Three Democrats vying to be the next governor of Maryland — along with one Republican — addressed a gathering of several hundred African immigrants on Sunday, all promising to give the community access at a time when it is seeking to become more active in politics.
At the event hosted by the African Immigrant Caucus, a group launched last year, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, cast his pitch in the most personal terms, relaying the story of his late father’s journey to the United States from Jamaica.
“As I stand here today, I’m a first-generation American,” Brown told the group, which gathered in a Silver Spring church. “My father is Jamaican by birth, and American by choice. I am a descendant of Africa, via Jamaica and the West Indies.”
Brown, who would be Maryland’s first African-American governor, faces Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler and Del. Heather R. Mizeur in the June 24 Democratic primary. Charles County businessman Charles Lollar, a Republican who is an African-American, also addressed the group, which is spearheaded by community, clergy and business leaders.
The Washington region, including the Maryland suburbs, is home to largest number of African immigrants in the country, according to the forum’s organizers.
Brown shared that his father had been raised in Kingston, Jamaica, “in a one-bedroom home with a dirt floor in a very poor neighborhood.” At age 14, Brown’s father wrote his mother, who was already in the United States working as a domestic servant, and told her that he wanted to come to the country and become a doctor, Brown said.
Brown’s father would attend college in the United States but could not get into medical school here, Brown said. His father wound up going to Sweden, where he met Brown’s mother.
He came back to practice medicine in the United States, Brown said, “because he knew this was the land of opportunity and a place where someone can work hard, play by the rules, live the American Dream and make a contribution to the greatness of America.”
Brown credited his father, who died earlier this year, for teaching him “about the struggles and the aspirations of a new American coming to this country and what he had to fight and what he had to overcome.”
Both Gansler and Mizeur focused more heavily on policy issues during their five-minute presentations to the group.
Mizeur pledged to provide income tax relief for 90 percent of Marylanders and improve upon the minimum wage bill passed by the legislature this year. It gradually raised the threshold from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 by 2018 — a pace that Mizeur said “isn’t good enough.”
She also promised to address gender pay disparities, provide “universal” pre-kindergarten education and offer tax relief to small businesses.
If she becomes governor, Mizeur said, the African Immigrant Caucus, will have “a seat at the table.”
Gansler touted the work he has done fighting home foreclosures as attorney general as his efforts to diversify his office and noted that his campaign workers include some Africans.
“I believe in diversity to the core of my heart,” Gansler said.
He also played up his endorsement of President Obama in the 2008 primaries — Brown backed Hillary Clinton — and talked about his running mate, Del. Jolene Ivey (D-Prince George’s). If Gansler’s ticket prevails, Ivey would become the first female African-American Democrat elected lieutenant governor in the United States, Gansler said.
He also pressed some of his other campaign themes.
“We’ve had 40 straight taxes in this state, and the businesses are fleeing,” Gansler said. “We need to support our businesses and stop taxing us out of existence.”
Gansler also pledged to work to expand health-care coverage.
“Health care’s a right,” Gansler said. “Africans and everybody should have that right.”
During his remarks, Lollar sought to make the case that immigrants — including those from Africa — should be open to Republican candidates.
“As much as I love my fellow Democrats, they don’t corner the whole section of love and understanding for immigrants,” he said.
“For years, I’ve seen politician after politician after politician stand up and say things to you to make you so satisfied and happy for a moment, it’s like a sugar rush,” Lollar said. “It’s time for you all to demand better.”