Ben Jealous and Rushern Baker have taken different professional paths over the years but they now have one common denominator: Each man is hoping to become Maryland’s first black governor.
It could be an uphill slog for Jealous and Baker, some political strategists say, since Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, is favored to retain his seat for a second term.
But is Maryland ready for a Black governor?
There have only been four Black governors in U.S. history: P.B.S. Pinchback, a Republican from Louisiana who was elected in 1872; Douglas Wilder from Virginia elected in 1990, Deval Patrick, the current governor of Massachusetts; and David Patterson of New York, elected in 2007. (Wilder was the first black elected governor.)
Jealous, 44, a Democrat and former president of the NAACP, and Baker, the current Prince George’s County Executive, have announced their candidacies, they are actively raising money, talking to voters and presenting their respective platforms.
Baker, 58, who is also a Democrat, has more political experience and arguably greater name recognition, at least locally. He served two terms as a state legislator and two terms as county executive.
“Marylanders work hard for their money and deserve a Governor who’ll make it easier for them to afford healthcare, provide for their families, plan for the future, and have great public schools,” Baker told reporters. “They deserve a Governor that supports paid sick leave, makes Maryland a leader in innovation and economic growth and stands up for the rights of all of us.”
Baker oversees a county of 900,000 residents and he also cares for his wife, Christa, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. She doesn’t walk anymore and she doesn’t talk much.
“When I dress her in the morning, that is just Cis and Rushern,” Baker told WUSA 9.
It’s been tough on Baker and his family.
“It was just really hard,” Baker said. “And, I cried everyday.”
Jealous, who has never held elected political office, said his record in civil rights will appeal to voters. Jealous was the youngest person ever elected to lead the NAACP, at the age of 35. He was president of the NAACP from 2008 to 2013.
Jealous is aware that his candidacy is considered a longshot by some political pundits and says the campaign won’t be easy.
“I come into this as the guy who doesn’t have a job in politics right now, and I come into this as somebody who knows how to organize and pull folks together to win,” Jealous told reporters. “We are up to the challenge, we are ready for the fight and we will win.”
If elected, Jealous he would make sure Maryland’s public school students have qualified teachers. He also said he would push to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Jealous, perhaps, has more national appeal. In his position leading the NAACP, he traveled the country speaking out about criminal justice reform; voting rights; affordable housing, adequate education for public school students; health care and racial profiling.
Jealous also shares his personal background with voters: His mother is African-American and his father is white; the couple moved from Baltimore to California because interracial marriage in Maryland was illegal when they were engaged.
Baker and Jealous, respectively, want to unseat Hogan in a traditional blue state where Democratic voters outnumber Republican voters 2-1.
Alec Ross, 45, head of a Baltimore non-profit and a former Obama administration technology adviser, is also running for governor as a Democrat.
Meanwhile, The Baltimore Sun said the 2018 governor’s race is Hogan’s race to lose – but he will have formidable opponents.
“Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III has a good story to tell about the progress he has made in turning around an economically stagnant, politically corrupt jurisdiction. In an open election when voters are looking for a new, fresh face, that could be a winning message,” the Sun reported.
“Former NAACP head Benjamin Jealous…. has the potential to fire up both the progressive and African-American constituencies in the Democratic Party, and he has the ability to raise money nationally. But his strength as a political candidate remains untested,” according to the Sun.
Only time will tell if Baker or Jealous will make political history.
What do you think?
PHOTO: PR Photos
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