Maryland’s Democratic gubernatorial contenders assailed Gov. Larry Hogan (R) rather than criticizing one another Wednesday in a Baltimore-centric debate that focused on schools, racial tensions and the recent deadly flood in Ellicott City.
In the second of five scheduled televised debates, the crowded field of candidates stuck to their pattern of promoting their own records and qualifications without attacking one another in public.
That’s partly because they agree on most of the issues, especially on the importance of increasing funding for K-12 public education. They also were in accord that Hogan has not spoken up enough to counter what they decried as President Trump’s divisive racial rhetoric. And some alleged — without offering evidence — that his neglect of storm-water management contributed to the Ellicott City tragedy.
“We’re all in agreement — the biggest leadership problem in the state is Hogan,” former NAACP president Benjamin Jealous said after the debate.
“There’s not a lot of combat,” offered tech entrepreneur Alec Ross.
The shortage of fireworks in the run-up to the June 26 primary has drawn complaints from analysts and some Democratic elected officials that the election has failed to stir voter interest and that none of the candidates has stood out. On Wednesday, candidates defended their approach as being supportive of party solidarity.
“Governor Hogan’s a formidable politician,” said former Michelle Obama aide Krishanti Vignarajah. “The priority for me is highlighting that he fakes left and then he moves right.”
State Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (Montgomery) said the amity sprang partly from concern that infighting during the primary four years ago contributed to Hogan’s general-election upset of the 2014 Democratic nominee, then-lieutenant governor Anthony G. Brown.
The debate was taped in the afternoon in Arlington and broadcast at 7 p.m. on NewsChannel8 in the Washington area and CW54 in Baltimore.
Participants included seven mainstream candidates: Jealous, Ross, Vignarajah, Madaleno, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, former Montgomery County council member Valerie Ervin and Baltimore attorney James L. Shea. Also participating were James Jones, a counselor at a substance-abuse treatment center, and Ralph Jaffe, a community activist, who are also on the ballot but have not raised any money or hired campaign staff.
Baker, who has topped early opinion polls and is widely seen as a front-runner, repeatedly accused Hogan of failing to provide strong leadership, including in denouncing Trump’s actions and rhetoric.
Responding to a question about how to improve race relations, Baker said, “We have a governor who has allowed this president and his divisive agenda to tear this nation apart.”
He, and others, faulted Hogan for campaigning in 2014 against a storm-water-mitigation fee that he derided as a “rain tax.” The Democrats said the fee was designed to help pay for controlling flooding similar to that in Ellicott City.
Doug Mayer, a deputy campaign manager for Hogan, pointed out that all Democrats in the legislature voted to repeal the state requirement for a “rain tax” levy after Hogan took office. He also said that the fee dealt with funding anti-pollution efforts, not flood mitigation, and that Howard County, where Ellicott City is located, still has such a levy.
Regarding the complaint that Hogan has not pushed back hard enough against Trump’s rhetoric on race, Mayer said: “The governor has consistently spoken out and condemned all forms of hate and race- and religious-based attacks, and will continue to do that over the next four years and for the rest of his life.”
All of the mainstream Democratic candidates except Ervin pledged at the debate to significantly increase funding for Maryland public schools, saying improved education was key to preventing crime and aiding the economy.
Ervin said instead that the school systems are already fully funded, and the state needs to do more to help local communities provide meals, housing and better after-school programs for poor children.
Until the unexpected May 10 death of Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, Ervin had been the candidate for lieutenant governor on Kamenetz’s ticket. She moved into the top slot two weeks ago.
At the debate, in an apparent attempt to appeal to voters who previously had been leaning toward Kamenetz, Shea identified himself as more centrist than the others who are seeking the nomination.
“It is time for moderates of all types to come together with common sense and practical solutions,” he said.
With nine candidates and an hour to talk, there was time for only four questions. Three, including the one on Ellicott City, focused on the Baltimore area.
Ross at one point noted the discrepancy and said it was important to talk as well about issues facing other parts of the state — such as Montgomery and Prince George’s, the state’s two most populous counties and homes to the largest concentrations of Democrats.
Madaleno slipped in an appeal to Washington-area hockey fans by declaring himself a “lifelong fan of the Washington Capitals,” who were set to play the second game of the Stanley Cup finals Wednesday night.
Afterward, he said, “I almost came in an Ovechkin jersey.”