Ben Jealous, the former NAACP president and Democratic nominee for Maryland governor, said Thursday he’s ruled out a run for mayor of Baltimore to spend more time with his children and because he might run for governor again in 2022.
Jealous, 46, a Fells Point resident who easily won the city during the 2018 governor’s race, said he struggled with the decision for months, but eventually decided against running.
“I love the city. This was a tough decision," Jealous said. "I have faith we will ultimately find a great mayor for the city.”
Jealous said he felt he needed to focus on his 13-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son rather than starting another campaign. He said he helped teach his son baseball at campaign stops during the governor’s race last year.
“I’ve really got to focus on running my daughter to rowing practice in South Baltimore and running my son to baseball practice in Roland Park,” said Jealous, who has joint custody of the children with their mother.
“I really haven’t closed the door on running for governor again," he added, "and Baltimore deserves a mayor who’s not thinking about running for governor in a couple years. Baltimore needs a mayor who wants to serve two terms.”
Jealous would have entered the mayor’s race as a top-tier candidate and as one of the most progressive. Other potential Democratic contenders include Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, City Council President Brandon Scott, former Mayor Sheila Dixon, former Baltimore police spokesman T.J. Smith, state Del. Nick J. Mosby, and state Sen. Mary Washington. Former state Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah is already in the race.
The filing deadline is Jan. 24 for the April 28 primary. There are also three Republican candidates, although Democratic voters outnumber Republicans 10-to-1 in the city.
Goucher College political scientist Nina Kasniunas said Jealous’ disinclination to enter the mayor’s race could be a sign of a how impossible the job seems. Baltimore has suffered more than 300 homicides in each of the past four years, and killings are up again in 2019. The city also is trying to rebound from the tenure of Democratic Mayor Catherine Pugh, who resigned in scandal in May.
“By now, we should be hearing more about people’s intentions,” Kasniunas said of potential candidates. "It’s probably one of the lowest points in what’s happening with crime. I’m wondering how many people see this as a good time to want to be mayor in Baltimore. "
Kasniunas said Jealous’ decision not to run strengthens Young’s position as a potential front-runner in the race, though he has not declared. She said Young has developed a reputation as someone who is dedicated to the city, particularly through his launching of a fund for organizations that work with children and youth.
Jealous said he hasn’t decided who to endorse for mayor.
“Many of the candidates are friends,” Jealous said. “I’m looking for somebody who has the vision to be a strong mayor. I want to sit down with each of them.”
He lost his bid for the governor’s mansion in November to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. With nearly 1.3 million ballots cast in his favor, Hogan earned the most votes ever by any Maryland governor, eclipsing Democrat Martin O’Malley’s record from eight years prior. Jealous garnered more than 1 million votes, still the third-highest vote total for a gubernatorial candidate in state history.
Jealous has started a Baltimore-based investment firm named 20X that focuses on “social impact investing and advising” in the areas of technology and real estate.
Farajii Muhammad, who hosts a daily talk show on WEAA-FM, said he wasn’t surprised Jealous decided not to run.
“Baltimore is not one of those towns where you can just drop in five or six months before an election,” said Muhammad, noting Jealous lived in Pasadena in Anne Arundel County when he ran for governor. “We have to see you. We have to feel you. People will always challenge your motivates and your intentions.”
Muhammad said he believes the race likely will come down to a choice between Dixon, Scott and Young, who are considering runs but haven’t announced their plans. If other, lesser-known candidates get in the field, they don’t have a lot of time to get voters to know their names.
“If you don’t have the name recognition, you have no chance,” he said. “It’s after Labor Day. At this point, there is not a lot of time for a neophyte.”
Muhammad said he wants to hear concrete policy proposals from the candidates.
“Who has the experience to help us negotiate the troubled waters?" he said. “The city is looking for someone to get us out of this dark place we’re in. Whoever is going to sit in that seat has to understand all the issues and challenges and have the platform to speak to those needs.”