The Democratic candidates for Maryland governor chat during a commercial break during a forum Thursday in Washington. The forum airs on Sunday at 11:30 am on NBC4. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

The Democratic candidates for Maryland governor threw some verbal punches Thursday during the taping of their last televised forum before the June 26 primary.

Lawyer James L. Shea didn’t wait for the first question to take aim at the two front-runners, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III and former NAACP president Ben Jealous. During his opening statement, Shea suggested neither Baker nor Jealous can beat popular incumbent Gov. Larry Hogan (R).

“If Rushern Baker is our nominee, Hogan will exploit the problems of the Prince George’s school system, including that his handpicked choice was forced to resign and the graduation rates were inflated,” Shea said. “If Ben Jealous is our nominee, Larry Hogan will portray him as a tax-and-spend Democrat.”

Jealous piled on a few minutes later, saying “I agree with Jim Shea that if Baker goes up against Hogan, he just can’t win.”

Baker’s schools chief, Kevin M. Maxwell, announced this spring he would step down after a string of well-publicized controversies. The district saw improvement during Maxwell’s five-year tenure, and Baker has defended his record on education, arguing that he showed political courage in making tough decisions.

Baker found an opportunity later to repeat that argument and take a swipe back at Jealous, a first-time political candidate.

“In an executive office — and I know how this runs — you have to lead,” Baker said. “You have to get out there and, yes, you have to be willing, Ben, to take on some tough hits if you’re going to change things.”

Baker and Jealous are at the top of the crowded primary field, according to a Washington Post-
University of Maryland poll
released last week.

The forum, held by NBC4 and Telemundo 44, was taped at NBC4’s studios and is scheduled to air Sunday at 11:30 a.m. The moderator, former NBC4 politics reporter Tom Sherwood, managed a few questions that forced candidates away from their well-
rehearsed stump speeches.

“In this era of the Me Too movement and women standing up against sexual harassment and assault, can you assure voters that you have never settled a sexual harassment case or signed a non-disclosure statement because of your behavior?” Sherwood asked.

All of the candidates said they hadn’t. “I can assure the voters that yes, that has never happened to me,” Baker said. “No, that has not happened to me,” Jealous said.

Former Michelle Obama aide Krishanti Vignarajah, the only woman in the race since Valerie Ervin dropped out Tuesday, referred to herself as “a Me Too survivor.” She has said before that she has experienced harassment but has declined to elaborate.

At another point in the debate, Sherwood asked the candidates which of their opponents they would include in their cabinet should they win election. Both Shea and Jealous said state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. would be a great budget secretary, a job offer he may welcome if he can’t overcome his single-digit rating in recent polls.

Madaleno did not return the favor, however, taking aim during a different question at Jealous’s high number of donors from outside Maryland.

The candidates, all of whom more or less support legalizing marijuana (Baker says the state should first deal with equity issues), also were asked whether they had “ever smoked or ingested” the drug themselves.

Four of the candidates — Baker, Madaleno, Shea and Vignarajah — denied having done so. Tech entrepreneur Alec Ross said he did “a long time ago in college.” Jealous also answered yes, adding, “with Dave Chappelle.”

The comedian’s father is Jealous’s godfather, and Jealous joked about marijuana with Chappelle when they campaigned together in Baltimore County last weekend.