Krishanti Vignarajah, a former policy director for Michelle Obama, formally announced her candidacy for governor of Maryland Tuesday afternoon, laying out a wide platform and striking out at Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on his relationship with President Trump.
Hammering the governor on his response to Trump’s policies, Vignarajah criticized Hogan’s stances on several issues, including Chesapeake Bay funding and immigrant and minority rights. “When [these things] are under siege, when what is taking place in Washington matters most for America,” she said, “what we hear from Annapolis is silence.”
The crowd outside Vignarajah’s childhood apartment complex in Woodlawn numbered around 60, with many wearing blazing red “Krish for Maryland” shirts.
“They say no man can beat Gov. Hogan,” she said, flanked by her husband and baby daughter to her right, and with a cluster of sign-holding supporters lined up behind her. “Well, I’m no man.”
Vignarajah, a daughter of Baltimore city public school teachers, immigrated to the United States at nine months old as her parents fled a civil war in Sri Lanka. She attended Woodlawn High, and went on to earn degrees from Yale, Oxford, and Yale Law School.
Vignarajah pitched policy proposals across many different focus areas, including the economy, environment and education. Among them: requiring three months of paid leave for new mothers and fathers; universal high-speed internet access; creating 250,000 private sector jobs in four years and easing the process of starting a small business in the state; and embracing infrastructure and new technologies to tackle Maryland’s traffic problem, including building the Baltimore Red Line.
She listed a handful of education-focused proposals to tackle Maryland’s flagging public school metrics, including free hot meals for students and universal full-day pre-K access.
Vignarajah also advocated for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay’s tributaries, encouraging outdoor tourism in the state, and cutting the state’s carbon emissions.
Women’s political power was a central theme of Tuesday’s event, with Vignarajah citing the absence of women from any statewide elected positions, and state policies that are hostile to women, like a law allowing paternity rights for rapists, and a lack of equal pay.
Steve Rabin, an informal campaign adviser, was pleased with Tuesday’s talking points. “These are areas where, by any definition, Larry Hogan has been a failure,” he said.
Vignarajah’s campaign announced Tuesday that it was adding veteran Democratic strategist Joe Trippi, who lives in Saint Michaels, and TargetSmart CEO Tom Bonier, of Sykesville, to her team.
“She is singularly the most exciting candidate to enter the race—between her breadth of experience and her uniquely American story, no other candidate has a better chance to win the primary and knock off an incumbent Republican governor in a heavily Democratic state,” Trippi said in a statement.
Bonier called Vignarajah “a generational, game-changing talent, much like the president she served.”
Vignarajah now stands as the seventh announced Democratic candidate in a race that’s quickly heating up, alongside establishment Maryland Democrats like Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and state Sen. Rich Madaleno, as well as other outsiders like former NAACP President Ben Jealous.
Currently, she stands as the only declared woman candidate for governor, something some analysts argue could work in her favor. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings – a policy consultant and wife of U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D) – has said she is weighing a run as well.
Vignarajah’s eligibility for the office is in question, however. Shortly after declaring her candidacy last month, a rival campaign questioned her Maryland voter registration to various publications on the condition of anonymity.
While working at the White House, Vignarajah registered to vote in Washington, D.C., and owned an apartment there. Maryland law requires gubernatorial candidates to have lived in, and be registered to vote in, the state for at least five years prior to the election.
The state Board of Elections has asked Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) to rule on whether a candidate can register in Maryland, vote in another jurisdiction and maintain their Maryland registration, but it is unclear if any opinion will come before the 2018 filing deadline, Feb. 27.
“The requirements to run in Maryland could not be clearer. I have been a resident and registered voter for far more than the required five years. So I am absolutely qualified to run,” Vignarajah told Cosmopolitan in August. She lives in Gaithersburg.
Vignarajah previously worked for the State Department as a senior adviser to secretaries Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. In her time working under Obama, Vignarajah was heavily involved with Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn campaign, a program providing support for adolescent girls’ education across the globe.
Vignarajah’s brother, Thiru Vignarajah, is a former assistant attorney general of Maryland and a declared candidate for state’s attorney of Baltimore City.