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Maryland Democratic gubernatorial candidates talk economic development, crime and education during forum at Coppin State

Many of the Democratic candidates for Maryland governor pledged Tuesday to leverage state and federal dollars to fuel economic and workforce development, revitalize public transportation, fight rising crime and implement a plan to overhaul public education if elected.

In an evening forum that featured seven of the crowded 10-person primary field, the candidates often agreed on a range of issues while trying to differentiate themselves by stressing their varying levels of government and private sector experience.

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Rushern Baker, the runner-up in the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial primary, routinely framed his answers as coming from someone who “knows what they’re doing the moment they walk into that office.” He served two terms leading Prince George’s County as chief executive, where he said he turned around lagging economic development and crime problems.

Wes Moore, an author, nonprofit leader, Army captain and White House Fellow who’s never held public office, portrayed himself and his running mate, Aruna Miller, a former state lawmaker, as the most qualified to step into the role.

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“We are the only ticket in this field that has actually led in the executive branch, the legislative branch, the private sector, the nonprofit sector and the military,” he said to applause from the crowd of roughly 100 spectators.

Tom Perez, a former Democratic National Committee chair who served on Montgomery County Council and as U.S. labor secretary, spoke of his work prosecuting civil rights cases and enhancing “experiential learning” initiatives in the Obama administration as he urged the crowd to study what each candidate has done and ask themselves: “Who can I trust to deliver on these critical issues?”

The forum, held before an in-person and online audience at Coppin State University, was hosted by the university’s Center for Strategic Entrepreneurship, part of its business college, and moderated by WMAR news anchor Kelly Swoope.

State Comptroller Peter Franchot, former nonprofit executive Jon Baron, former state Attorney General Doug Gansler and retired University of Maryland faculty member Jerome Segal also joined the crowd of candidates on the stage.

Offering mostly broader policy goals rather than specific plans, the candidates largely aligned on everything from putting more money into job training and apprenticeship programs to restarting the cross-Baltimore Red Line light rail project Republican Gov. Larry Hogan killed when he entered office in 2015.

On education, they mostly agreed on implementing the 10-year, $3.8 billion Blueprint for Maryland’s Future plan to overhaul public education, with Baker saying the need is even greater now that the pandemic has put students years behind.

Franchot said he’d go beyond the plan to also “free our teachers from the burden of standardized testing.”

Economic plans included Baron’s emphasis on connecting employers with workers through state-sponsored apprenticeships and employer-paid internships. And they included a repeated point from Segal — who was recently registered as a socialist — that the state needs full guaranteed employment.

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Moore, meanwhile, highlighted his time as CEO of the Robin Hood Foundation, where he said he allocated more than $650 million and worked with 1,600 organizations to fight poverty.

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“I don’t need an explanation or a white paper to understand what we’re talking about,” Moore said.

On rising crime in the Baltimore area, Gansler, the former attorney general, reiterated his law enforcement bona fides.

“If you like having 400 murders a year, if you like what’s going on in the criminal justice system in Baltimore, you should seriously consider voting for one of my colleagues,” Gansler said in his closing statement.

Baron said answers to crime will be found not in regularly practiced government programs, but with a detailed reevaluation of which programs work and which don’t.

“There’s procedural justice training, implicit bias training, use of force training, de-escalation training. Which of those actually work? Which of those work best to increase community trust and reduce police use of force?” Baron said. “We don’t really know yet.”

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The forum was one of many occurring in the Baltimore region and beyond for what is considered a wide-open race for the Democratic nomination in the July 19 primary.

Hogan, a two-term Republican, is term-limited and has endorsed Kelly Schulz, his former Commerce secretary, in the Republican primary. The GOP race also includes Dan Cox, a state delegate endorsed by former President Donald Trump, as well as Robin Ficker and Joe Werner.


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