By Josh Kurtz
Today we feature reports on the fledgling gubernatorial campaign of Alec Ross, the beer task force organized by Comptroller Peter Franchot, developments in the Montgomery County council at-large race, and a new gig for a well-known Maryland operative. Read on for the individual items:
**HIGH-PRICED HELP. Alec Ross (D), the Baltimore tech entrepreneur who launched his unconventional bid for governor this week, is relying on two well-established national political consulting firms to help guide his campaign.
Ross, who worked for Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of State, is using the Global Strategy Group, a large public affairs outfit, for polling, and Davis Dixon Media Group for media. Both have ties to former Gov. Martin O’Malley (D): Dixon Davis worked directly for O’Malley’s campaign, and Global Strategy Group has worked for the Democratic Governors Association, which O’Malley once led.
Dixon Davis made the innovative four-minute introductory video that Ross released this week.
Ross is expected to announce his campaign staff in the coming days. Benjamin Gerdes, a longtime aide to former Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), assisted with Ross’ press rollout this week, although he is about to take a job with the Climate Action Campaign in Washington, D.C., and will not remain with Ross.
Ross’ campaign treasurer is Tina Hike-Hubbard, a member of the Baltimore city school board who is an official at Enterprise Community Partners Inc., a national affordable housing nonprofit. Hike-Hubbard is, like Ross, a veteran of the Teach for America program in Baltimore.
Ross was the first to formally announce his candidacy in what is expected to be a large field of Democrats seeking the party’s nomination against Gov. Larry Hogan (R). Eight Democrats — Ross, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, Rep. John Delaney, former Attorney General Doug Gansler, former NAACP President Ben Jealous, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, state Sen. Rich Madaleno and attorney Jim Shea — will be on a straw poll ballot this weekend at the Western Maryland Democratic Summit at the Rocky Gap resort and casino.
**A TOAST TO FRANCHOT. Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) is frequently accused of conducting political and policy crusades to attract the maximum amount of attention, even if they’re doomed to go nowhere. But while his new Reform on Tap task force, designed to overhaul the regulations on the production and distribution of beer in the state, is certainly a publicity-grabber, he can’t in this instance be accused of not laying the groundwork for some substantive change.
Franchot, the state’s chief alcohol regulator, makes no effort to hide his goal: He wants to promote the state’s fledgling craft beer industry. And the craft brewers’ agenda is sometimes at odds with those of the more traditional powerhouses in the liquor industry, like the wholesalers and distributors.
During the recent General Assembly debate over a bill to enable Guinness to set up a brewery and tap room in Baltimore County, Franchot was openly dismissive of some of the very entities he regulates – and more pointedly, their lobbyists and supporters in the legislature. The anger and contempt, it might be said, was mutual.
It was interesting to see Franchot, who as the state’s liquor regulator might be seen as a referee, openly donning a cheerleader’s outfit for the craft brewers instead of staying neutral.
Now, even if there isn’t total harmony, there is at least a ceasefire. Franchot’s 40-person task force is, not surprisingly, heavily weighted toward the craft brewing industry. Yet it does include Betty Buck, a longtime Maryland political power who is president of Buck Distributing Co. Inc. in Upper Marlboro, and Jack Milani, owner of Monaghan’s Pub in Gwynn Oak, the legislative chairman of the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association, which suggests a level of buy-in for Franchot’s goal from these entrenched interests as the task force begins its work next month.
Other notable members include Mike Haynie, chairman of the Maryland Tourism Council; Mike Gill, secretary of the Maryland Department of Commerce; and former Maryland Transportation Secretary John Porcari, who was deputy secretary of the federal Department of Transportation under President Obama.
Liz Murphy, the impresario behind the Naptown Pint beer blog, is also a member. Apparently she will simultaneously serve on the panel and write about it. It’s a brave new world for journalism.
Four state legislators are on the panel: Del. John Mautz (R) from the Eastern Shore, Sen. Johnny Ray Salling (R) of Baltimore County, Del. Mary Washington (D) of Baltimore city, and Sen. Ron Young (D) of Frederick County. And the task force features three “Franchot Democrats,” political leaders who are frequently allied with the comptroller: Salisbury Mayor Jake Day; Tom Coale, the Howard County lawyer, blogger and erstwhile legislative candidate; and Chuck Ferrar, the former Anne Arundel County councilman who is owner of Bay Ridge Wine & Spirits.
**MOCO AT-LARGE RACE GETS LARGER. Over the past quarter of a century, it has been unusual for more than one of the Montgomery County Council’s at-large seats to be vacant come election time. In fact, in 2014, there were no open at-large seats.
But in 2018, thanks to a term limits statute adopted by referendum last November, only one of the council’s four incumbents in at-large seats will be eligible to run for re-election. And, with 14 months until the primary, the field of wannabes is growing rapidly.
Two candidates vying for at-large seats plan to formally announce their candidacies over the next week. Bill Conway, who recently retired as a partner in the Washington, D.C.-based international law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, is holding a kickoff event at his Potomac residence this Sunday, April 30. His wife, Diana Conway, is an immediate past president of the Montgomery Countryside Alliance, which works to protect the agricultural reserve that comprises about 30 percent of the county’s land area.
A week later, on May 6, Chris Wilhelm will kick off his bid for an at-large seat with a “people-raiser” at El Golfo restaurant in Silver Spring’s Long Branch neighborhood. Wilhelm, a Chevy Chase resident, is an ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) teacher in the county school system. “…We have to get big money out of politics and tackle difficult conversations around structural racism and our growing wealth gap,” he said in a press release.
Conway and Wilhelm will be vying for seats being vacated by term-limited Councilmembers Marc Elrich and George Leventhal — both vying to succeed retiring County Executive Ike Leggett — and Councilmember Nancy Floreen, who is expected to depart after more than three decades in public office.
The fourth current at-large councilmember, Hans Riemer, is seeking re-election. And, in addition to Conway and Wilhelm, two other non-incumbent contenders — Ukiah Busch of Silver Spring and Richard Gottfried of Rockville — have filed with the Maryland Board of Elections, indicating they plan to seek at-large seats while tapping into Montgomery County’s newly created public financing system.
But that current field of five at-large candidates could easily double or even triple, depending on what a couple of other incumbents — District 2 Councilmember Craig Rice and District 5 Councilmember Tom Hucker, both former members of the Maryland House of Delegates, decide to do.
Both Hucker and Rice are contemplating runs for at-large council seats, to give them countywide visibility as a springboard to future races. If they do leave their district seats, it would attract a flood of contenders at the district level. If they stay put, those same contenders — notably current Del. Charlie Barkley — would run at-large. Barkley, a 20-year Annapolis veteran, has made no secret of the fact that he plans to leave Annapolis to run for the County Council, either at-large or for District 2, contingent on what Rice decides to do. (Rice also has not ruled out a county executive bid.)
Another incumbent, District 1 Councilmember Roger Berliner, is term-limited, and is considered a certain contender for county executive. Former Maryland Deputy Secretary of State Peter Fosselman and 2006 House of Delegates candidate Reggie Oldak have announced for the District 1 seat. Two others, Delegate Al Carr and Franchot aide Andrew Friedson, have said they are contemplating running either in District 1 or at-large.
**Q FACTOR. A fixture in Maryland politics, Quincey Gamble, has joined forces with Jay Steinmetz, a Baltimore tech entrepreneur, to form a new company called Modern Advocacy. The company has designed a mobile app that will allow industries, nonprofits, community groups and average citizens monitor the activities of elected officials and communicate with them.
Gamble has worked for myriad campaigns, including four at the presidential level, served as executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party, and was also political director for the Service Employees International Union Local 1199 in Maryland and D.C.
“Two things are true – there is unyielding competition for the eyes and ears of elected officials, and politicians react to hearing from voters,” Gamble said. “We built the Modern Advocacy application to make it easier for constituents to let their representatives know how they feel on any issue. Our app takes advocacy to the next level; it’s a game changer.”
Louis Peck contributed to this report.