Longtime Democratic official Tom Perez joins race for Maryland governor

Tom Perez, who spent the last four years leading the national Democratic Party, is launching a campaign to be Maryland’s next governor.

Perez said Marylanders “are punching below our weight” and he believes he’s the best-qualified candidate to move the state forward in improving health care, education and the economy.


“I want to build a Maryland where the sky is the limit for everyone, where your ZIP code does not determine your destiny,” Perez said in an interview Tuesday ahead of his planned campaign launch on Wednesday.

Perez, 59, joins a field of Democratic candidates that’s already crowded one year out from the primary election. He’s the ninth Democrat to announce a bid to succeed Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who is barred from running again due to term limits.


Unlike other candidates who had to settle for kicking off their campaigns with videos on social media and Zoom events, Perez plans a pair of in-person announcements in Silver Spring and Baltimore.

Perez brings extensive experience to his campaign but may not be well-known among Maryland voters after spending much of his career in national politics in Washington. He said he’s working to “introduce and reintroduce” himself to Maryland voters.

Perez was born and raised in Buffalo, New York, where his parents settled after fleeing the Dominican Republic. (They chose the city in western New York for the “similarities in the weather,” Perez joked at a recent political event.)

After college at Brown University and law school at Harvard University, Perez went into civil rights law. He worked as a federal prosecutor for civil rights, advised the late U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy on criminal justice, worked as director of civil rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and was a law-school professor.

Along the way, Perez, who lives in Takoma Park, won a term on the Montgomery County Council in 2002. He’s believed to be the first Latino to serve on the council.

In 2006, he ran for Maryland attorney general but was disqualified after a court found he didn’t have the required 10 years of experience practicing law in the state. Perez ended up as the state secretary of labor after Martin O’Malley won the governorship that year.

In 2009, Perez was tapped to join President Barack Obama’s administration as the top civil rights official at the U.S. Department of Justice. In 2013, Obama appointed Perez as U.S. secretary of labor.

Perez points to his accomplishments at various levels of government, from crafting laws to combat the foreclosure crisis during the Great Recession to supporting a program in Montgomery County to provide health care to pregnant women who lacked citizenship documentation.


“We need a governor who can not only articulate a bold, progressive vision, but has a proven track record of delivering results,” he said. “That’s what my career has been about.”

After the end of Obama’s presidency and following Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton’s loss to Republican President Donald Trump in 2016, Perez campaigned for — and won — the top job at the Democratic National Committee. As DNC chair, he led the party as Joe Biden reclaimed the White House for the Democrats.

Perez stepped down from the DNC in January and recently joined the high-profile Venable law firm as a partner in the Washington office.

“When I left the DNC, the question for me was: Where could I make the biggest difference?” Perez said. “It became clear to me very, very quickly that running for governor presented the greatest opportunity to tackle the issues of the moment and to help improve the lives of so many Marylanders.”

Among his campaign pledges are promises to restart the canceled Red Line rail project in Baltimore, work toward having 100% of Marylanders with health insurance and to push forward on offshore wind energy. He also said he’ll be a “meaningful, equal, supportive partner” to Baltimore City leaders.

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Baltimore state Sen. Cory McCray said he’s backing Perez for his experience, intelligence and having “his heart in the right place.” McCray noted Perez has worked in government at the county, state and federal levels, plus has political savvy from leading the Democratic National Committee.


“We want somebody who can have a vision, think big and navigate the relationships — and he hits that trifecta,” said McCray, a Democrat who represents a district in East and Northeast Baltimore.

McCray was impressed with Perez on a recent long day of meetings in Baltimore, from visiting a neighborhood struggling with vacant homes to touring the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum. Perez has been “intentional” in learning about the city’s complex challenges, McCray said.

“I think Tom is going to be good in partnership with Baltimore City to address some of the persistent, long-standing problems that have really held Baltimore back in so many ways,” said Vicki Schultz, an informal adviser who previously worked with Perez and now is an associate dean at the University of Baltimore’s law school.

The other Democratic candidates for governor so far are: Peter Franchot, the state comptroller; Rushern L. Baker III, a former Prince George’s County executive who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2018; John B. King Jr., a former U.S. education secretary who founded the advocacy group Strong Future Maryland; Doug Gansler, a former state attorney general who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2014; Wes Moore, a veteran and author who led the anti-poverty Robin Hood Foundation; Jon Baron, a policy expert who worked for Arnold Ventures, a Texas-based philanthropy; Mike Rosenbaum, who founded two companies in Baltimore that connect workers with tech and health care jobs; and Ashwani Jain, who worked for the Obama administration and ran unsuccessfully for the Montgomery County Council in 2018.

The Republicans have two declared candidates: Kelly Schulz, Hogan’s secretary of commerce, and Robin Ficker, an attorney and perennial candidate.

None of the candidates, however, has filed paperwork to run with the Maryland State Board of Elections.