James L. Shea, who led one of Maryland’s largest law firms and had chaired the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, has joined a growing number of Democrats seeking to challenge Gov. Larry Hogan (R) in 2018.
He announced his campaign Thursday night during a private fundraiser at Baltimore’s Museum of Industry.
The event was not open to reporters, but Shea confirmed his plans in an interview beforehand.
A first-time candidate, the 65-year-old attorney will be a political outsider in the mold of Hogan, who never held elected office before upsetting Anthony G. Brown (D) in 2014.
Hogan is deeply popular in Maryland, but Democrats see a chance to unseat him if growing opposition to President Trump fuels a voter revolt in the mostly liberal state.
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, former NAACP president Ben Jealous, state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (Montgomery) and Baltimore tech entrepreneur Alec Ross have said they also plan to compete in the Democratic primary, which is just over a year away.
Others weighing bids include former Maryland attorney general Douglas F. Gansler, Baltimore County Executive Kevin B. Kamenetz, who says he will make a decision after Labor Day, and U.S. Rep. John Delaney, who tweeted Thursday that he will decide in late July.
Shea is not a total political novice. He has been a behind-the-scenes player in Democratic politics, raising money for former governor Martin O’Malley and serving on his transition team. O’Malley appointed Shea to the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents, which he chaired for four years. Shea has also served on various Baltimore civic boards and commissions.
In the interview, Shea said his top priorities if elected governor would include boosting economic growth and expanding job opportunities, both of which he claimed could be accomplished in part by creating stronger mass transit links between the Baltimore and D.C. areas.
Those cities, he said, “should be the focus of strategic initiatives” coming from Annapolis.
Shea strongly supported the Baltimore Red Line rail project, which Hogan killed in 2015 after concluding that it was not financially viable. The Democrat said he would also focus on expanding access to early-childhood education and after-school and summer programs.
A native of the Baltimore area, Shea has spent his legal career in Maryland after attending law school at the University of Virginia.
He clerked for U.S. District Court Judge Joseph H. Young in the 1970s, then worked in the state attorney general’s office.
He joined Venable in 1983, rising through the ranks to become the firm’s managing partner and chairman and leading an effort to merge the firm’s Baltimore and D.C. offices.
“I’ve executed plans and solved tough problems,” he said.
Shea’s clients at Venable included major Maryland employers Johns Hopkins University and Marriott International. He stepped down as chair of the firm in February and became chairman emeritus.
Shortly after, Shea announced that he was weighing a gubernatorial bid, eager to counter what he called Trump’s attack on “the American way of life” and what he sees as Hogan’s muted response to the 45th president.
Shea said Thursday that Hogan has not done enough to directly challenge Trump on such issues as his travel ban, his immigration and environmental policies, and his animosity toward courts and the media.
“We need everyone, including the governor, to stand up and say ‘No’ to those destructive policies,” he said. “If you don’t stand up to them, you’re enabling them to happen.”
Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said the governor’s record — on government spending, education, environmental protection and attacking the opioid crisis, among other things — “speaks for itself.”