Ben Jealous announced his campaign for Maryland governor in Baltimore Wednesday, touting his ties to the city and his experience as a community organizer.
Jealous, a Democrat and former head of the NAACP, pitched himself as a progressive devoted to aggressively implementing a broad agenda of civil rights, social justice and economic reform.
"It is time for us to dream again," Jealous said. "It is time for us to get back to making big dreams real again."
The 44-year-old first-time candidate spoke to a crowd of about 75 people gathered outside the Ashburton flower shop his cousin said she opened after the 2015 riots.
Jealous said watching those riots led him both to a Baltimore church basement, where he told young black men how to stay safe, and to question whether he was doing enough to help communities he cares about.
That crisis led him to become a surrogate for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign and ultimately to run for governor.
In the first speech of the 2018 campaign, Jealous called for reviving the Red Line in Baltimore — which was canceled by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan — as well bringing the Purple Line to completion and investing in other infrastructure.
Jealous promised highly qualified teachers in every classroom, an end to student debt, a $15 minimum wage, drug rehab for every addict who wants it, and an initiative to lure tech companies to Maryland. Jealous also said he would reduce the homicide rate and was committed to "holding officers who kill unarmed civilians fully accountable."
Without offering detailed proposals, Jealous promised to pay for programs by "closing the corporate loophole, ending mass incarceration and take on big pharma."
Jealous is the second person to formally seek the Democratic nomination in what is expected to be a crowded field.
Jealous, who lives in Pasadena, said his mother grew up in West Baltimore's McCulloh Homes public housing complex and in rowhouses in other parts of the city. Jealous said he spent summers and holidays visiting his grandparents in what was then the middle class, African-American Ashburton neighborhood in Northwest Baltimore, a few blocks from where he announced his candidacy.
He said access to affordable education and "good union jobs "were crucial in his grandparents' rise to the middle class, and shaped his values today.
"It was that tradition of fighting for a better life for yourself and your neighbor — as well as that understanding about the transformative value of good jobs in lifting Americans out of poverty," he said.
"It is that improbable path first forged by my grandparents — themselves the grandchildren of slaves — that has led to us here today."