The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Top Maryland Democratic Party official resigns after questioning electability of Black candidates

John King Jr., Rushern Baker III and Tom Perez joined former gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous in decrying her remarks

The Maryland State House in Annapolis. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)

A top Maryland Democratic Party official who questioned whether voters would elect a Black candidate for governor stepped down on Monday as calls for her departure escalated.

Barbara Goldberg Goldman, a prolific donor who was the party’s deputy treasurer, resigned on Monday. She also publicly apologized for the comments.

“We do not condone or support the comments in her email,” Democratic Party Chair Yvette Lewis said in a statement announcing Goldberg Goldman’s departure. “They do not represent the values of the Maryland Democratic Party.”

The resignation came shortly after John B. King Jr., a former U.S. education secretary, and Rushern L. Baker III, a former county executive in Prince George’s, called for her to step down.

Her remarks, which surfaced Sunday in a report from Axios, were made in a December email to party insiders about endorsing former Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez in the state’s gubernatorial primary. Goldberg Goldman wrote: “Consider this: Three African American males have run statewide for Governor and have lost. Maryland is not a Blue state. It’s a purple one. This is a fact we must not ignore.”

The state, which according to 2020 U.S. Census data is home to the most diverse population on the East Coast, has yet to elect a Black governor. That could change this year, with three Black candidates vying to replace Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who is term-limited.

Census data shows Maryland is now the East Coast’s most diverse state, while D.C. is Whiter

Baker, who is making his second straight bid for governor, initially said that he didn’t agree but that Democratic leaders’ skepticism of Black Democratic candidates’ ability to be elected statewide was “fair criticism, understanding we haven’t seen it happen yet.” But on Monday, after he became aware of the email, he lambasted Goldberg Goldman’s comments, saying “such comments merely serve to excuse and legitimize acts of institutional racism, whether at the voting booth, in our corridors of government or our institutions of business and civic life.”

Former gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous late Sunday described her comments as racist in a tweet comparing her words to those of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, the author of the 1857 Supreme Court decision stating that Black people were “regarded as beings of an inferior order” with “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

Jealous said he thought it was notable that he has never heard anyone in the Republican Party make similar remarks about Black Republican candidates.

“I haven’t heard them say that about Michael Steele, about Boyd Rutherford,” he said in an interview. “Our party needs to take a long look in the mirror and finally pull itself out from under the last remnants of the shadow of Chief Justice Taney.”

The email was sent to about 20 people, including Aruna Miller, who had just been named the running mate of gubernatorial candidate Wes Moore, who is Black. No one in the thread responded to Goldberg Goldman’s comments about the electability of Black candidates.

“I am well aware that words matter despite how they might be interpreted, and I sincerely apologize,” Goldberg Goldman said Monday in an email to The Washington Post. “I would never want to distract from the hard work and mission of my colleagues and friends fighting for the principles upon which the Democratic Party and I stand.”

Former Montgomery County executive Isiah Leggett, a Black Democrat, labeled Goldberg Goldman’s comment as “unfortunate and inartful” but noted that she raised a question that African Americans across the country have been asking for a long time about running in statewide races. He added that Goldberg Goldman’s comments do not reflect her character, noting that she has been a strong supporter for years of Black candidates, including him, Baker, Barack Obama and Rep. Anthony G. Brown (D-Md.), a former lieutenant governor.

The Democratic Party has a long, fraught history with Black voters, who have often felt taken advantage of by an organization that has depended on — and often, assumed — their support. Kevin Harris, a top aide during Jealous’s campaign, said he remembers as a young organizer similar whispers during Obama’s first run for office.

“There were these conversations about whether or not the president would be able to win over some working-class White voters rather than to relate to them,” Harris said. “Time and time again, we’ve sort of broken through these myths, but then you get comments like this and you are reminded that it’s just never enough.”

Harris said he worries about the type of impact these opinions from top party leaders could have on down-ballot races.

King said in a statement: “This kind of backwards thinking has no place in the future of the Democratic Party in Maryland, nor is it acceptable coming from a party official. As someone whose family went from being enslaved in a cabin in Gaithersburg to serving in the cabinet of the first Black president in just three generations, my family’s story is a testimony to the progress that Black Americans can achieve. Deputy Treasurer Goldman must resign from her position with the state party.”

Two families — one Black, one White — shared a harrowing history. Then they met.

Perez attempted to distance himself from his backer.

“These ill-conceived comments do not reflect the values of our campaign — as evidenced by Tom’s long career to advance civil rights and expand opportunity — or our values as Maryland Democrats,” Sean Naron, a Perez spokesman, said in a statement.

Naron said Perez, who is Hispanic, also urged Goldberg Goldman to step down.

State Comptroller Peter Franchot, who is also running for the Democratic nomination, said Goldberg Goldman’s “decision to resign was necessary. The diversity of Maryland’s Democratic Party is its greatest strength, and her comments contradict our values as both a party and state.”

A spokesman for Moore also harshly criticized Goldberg Goldman’s email and used it as an opportunity to take a swing at Perez, calling on him to “return the money she has donated to him, and cancel his upcoming fundraiser at her home.”

In this year’s crowded primary, half of the Democratic candidates vying to replace Hogan are men of color. They include Baker; King; Moore, an author and former nonprofit chief; Perez, a former U.S. labor secretary; and Ashwani Jain, a former candidate for the Montgomery County Council.

Jealous, who mounted a successful primary bid winning 22 out of 24 counties in 2018 but lost to Hogan in the general election by 12 percentage points, said the email proved to him that some leaders within the Democratic Party hold a different set of standards for Black and White candidates and are part of an effort to hold Black candidates back from succeeding.

“White men lose races all the time, but no one ever ascribes that loss to their DNA,” he said. “Black women and Black men are entreated to support the Democrats every single cycle. We are told that the Democrats are the party that stands for us. And then when we stand up to lead, we’re told that our race is an obstacle to us winning.”

The Maryland primary is June 28.