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Ike Leggett endorses Jealous, but says he won’t campaign against Hogan

Montgomery County executive Isiah Leggett (D) said he is endorsing Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous but won’t campaign on his behalf against Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. (Jeffrey MacMillan/Capital Business)

After hesitating for months, Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) has endorsed Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ben Jealous.

But Leggett says he will not campaign “against” Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, whom he counts as a personal friend and as a supporter of Maryland’s most populous jurisdiction.

Leggett, a former state Democratic Party chair, said in an interview that he announced he was supporting the entire Democratic ticket at a fundraiser in Kensington Saturday hosted by Democratic county council candidate Gabe Albornoz.

The executive had said in July that he wasn’t ready to endorse Jealous because of concerns about how the Democratic nominee’s stances on taxes and school funding would affect Montgomery, a liberal county of about 1 million people whose per capita income is among the highest in the state.

Leggett said he decided to endorse after numerous discussions with Jealous and his running mate, Susie Turnbull, about the candidate’s stances on the issues of school funding, bringing Amazon’s next headquarters to Montgomery County and taxes.

He said that although Jealous is “still evaluating on the tax things,” the candidate has softened his position on school-funding formulas and has indicated he will honor any deal the state negotiates to land Amazon. (Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post).

“We worked the differences out with Ben and I feel satisfied where we are,” Leggett said Sunday. “Many Democrats are probably wiping their brows and saying, ‘Thank you.’ And some are saying, ‘What took you so long?’ ”

Hogan spokesman Scott Sloofman called Leggett’s support of Jealous a “half-hearted endorsement” and said in an emailed statement that “Ben Jealous needs to explain to everyone what positions he flip-flopped on and what deals he cut” in order to secure it.

But Kevin Harris, a senior adviser to Jealous, said the nominee’s platform and stances remain the same. “I can’t explain why Mr. Leggett was ever confused about Ben’s positions, but they haven’t changed,” Harris said in a texted statment. “The Amazon deal was poorly negotiated, tuition-free college is the right thing to do and schools everywhere should be fully funded, including in Montgomery County, not at its expense. Those always were and still are our positions.”

Leggett said Jealous, who trails Hogan by 20 points in a recent Washington Post-University of Maryland poll, has a “very difficult, uphill battle” to the governor’s mansion. He also said he would not work against Hogan, who has spent millions in an all-out effort to become the first GOP governor reelected in Maryland since 1954.

“Larry Hogan and I are good friends,” Leggett said. “He’s supported the county on a number of important issues — Marriott, the Amazon proposal, to the Purple Line and a host of other things he’s done. I cannot, nor will I in any way shape or form, campaign against him. I’m just for Ben and the Democratic Party.”

He declined to say whether he thinks Jealous — who defeated Leggett’s longtime friend Rushern L. Baker III, the Prince George’s County executive, in the June Democratic primary — would be a better governor than Hogan.

“That’s a good question,” Leggett said. “I’m simply for the Democratic nominee.”

Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report.

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