’s what men do to women: They bully them, and then they lie about it,” Ervin said. “People need to hear that these things happened to me.”

Jealous’ campaign disputed all of Ervin’s accusations and blamed her for changing the tenor of the race.

“She has brought this Democratic campaign down into the mud,” Jealous campaign spokesman Kevin Harris said.

The most recent accusation has to do with events from early May, right after Kamentez died.

Ervin said this week that the morning after Kamenetz’s funeral, as she was deciding whether to continue the race herself, she had a meeting that left her puzzled and angry.

A lawyer for the Kamenetz team, she said, told her that Jealous had made an offer: if she dropped out of the race for governor and endorsed him, he’d help her get her old job back at Maryland Working Families, a progressive group who backed Jealous.

“If you didn’t have anything to do with getting me fired, why would you think you could help me get my job back?” she said.

Two women confirmed to The Sun that Ervin called them that morning, May 12, and described the same discussion with the lawyer.

The lawyer involved, Jim Temple, declined multiple requests to comment citing attorney-client privilege.

Over the next several days, Temple tried to arrange a meeting among Ervin, Jealous and Jealous’ campaign manager Travis Tazelaar, according to text messages Ervin shared with The Sun and Jealous’ campaign team.

But Jealous’ team has a much different recollection of events: Temple came to them on Ervin’s behalf first seeking a consulting contract with the Jealous campaign in exchange for her endorsement, and then asking for help getting her job back at Working Families.

“At no point did we offer her money in exchange for an endorsement,” Harris, the campaign spokesman, said. “At no point did we approach them or seek them out for some kind of a deal of any kind.”

Jealous did agree to make a call to Working Families on Ervin’s behalf, but with no strings attached, Harris said.

Harris said the Jealous camp believed the meetings the lawyer tried to arrange were supposed to be “about how we could be helpful” and that Jealous never wanted her endorsement — or cares about her allegiances.

“We never saw her as a threat to us,” Harris said. “We didn’t see her as a threat when she joined the Kamenetz ticket. We didn’t see her as a threat when she announced her own ticket. We don’t see her as a threat today. … We never had a strategy about what to do with Valerie, because she wasn’t a concern and she still isn’t.”

Ervin said the Jealous team was revising history, and the entire episode should be a warning to Maryland voters about Jealous.

“I wouldn’t trust him making decisions on my behalf,” she said.

After the latest allegation began to trickle out, another progressive candidate in the race publicly backed Ervin and called Jealous’ credibility into question.

State Sen. Richard S. Madaleno called the alleged endorsement-for-job deal “outrageous.”

“I’ve known and respected Valerie Ervin for many years,” Madaleno said in a statement. “She is a tough, principled, and strong-willed public servant and politician … While I’ve had policy disagreements with Valerie, it’s outrageous to call her a liar.

“This type of treatment of women in politics, especially women of color, is unacceptable,” he said. “Maryland voters should think long and hard about backing any candidate who is willing to inflate and embellish so many issues and events so consistently for their own promotional purposes.”

In response, the Jealous campaign upped the ante again. Harris said that Madaleno and Ervin “have no credibility” about the treatment of women in politics until they publicly challenge Baker to explain why Prince George’s County employs a man named Calvin Hawkins. Until November, Hawkins was a special assistant in Baker’s office.

“Until they do that, as we have done, they have no credibility here,” Harris said.

A decade ago Hawkins was accused of sexual harassment in a case that eventually cost the county nearly $150,000. Baker was elected two years after the alleged incident.

Baker campaign consultant David Byrd said the Jealous campaign is deflecting accusations about Jealous’ behavior. And besides, Byrd said, Hawkins is a merit employee and his employment with the county was adjudicated years ago.

“The courteous thing to do at this point is to issue an apology,” Byrd said. “Whether it’s Mr. Harris or Mr. Jealous, someone owes Ms. Ervin an apology.”

Byrd said that Ervin’s decision to go forward with allegations against Jealous was done “in her capacity as a private citizen. We’ve not made it an issue in our campaign.”

ecox@baltsun.com

twitter.com/ErinatTheSun

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