By Josh Kurtz
Craig Wolf enlisted in the Army reserves at age 39, following the 9/11 terrorist strikes. He was trained to jump out of an airplane at age 44, and deployed to Afghanistan when he was 49.
So Wolf sees his decision, at the age of 55, to leave his comfortable job in Washington, D.C., and challenge state Attorney General Brian Frosh (D), as part of a natural if unorthodox career progression.
“I am not risk averse,” said Wolf, who noted that he also rides a motorcycle.
For Wolf, it’s all about public service. The Baltimore County native, who lives in Howard County, spent years as a prosecutor in Allegany County, then worked in the Justice Department and for the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill.
After 9/11, Wolf had been in the private sector – as chief counsel at the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America, where he is now president and CEO – for a little more than a year. So he felt an itch to continue his public service while working at a top D.C. trade association. Now a major in the Army Reserves, he’s still stationed one weekend a month at a command center in Riverdale, Md.
But the Republican lawyer is ready to leave the organization where he has been for more than 17 years — 11 as its leader — for an uphill battle against Frosh, a veteran Democratic officeholder in a blue state.
“I saw an opportunity to make a difference in Maryland,” Wolf said in an interview Friday in his association’s conference room in downtown Washington, just a five-minute walk from the White House.
Wolf will file papers to become a candidate this week, but doesn’t expect to stage a public event announcing his candidacy for a few more weeks. He’ll hit events as often as he can between now and June 30, four days after the Maryland primary, when he will step down from the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers gig. Then he’ll campaign full time.
It’s clear that Wolf will try to emulate and attach himself to popular Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan (R) as frequently as he can – and that, he believes, will help his campaign against Frosh, who is finishing his first term as AG after 28 years in the General Assembly.
“I recognize the nature of Maryland politically,” Wolf said. “Gov. Hogan proved that if you put Maryland first, you can thrive.”
That’s a theme Wolf is likely to hit often as he attempts to build a case against Frosh, whom he argues has not done enough to focus on public safety in the state.
“My goal is to make sure the first priority for the Attorney General’s Office is Maryland,” he said. “I think that the attorney general, General Frosh, is focused on Washington. And that’s the wrong priority for Maryland.”
Frosh, like many Democratic attorneys general in the country, has made suing the Trump administration a major priority, to prevent rollbacks of environmental regulations, defend civil rights, and preserve health care protections. With Congress and many statehouses under full Republican control, these lawsuits are some of the only things that Democrats can do to slow the GOP agenda.
It’s a tactic that has enraged national Republican leaders – though it’s following the same path many GOP attorneys general took under President Obama. But it hasn’t always endeared Frosh to Hogan, even as the governor has attempted to distance himself from Trump.
Hogan’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year withheld $1 million that the Democratic-led General Assembly suggested Frosh needed to pursue lawsuits against the federal government.
“I don’t think there’s any secret that [Frosh] has had an adversarial relationship with the governor,” Wolf said.
In contrast to some states, the Attorney General’s Office in Maryland isn’t the leading state law enforcement agency in a traditional sense, though it can have plenty of impact on public safety. Wolf said the office should be more of a coordinating agency between police and sheriff’s departments and local and federal prosecutors, and could be doing more to tackle opioid addiction, the drug trade, organized crime and the rising murder rate in Baltimore.
“My goal is to create those partnerships,” he said.
Asked to respond generally to the news that Frosh had a Republican challenger, Rachel Levine, a consultant for the Democrat’s reelection campaign, said in an email:
“Four years ago, Marylanders across the state elected Brian Frosh to the Office of Attorney General by a wide margin. Since taking office, Attorney General Frosh has:
- Recovered hundreds of millions of dollars for consumers and the state from predatory lenders, wall street banks, tobacco companies and polluters.
- Indicted and put behind bars some of the most dangerous people in the state – violent criminals, drug traffickers and human traffickers.
- Shut down sham charities and businesses that prey on and cheat Maryland’s vulnerable citizens.
- Made civil rights a priority. The Maryland OAG was the first office in the country to issue guidelines to all law enforcement agencies in the state prohibiting profiling based upon race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, etc.
- Worked to reform Maryland’s pretrial system that has for generations kept people in jail merely because they are poor.”
Levine also mentioned Frosh’s multiple lawsuits against the Trump administration, including his decision to sue to enforce the Emoluments clause of the Constitution, which targeted Trump’s decision not to divest his business holdings when he became president.
“I don’t know General Frosh very well,” Wolf said. “He seems to be a person who is committed to his priorities.”
Wolf said he does not intend to run “a partisan race,” and said that during his time in the Justice Department, on Capitol Hill and with the trade association, he has always had to work closely with both Republicans and Democrats, name-checking former Vice President Joseph R. Biden and senior Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.).
Wolf said he realizes that he will have to appeal to Democrats and independents, and not just Republicans, if he is to have any chance of defeating Frosh. He said the first Democrat he had to persuade about his candidacy was his wife of 24 years, Sally, a marketing manager at The Associated: The Jewish Federation of Baltimore, and that she – and their two college-age children – are on board.
Wolf predicted that his race against Frosh, who had more than $1 million in his campaign account as of mid-January, is going to be “expensive,” and said, “We are going to raise enough money to be competitive.”
The son of a single mother who worked as a dental hygienist, Wolf said he was willing to lend his campaign some money, but he wasn’t sure how much.
“Any candidate who comes into a race should be prepared to do what he or she is asking others to do,” he said.
Wolf said he is anxious to get on the campaign trail and start listening to voters, so he can develop policy proposals to address the state’s needs.
“I’m leaving a very cool job at the top of my game,” he said. “But I think it’s worth it.”