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Who is Stewart Bainum Jr.? Maryland-raised businessman whose nonprofit is in line to buy The Sun has had second careers in politics, philanthropy.

The Baltimore Sun is poised to be acquired by a nonprofit founded last month by Stewart Bainum Jr., a Montgomery County-raised business owner who has also been active in Maryland politics and philanthropy.

The acquisition would include The Sun, The Capital Gazette in Annapolis, the Carroll County Times and other community newspapers in the Baltimore metro region.

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Here’s what to know about Bainum.

Business background

Bainum grew up in Takoma Park, the son of an entrepreneur who started a plumbing business and, later, a hotel company that would eventually become Rockville-based Choice Hotels International, the world’s second-largest hotel franchiser with more than 7,000 hotels in 25 countries.

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Bainum headed to college in California to study liberal arts with no interest in joining the family business, he told industry news site Hotel Management in a 2019 interview. But being elected president of the student body for his junior year changed his perspective and Bainum decided to attend business school at UCLA.

“I kind of liked being in charge and I kind of decided maybe business school wasn’t such a bad idea,” he told Hotel Management. “I didn’t tell my Dad, though; I didn’t want to get his hopes up.”

Bainum joined another of his father’s businesses, ManorCare, in 1972, and pushed the company to expand rapidly and grow into one of the largest nursing home companies in the U.S. Bainum still serves as chairman of Choice Hotels and the list of businesses where Bainum and his family are currently or formerly involved includes Artis Senior Living, Vitalink Pharmacy Services, Sunburst Hospitality and SunBridge Capital Management.

Political career

The taste of politics Bainum enjoyed in college carried over after graduation.

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Bainum first attempted to run for the Maryland State House in 1974, but a judge ruled he didn’t meet the residency requirement. The Democrat ran again in 1978, this time winning a seat in the House of Delegates where he served until moving to the state Senate, where he served from 1983 to 1986.

Bainum won the Democratic nomination for Maryland’s vacant 8th Congressional District in 1986. He spent $1.5 million on the campaign — including $400,000 of his own money — but lost the general election to Republican Connie Morella.

In 1994, Bainum was on the verge of announcing that he would enter the Democratic field for governor when, concerned about the effect the race might have on his family and the family business, ManorCare, he had a change of heart and decided not to run.

Bainum’s exit cleared the way for former Prince George’s County Executive Parris Glendening to consolidate Maryland’s D.C. suburbs, winning the Democratic nomination and two terms as governor.

“I thought we could win, but you never know,” Bainum told The Washington Post at the time. “I’m going to miss not knowing the answer.”

Bainum has remained an active Democratic Party donor, giving at least $5.6 million to federal candidates, political action committees and other campaign committees since 1978, according to Federal Election Commission data. Those donations include the presidential campaigns of Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

Philanthropy

Family-founded businesses earned Bainum his fortune, and the family has also collaborated on philanthropic efforts. Stewart Bainum is involved in the Bainum Family Foundation, started by his father, which provides early childhood and educational support services in Washington, D.C.

Stewart, and his wife Sandy, signed The Giving Pledge in 2018, an effort by some of the world’s wealthiest people to pledge to give away a majority of their fortunes to charity.

“Historically we’ve preferred to quietly allocate our philanthropic capital, often anonymously,” Stewart and Sandy wrote in a statement on The Giving Pledge website. “But we have come to believe that joining ‘The Giving Pledge’ might motivate others to as well. And so, we are pleased to formalize a decision we made some years ago to give the majority of our wealth to philanthropy.”

In the interview with Hotel Management, Bainum said he felt a responsibility to both customers and employees of his companies.

“We have an investment in those communities and we need to be active citizens and we have the wherewithal to help them out. It’s really important,” Bainum said.

“I was born on second base; my dad had a business and he taught me the business as we went. And I was lucky.”

Plans for The Sun

Bainum did not return messages left at residences Tuesday night.

A group of nonprofits and other community leaders has been seeking to buy The Sun and convert it to a nonprofit, but Ted Venetoulis, a leader of that Save Our Sun coalition, said Bainum was not involved with their effort.

“Stewart has stepped up to do this,” Venetoulis said. “He’s just a remarkable person, a civic activist who just wants to help the community. ... It’s great to have this coming to fruition, and you couldn’t have a better person for the city and really the whole state to be doing this.”

Venetoulis said Bainum is making the purchase through his foundation, and no other partners are involved at this point, although he expects more local philanthropists will be looking to support the newspaper.

Personal

Age: 74

Family: Married to wife, Sandy; they have two children

Education: Pacific Union College, Bachelor of Arts; UCLA, Master of Business Administration

Experience: Chairman of Choice Hotels International; former CEO of ManorCare; founder of Artis Senior Living

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