Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of profiles of Democratic candidates for governor.
Maryland Sen. Richard S. Madaleno stood on stage at a candidates’ forum in a Baltimore tap room surrounded by a formidable field of rivals seeking the Democratic nomination for governor: Ivy League grads. Accomplished lawyers. A Rhodes scholar.
Yet when a question on Maryland’s $44 billion budget went to Madaleno, the event’s moderator joked: “Maybe the fix is in.”
That’s because of the Democrats vying to challenge Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, Madaleno has a singular reputation as an expert on the state budget. It’s not the most thrilling campaign topic.
But Madaleno managed to elicit cheers from the bar crowd as he accused Hogan of using unreliable forecasts to justify limiting spending on public schools and other services Madaleno views as vital.
“I’m sure we’re going to hear Larry Hogan moan about the ‘structural budget deficit,’” Madaleno said. “I can guarantee you one thing: The structural budget forecast is wrong. You need a Democratic nominee who’s going to stand up and fight Larry Hogan on these points.”
Madaleno, 52, is many things in addition to being a budget expert: Stalwart liberal. Political insider. Fierce Hogan critic. Maryland’s first openly gay state senator.
But there’s one thing he is not: Widely known outside his home county of Montgomery, where he represents Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Silver Spring and Kensington
To win, Madaleno knows he needs to convince the rest of the state that a policy wonk who has served in the General Assembly for 15 years and passed many bills — on issues ranging from the economy and education to the environment and transportation — would make the best governor. A sitting state legislator has not been elected Maryland governor in nearly a half century. And voters have never elected a governor from Montgomery County.
“You cannot dismiss his knowledge of the issues,” says John Dedie, a political science professor at the Community College of Baltimore County. “But he runs into the same problem as others from Montgomery County have: How do they break through into the Baltimore region?”
With seven major Democrats running in the June 26 primary, Madaleno notes that he only needs to muster a plurality of votes.
“It’s going to take as little as potentially 25 percent to win,” he said.
If he can just get in front of people, he argues, he can show them he’s the best option for progressive voters, a bloc being heavily courted by candidates Ben Jealous and Krish Vignarajah as well.
In an effort to secure his hometown base, Madaleno was the first candidate to air cable television commercials in Montgomery. He says his ground team of 1,000 volunteers has visited or called over 500,000 voters. His plan is to “put a wall around” the county and collect its many Democratic votes.
But he’s also been criss-crossing the state.
On a Saturday last month, he traveled to Rocky Gap for a Western Maryland Democrats forum. He then went to the Baltimore area for several union events. At one — a bull roast at Martin’s West held by the Laborers' International Union of North America — he leaped on stage to fire up the crowd.
“We need to stand up and fight for our values!” he said. “We need to stand up to fight for working families! Are you ready for raising the minimum wage?”
That evening he opened a new campaign office in Owings Mills, his second in the Baltimore area.
David Allison, business manager for the union’s Baltimore/Washington local, said the group endorsed Madaleno because of his proven support for such issues as expanding sick leave and raising the minimum wage.
“He’s the best candidate for labor,” Allison said. “In the legislature, he’s been fighting for working people from Day One.”
Union endorsements are valuable because they often come with large voting blocs, volunteers and poll workers.
The grassroots effort, however, has not translated into a big campaign chest. Madaleno’s January campaign finance report showed he had raised the least cash of the seven major campaigns.
He says he’s going to get a boost from Maryland’s public financing program — a strategy Hogan used in his upset victory over Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown four years ago.
This month, Madaleno and his running mate Luwanda Jenkins — a Baltimore native and business executive who was Gov. Martin O’Malley’s special secretary of minority affairs — applied for $287,000 in public financing based on hundreds of small-dollar donations.
“Larry Hogan used it and won, and we will use it and win as well,” Madaleno said.
He’s hoping voters will consider his experience and expertise. He wants to make college free for families with incomes below $150,000, increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour and revive the Red Line light rail project through Baltimore.
Former Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler says Madaleno possesses the right political mix of progressive views on social issues with a conservative “live-within-your-means” approach to government spending. “He’s not a guy that does things for the cameras,” Gansler said. “He does things for the right reasons.”
Madaleno has worked on legislation in the General Assembly that led to paid sick leave for many Maryland workers and a fracking ban. This year he won passage of bills that will provide free school breakfasts and lunches to an additional 80,000 students.
He is perhaps best known for his work in the successful effort to legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland. “He was able to change the minds of the good old boys who were standing in the way,” said U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin of Montgomery County. “Rich would not let anybody sweep this under the rug.”
Should he win, Madaleno would become Maryland’s first openly gay governor. He likes to point out that he’d also be the state’s first Italian-American governor.
His parents met as kids in a tight-knit Italian-American community in New Jersey before they moved to Silver Spring.
When he was 9, he became hooked on politics when he helped his mom campaign for a neighbor.
After attending public elementary and middle schools, Madaleno went to Georgetown Prep for high school, where he got involved in student government and was on the debate team with future Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.
He graduated with a master’s degree in public administration from Syracuse University’s Maxwell School before he returned to Maryland to land a job as a state budget analyst.
Madaleno says he always knew he was gay but never told anyone until he was 18. “It was 1983,” he said. “It was a very different time for gay people.”
He got married in 2001 at his Unitarian church in Bethesda — where, for years, he taught Sunday school — to Mark Hodge, a nurse manager.
The couple adopted a daughter, who is now 14, and a son, now 11. Madaleno calls himself the family’s “chief dishwasher,” and when the General Assembly isn’t in session says he’s a stay-at-home dad.
Madaleno advocates for fiscal transparency so that taxpayers know how the state is spending their money. To that end, he was the first candidate to release his tax returns, challenging his opponents to do the same. Only candidate Jim Shea has followed his lead.
Richard S. Madaleno Jr.
Maryland Policy & Politics Newsletter
Keep up to date with Maryland politics, elections and important decisions made by federal, state and local government officials.