Del. Brooke E. Lierman of Baltimore launched her campaign for state comptroller Thursday, making her the first candidate to say they were running for a position that is expected to be open for the first time in more than a decade.
Lierman, a Democrat who was elected to the House of Delegates in 2014, said she hopes to elevate the office of the comptroller to one that not only collects taxes, but also pushes policies to fight income inequality and help small businesses.
“The comptroller’s office is uniquely positioned, because of its role in our finances, to play a leading role on income-based issues that are facing our families, communities and businesses,” Lierman said in an interview.
She envisions using the comptroller’s access to vast amounts of data to influence state policies. She also wants to use the agency’s field offices to offer financial literacy programs and small-business training. She’s particularly interested in helping people without bank accounts to connect with financial institutions.
“My goal is to unlock opportunity for families and businesses by leading a culture of modernization and transparency and being an advocate,” she said.
Lierman announced her campaign Thursday evening in a livestream on Facebook.
After the first of the year, she plans to hold a series of virtual fundraising events hosted by supporters in each of the state’s counties.
Lierman’s entry to the race is early — so early, in fact, that she can’t even file candidacy paperwork until next month. But Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat, is running for governor, opening the door for candidates to replace him.
Lierman has not sought Franchot’s endorsement, but said he was “very nice about it” when she told him she was running.
As a delegate, Lierman is banned from fundraising during General Assembly session, which runs from mid-January to mid-April. With sessions in 2021 and 2022, Lierman won’t be allowed to raise funds or have time for intense campaigning for six of the 18 months before the 2022 primary.
“I want to make sure voters have the opportunity to meet me and talk with me, and I have the opportunity to meet them, before votes are cast,” Lierman said.
The job of comptroller involves the nitty-gritty government service of collecting taxes and processing returns and refunds for millions of Maryland residents and businesses. The comptroller also is involved in licensing and regulating various businesses.
But the office also has a high-profile political role as one of Maryland’s three officials elected statewide.
And the comptroller has a significant role as one of three members of the state’s Board of Public Works, which has the final say on state contracts and spending from road projects to school replacements. Through the board, comptrollers are involved in procurement decisions amounting to billions of dollars.
“The power of the purse cannot be understated,” Lierman said. “The comptroller is one of three decision-makers on not only what projects are we spending our money on, but who is completing those contracts.”
Past comptrollers also have used Board of Public Works meetings to draw attention to their causes and score political points.
Lierman, 41, attended Walt Whitman High School in Montgomery County and earned a degree in history form Dartmouth College, followed by a law degree from the University of Texas. Her day job is as an attorney for the Brown Goldstein & Levy in Baltimore.
As a delegate, Lierman has had success on environmental and transportation issues. She sponsored a ban on polystyrene food packaging and founded a legislative transit caucus.
In her campaign for comptroller, she’ll point to her work on the House Appropriations Committee and to her advocacy for small businesses in the “Main Street” districts that she represents. She also will highlight her support of nonprofit community organizations.
Michael Middleton has worked with Lierman in his role as executive director of the Cherry Hill Development Corporation.
“It is never unusual to get up and find an email from Delegate Lierman concerning something that’s happening the community. For some reason or way, she knows it exists and offers her help resolving the issue,” he said.
Meredith Chaiken said Lierman helped make connections in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County for the Greater Baybrook Alliance, a community group that crosses the city-county border. Lierman pushed to get funding to hire staff for the alliance, including Chaiken as its first executive director.
“She’s both in the weeds, problem-solving at the block level, and she’s also a strategic partner in thinking through what the opportunities are,” Chaiken said.
Lierman’s political roots include working on campaigns in Wisconsin in the early 2000s for the late Democratic U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone and presidential contender Howard Dean, the former Democratic governor of Vermont. This year, she helped lead Women for Biden-Harris in Maryland. Her father, Terry Lierman, is a former chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party.
She started 2020 with about $247,000 in her campaign account — a significant sum for a state delegate, but shy of what would be needed for a competitive statewide campaign. Lierman has been busy fundraising this fall; the next campaign finance reporting deadline is Jan. 13.