Gov. Larry Hogan and Democratic challenger Ben Jealous made separate and far different appeals to Maryland's city and town officials Friday as they briefly occupied the same room without interacting.
The Republican governor and his rival were each given 15 minutes to make a case for their candidacies in the Nov. 6 election at the fall conference of the Maryland Municipal League in Annapolis.
Jealous delivered an impassioned version of his stump speech, making an appeal to the group of mayors, council members and other local officials that was similar to ones he has made to hospital workers and teachers. He decried Hogan’s record on education, health care and economic growth.
“You’re the ones whose constituents’ lives get harder,” he said. “You’re the ones whose lives get harder.”
Hogan gave a more folksy talk, reminding the officials about local redevelopment projects his administration has financed around the state and reaffirming his goal of restoring full funding of “highway user revenues” — state aid to counties and municipalities for local transportation projects — that were slashed by Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley during the budget crisis of 2008-2009.
That promise received the loudest applause of the forum.
“It was important for us,” said Craig Moe, the longtime mayor of Laurel. “When I look at it from the municipalities’ standpoint, the governor kept his word with us.”
Moe said that before the recession, Laurel received about $900,000 a year in highway user revenues. After O’Malley’s cuts, it went as low as $30,000, he said.
The mayor, who said he hadn’t made up his mind whom to vote for, said it was the first time he had heard Jealous speak.
“I like how he talked about building partnerships,” Moe said. “The governor’s always been here. It’s nice to see Jealous as a candidate here.”
Jealous had run into criticism over his decision in August to skip the annual convention of the Maryland Association of Counties, a larger gathering of local officials.
Where most county elected officials are elected as Republicans or Democrats, many municipal officials outside the state’s largest cities run without party labels.
While the Republican governor and his Democratic challenger were in the room together for about 15 minutes, there was no contact between them.
Scott Hancock, executive director of the municipal league, said the group planned to have both Hogan and Jealous at the head table. He said a drawing had determined that Jealous would speak first. When Jealous arrived shortly before noon, there were name plates set up for him and the governor at opposite ends of the head table.
Hancock said that when they learned the governor would not be having lunch, the group decided not to have a head table.
Hogan didn’t enter the hall until after Jealous had finished his speech attacking his record. Jealous watched from a front-row table as Hogan spoke, delivering a speech that didn’t mention his opponent and portrayed Maryland’s political climate over the last four years as a welcome contrast with the partisan wrangling in Washington.
“Here in Maryland we have chosen a completely different route, and we’re setting an example for the rest of the nation on how government is supposed to work,” Hogan said.
Hogan ducked out as soon as he finished speaking, headed for an event in Hagerstown. Jealous stayed for the meal.
Sandy Landbeck, an Aberdeen city councilwoman, said she was a registered Democrat but would rather be a member of a Larry Hogan Party. She said the governor understood the issues municipal leaders care about.
“He’s been very good to us,” she said.
Jarrett Smith, a city councilman in the liberal stronghold of Takoma Park, said he was happy that the league could attract both gubernatorial candidates to its forum. He said the governor has worked well with the municipalities, but he liked Jealous’ emphasis on education.
As a Democrat, he’s supporting Jealous. As a board member of MML, he didn’t want to say anything negative about Hogan.
“Whoever becomes governor, we’re going to have to work with,” Smith said.