Maryland gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous has picked up the endorsement of the state’s largest teachers union, adding to the list of high-profile supporters backing him in the crowded Democratic primary.
The support from the Maryland State Education Association, which has often been in the crosshairs of Gov. Larry Hogan (R), is a huge boost for Jealous, who is making his first run for public office.
The endorsement from the 74,000-member union is one of the most coveted in Democratic politics.
“Our children need a new Maryland Promise that no matter their neighborhood, the state will make sure there’s a strong public school in their community,” union President Betty Weller said in a statement. “Ben Jealous is the candidate with the values, the vision, and the coalition-building skills to make that promise a reality.”
Union officials said educators were inspired by Jealous, whose parents were public school educators, and by his vision.
Jealous was the first candidate in the race to call for the state’s share of casino money to be spent on public schools. The former NAACP president also has called for increasing teacher salaries, ensuring all school staff make a living wage and eliminating the $2.9 billion funding shortage an education commission says state schools face.
Jealous received 85 percent of the vote — well above the 58 percent needed to secure the endorsement — from more than 300 delegates representing educators from across the state during the union’s Spring Representative Assembly on Saturday.
The union plans to hold an event this week to formally announce the endorsement.
Steven Hershkowitz, a spokesman for MSEA, said the union endorsement came late this year. Former lieutenant governor Anthony G. Brown (D) captured the union’s endorsement in October 2013, almost eight months before the primary.
Hershkowitz said the union waited until all the candidates announced, which did not happen until the fall, and there was not enough time for everyone to fill out the required questionnaire.
Jealous has also won endorsements from the 45,000-member Service Employees International Union; U.S. Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.); Maryland Working Families; and Our Revolution.
Jealous is one of eight candidates vying for the Democratic nomination, hoping to face Hogan in November. The other candidates are Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., tech entrepreneur Alec Ross, lawyer and former University System of Maryland Board of Regents chair James Shea, former Michelle Obama policy director Krishanti Vignarajah, and perennial candidate Ralph Jaffe.
The Maryland primary is June 26.