Brown builds run for governor on closing racial gaps in Md.


Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, left, talks with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller during a bill-signing ceremony in Annapolis on May 2, 2012. (Cliff Owen/Associated Press)

When he announces his candidacy for governor on Friday, Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown is expected to lay out several priorities, including a stepped-up focus on fighting racial and other disparities in health care, education and employment.

With a speech that also underscores plans to continue spending on state infrastructure and strengthen vocational training, Brown (D) will become the first major candidate to officially join the race to succeed Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) next year.

For Brown, who is staging a family-style cookout in Largo as the backdrop to his announcement, the challenge will be to pivot from his role as O’Malley’s understudy to a candidate with his own voice and vision, one worthy of being governor.

In his speech, excerpts of which were shared with The Washington Post on Thursday, Brown is expected to claim some credit for accomplishments in the O’Malley administration but also push the theme of “making Maryland better for more Marylanders.”

“It’s not enough to have the best school system in the country unless every child in Maryland, whether they live in Brandywine or Bethesda, gets a world-class education,” the excerpt read. “It’s not enough to have a lower unemployment rate than the national average if we continue to see pockets of poverty and hardship in the same communities that existed back when Dr. King climbed the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.”

If successful, Brown would be Maryland’s first African American governor and only the third black candidate to be elected governor in U.S. history. The son of a Jamaican father and Swedish mother, Brown said he is “mindful” of that but said it won’t define his campaign.

“I think Marylanders are looking for leaders who are going to get results,” Brown said in an interview. “It will be more about results than race.”

Still, his ethnicity is viewed as an advantage in a state where African Americans make up a larger share of the population than anywhere outside of the Deep South. In recent elections, black voters have accounted for more than 35 percent of Democratic primary voters in Maryland, according to exit polls.

To win, Brown, a former delegate representing Prince George’s County, would have to make history in another respect: No lieutenant governor in Maryland has been elected governor. In fact, the office has proven a weak launching pad for politicians with grander ambitions since it was created by a constitutional amendment in 1970.

Brown’s odds of making the leap might be better than his predecessors’, several analysts said, but he still faces the burden of defining himself independently of O’Malley, with whom Brown has served since 2007. And not all of O’Malley’s agenda — including a series of tax increases — is popular, even among Democrats.

Brown is “certainly best positioned to end the losing streak, but I think it’s still a wide-open Democratic primary,” said Herbert C. Smith, a professor of political science at McDaniel College.

Brown’s most formidable competitor in the June 2014 Democratic primary, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, has a huge fundraising lead and a more independent identity. As of January, the former state’s attorney in Montgomery County had $5.2 million in the bank — more than three times the cash Brown reported having on hand.

Gansler has staked out different positions on some issues championed by O’Malley and Brown, including an increase in the gas tax to fund transportation projects and the repeal of the state’s death penalty. And Gansler supporters say he is hardly ceding the African American vote to Brown.

Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Montgomery) has also been gearing up to run, as has Howard County Executive Ken Ulman (D).

Ulman, however, has been in talks with Brown about joining his ticket as the lieutenant governor candidate, a move that could be announced as early as next month. That partnership would cut into Gansler’s money advantage. In January, Ulman reported having $2.1 million in the bank, more than the $1.6 million Brown had on hand.

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), a former Baltimore County executive, is also considering joining the field. He could be the only Baltimore area Democratic contender in a race dominated by hopefuls from the Washington suburbs.

The race could attract a half-dozen GOP candidates in a state where Democrats hold a 2-to-1 advantage in party registration and where only one GOP gubernatorial candidate — former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. — has prevailed in the past generation.

Those looking at the race include Harford County Executive David R. Craig; Del. Ron George (R-Anne Arundel); Blaine R. Young, president of the Frederick County Board of Commissioners; Larry Hogan, a former Ehrlich Cabinet member who leads the group Change Maryland; Dan Bongino, a former Secret Service agent who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate last year; and Charles Lollar, a businessman who ran unsuccessfully for the House of Representatives in 2010.

On Friday, Brown is expected to tout the O’Malley administration’s efforts to pass gun-control legislation, limit tuition increases at public universities and expand subsidized health care.

Health care is among the issues on which Brown has sought to be a leader since he joined O’Malley’s ticket. Brown also took on a high-profile role coordinating the state’s response to U.S. military base realignment.

More recently, he has championed legislation to broaden the state’s partnership with the private sector on infrastructure and other projects. Brown said he would like to continue those efforts.

“I’m looking forward to being able to highlight our accomplishments during the course of this campaign, but more importantly, to speak to what’s next,” Brown said. “I think that all campaigns ought to be forward-looking. You can’t drive by staring in the rear-view mirror.”

John Wagner has covered Maryland government and politics for The Post since 2004.
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