By Ana Faguy
With potted calla lily plants on both sides of a makeshift stage in front of them and layered campaign posters in the background, people from northwest Baltimore gathered in the parking lot of a strip mall on Dolfield Avenue Wednesday. Coffee cups in hand and sunglasses on, these friends and neighbors gathered to talk and listen to a prospective governor of Maryland.
Ben Jealous, the former NAACP president, announced his candidacy for governor outside his cousin’s flower shop, Baltimore Blossoms.
He is the second candidate to announce he’s running in the June 26, 2018 Democratic primary. If elected he would be the first African-American governor of the state.
The flower shop is just down the street from Jealous’ grandparents’ home, where he spent many of his summers while he was growing up. He dedicated a portion of his 15-minute announcement to telling the story of his family and their long history with the city of Baltimore – how his grandparents muscled their way into the middle class thanks to “union jobs” and how his black mother and white father fell in love despite miscegenation laws.
A few friends spoke on Jealous’ behalf before his remarks. Fagan Harris, a colleague from the NAACP, described Jealous as someone who thinks bigger than most public figures and fights for progress. He compared the former NAACP president to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., saying that Jealous is an “indispensable force for good.”
Rachelle Bland, owner of Baltimore Blossoms and Jealous’ cousin, introduced him to the crowd with personal anecdotes about Jealous and the Baltimore neighborhood, Ashburton. Bland noted that at age seven Jealous knew that he wanted to be a civil rights lawyer and fight for the people.
This was a recurring theme throughout the event. At one point Jealous had the crowd chanting, “The people united will never be divided.”
He highlighted his history as an activist and emphasized the need for change both at the state level and nationally.
Using the metaphor of the Cowardly Lion from “The Wizard of Oz,” Jealous described first-term Gov. Larry Hogan (R) as cowardly and silent about policy changes coming from the Trump administration and the Republican Congress.
“He has aligned himself with the Trump administration by his misguided action and his so cowardly silence,” Jealous said.
Jealous also sought to attach himself to some of the most progressive accomplishments of Hogan’s predecessor, former Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), including passing the DREAM Act, marriage equality and the elimination of capital punishment. He outlined his priorities if elected, including education, raising the minimum wage, clean energy, union jobs, rapid transit and fighting mass incarceration.
On education Jealous emphasized the need for quality teachers in every classroom. He called for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Jealous also stressed the importance of embracing clean energy. Meeting these goals, he said, will guarantee a better future for communities across the state.
“There is no force that can stop us from achieving the real progress our children and families so urgently need,” Jealous said.
After his remarks, Jealous worked his way through the crowd, shaking supporters’ hands and posing for photos. Many of his supporters sported “Unite Here!” and “Our Revolution” gear.
This paraphernalia was not the only tie to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the former presidential candidate. Jealous reminded the audience that he had supported Sanders and served as an at-large Sanders delegate from Maryland at the Democratic National Convention last year. Many of his policy positions mirrored Sanders’.
Jealous’ event felt similar to a Sanders rally. The crowd was clearly looking for change from government norms.
The ties to Sanders go even deeper.
Notably, Jealous has hired the same media firm that Sanders used during his campaign, Devine Mulvey Longabaugh. The Jealous campaign released a video earlier this week that was made by Tad Devine and was reminiscent of a widely-praised ad the Sanders campaign used ahead of the 2016 Iowa caucuses.
The one-minute clip shows Marylanders at work and highlights Jealous’ thoughts on what the job of governor entails.
“It’s not about doing better in another generation, we can do better for this generation,” Jealous said in the video.
Devine, whose political career goes back 35 years and who has been a national media consultant for a quarter century, has one other significant client in Maryland: Comptroller Peter Franchot (D), whose politics diverge considerably from Jealous’.
With his entry into the gubernatorial race, Jealous joined tech entrepreneur Alec Ross as the only declared Democrats. State Sen. Rich Madaleno (D) has disclosed his intention to run, but has not made a formal announcement.
On Tuesday evening, Ross held one of his first public events, a fundraiser at the Towson home of Mary Ellen Pease, a research associate at Johns Hopkins Medical Center, and Charlie Scheeler, a senior counsel at the DLA Piper Law Firm.