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Valerie Ervin says she will run for Md. governor in Kevin Kamenetz’s place

Valerie Ervin, right, announces her bid to run for governor at the Maryland State Board of Elections in Annapolis. Ervin chose Marisol A. Johnson, left, as her running mate. (Brian Witte/AP)

Forty days before the primary, former Montgomery County Council member Valerie Ervin said she will run for Maryland governor in place of her deceased running mate Kevin Kam enetz, launching a bid that could shake up the crowded Democratic field.

Ervin, 61, is an outspoken progressive with a reputation for sharp-elbowed campaigning. She said her ties to Emily’s List and other national groups will generate funding and support that will help her draw votes away from other Democratic hopefuls vying for the nomination to challenge Gov. Larry Hogan (R) this fall.

“Kevin and I were gaining ground, and we could feel it,” said Ervin, who wore a “Black Girls Vote” button on her lapel during an interview and recalled her long-ago days running track to explain her decision.

“I ran the 4-by-4 relay, and would get the baton last and go over the finish line,” she said. “I don’t believe [Kamenetz] dropped the baton — I think he handed it. I’m just receiving the handoff right now.”

Ervin, who was the first black woman elected to the Montgomery County Council, had until Thursday to decide whether to dissolve the campaign, choose a new candidate for governor or run for the position herself. She filed candidacy papers with her new running mate, Marisol A. Johnson, a former Baltimore County school board member who was born in El Salvador and is the first Latino to hold public office in the county.

State Board of Elections officials have not said whether Ervin is entitled to the money in Kamenetz’s campaign account. He had amassed $2 million as of January, according to his campaign finance reports, and committed $1 million to pay for television advertisements to run in the Baltimore and Washington markets during the last two weeks before the June 26 primary.

As of mid-April, Ervin had $50,000 in her campaign account, and the slate she and Kamenetz formed had $1,000.

“I’m getting legal advice about my options regarding the two accounts we shared and my own account,” Ervin said. “I entered his campaign apparatus, and so I would like legal counsel to guide me through the questions that need to be asked.”

Ervin said she has been in talks with Emily’s List, a national organization that funds female Democratic candidates who support abortion rights, and other women’s groups such as Higher Heights for America that are “clearly interested in my campaign.”

“I’m going to raise money because outside of Stacey Abrams, there are no other black women at the top of the ticket,” she said, referring to a Democrat running for governor in Georgia. “That’s national fundraising capabilities we didn’t have before.”

A representative for Emily’s List did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

In 2016, the group poured money into the unsuccessful Senate campaign of then-Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D-Md.), a close friend of Ervin’s who encouraged her via Twitter on Monday to run for governor. Emily’s List had planned to back Maya Rockeymoore Cummings in the Maryland governor’s race, but she dropped out early this year. The group is not supporting Krishanti Vignarajah, the other female gubernatorial candidate.

Ervin said that she is aware of her reputation as blunt and hard-charging and that she thinks it is one of the reasons she was chosen by Kamenetz, the two-term Baltimore County executive who died of cardiac arrest last week hours after participating in a candidate forum.

She also criticized the two leading candidates in the race, saying that Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III has lost support in his home county and that former NAACP chief Ben Jealous has no experience in elected office.

“I hear people say I have sharp elbows. I see that as a badge of honor,” Ervin said. “I’m not trying to be disagreeable. But so much still needs to happen to make it better for children and for families who are struggling and people who need jobs and transportation. If I ruffle feathers to get those things done, I will say ‘Job well done’ when it’s over.”

Ervin, a former labor organizer, left her job as senior adviser to the Working Families Party to join the Kamenetz campaign. While many analysts saw Kamenetz as likely to appeal to moderate Democratic voters in Baltimore County who might not be inclined to support Ervin, she said the pair shared strong progressive values — supporting protections for undocumented immigrants and a $15 minimum wage. Ervin said her agenda will focus on the same issues Kamenetz advanced, particularly improving public schools.

Ervin made a brief run for Congress in Maryland’s 8th District in 2015 but dropped out after struggling to raise money. She began her career in elected office on the Montgomery County Board of Education.

She is the third African American candidate in the gubernatorial primary, along with Baker and Jealous.

Her progressive credentials could draw votes from Jealous, who has been endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and several state and national progressive groups. And her roots in Montgomery County, the state’s most populous jurisdiction, could help her compete with state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (Montgomery).

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