Rushern L. Baker declared on Tuesday that the endorsement from a longtime mentor — fellow county executive and former law school professor Isiah “Ike” Leggett — represented a singularly valuable stamp of approval as he seeks the Democratic nomination for governor.
“There’s not a better endorsement,” Baker said. “There is not one that I sought more. I am so proud to have the county executive of the largest jurisdiction, the most diverse jurisdiction in the great state of Maryland, endorse me.”
Baker graduated from Howard University Law School in 1986, and he said Leggett — a future dean — was already a legendary figure on campus due to his keen intellect, exacting nature and high GPA. Baker said Leggett was instrumental in helping him develop the confidence he needed to pursue his ambitions.
“I remember being a very scared 25-year-old coming to law school and not being sure that I had the wherewithal to make it outta here,” Baker said. “But he took the time to understand someone and give them the encouragement [to succeed].”
A three-term Montgomery County executive and the top Democrat in a county whose voters are expected to play an outsized role in both the gubernatorial primary and general election, Leggett, a former state party chairman, was pursued by multiple campaigns.
He chose Baker because of the way he approached the many challenges he inherited when he took office. Many would have shied away from the job, Leggett said of his former pupil, “but he persisted.”
While his endorsement of Baker was widely expected, Leggett denied that their long relationship made his decision a slam dunk.
“I considered all of them,” Leggett said in an interview. “It was a very difficult choice. I have [state Sen.] Rich Madaleno, who I am very, very close to, one of the stalwarts of Montgomery County who has provided a great deal of leadership. … I’m very close to [Baltimore County Executive] Kevin Kamenetz. He’s a great candidate as well. Any of them would probably be a very good governor, I just simply believe that Rushern would a better one.”
“I’ve had a lot of former students run for office who I did not support,” Leggett added.
Leggett’s decision to go with Baker is a particular blow to state Madaleno, a lesser-known candidate who is banking on racking up a huge margin in his home county.
Madaleno’s campaign manager Keith Presley said, “Obviously we would have loved to have had Ike Leggett’s endorsement, but we weren’t shocked when it happened. They’ve been county execs, they’ve been partners in many things.”
The campaign will try to blunt the impact of Leggett’s endorsement by having other community leaders step up for Madaleno in the near future.
“I can say that with certainty that we will be rolling out many names within the next couple weeks from Montgomery County,” Presley said.
Former state Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) called Leggett’s endorsement “clearly important. He’s not a flash in the pan. He has a long and deep legacy with a lot of support in Montgomery County. And while people may disagree with him on this issue or that issue, I’ve never in all my time heard anyone say they don’t like Ike Leggett.”
“If you believe, as I do, that Montgomery County is the battleground of this election, the endorsement of Ike Leggett is very valuable,” Gansler said.
Pointing to the earlier endorsements from U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) and Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D), Gansler said, “It adds another layer to the notion that [Baker] is the candidate of the establishment.”
The Baker-Leggett news conference was held in in the Howard Law School building in Washington, D.C., and featured several prominent alumni. Introducing the speakers, former dean Alice Bullock said, “We need good leaders right now. Can I get an amen?”
After the news conference, Baker wandered upstairs with his entourage in tow, to show his son and daughter the 1986 class photo. “Look at that,” he said with a laugh, when he found his picture. “I was young and handsome.”