Alec Ross, the contender who is running the most unconventional campaign for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, has chosen a most unconventional running mate.
Ross’ candidate for lieutenant governor will be Julie Verratti, the 38-year-old co-owner of Denizens Brewing Co. in downtown Silver Spring. Their first public appearance together will be at a Young Democrats convention Monday in Annapolis.
Ross’ decision comes just days before the Feb. 27 candidate filing deadline in Maryland, as the Democratic candidates for governor begin to fill out their tickets.
State Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. will announce Monday in Baltimore that his candidate for lieutenant governor is Luwanda W. Jenkins, a one-time aide to former Govs. William Donald Schaefer (D), Parris N. Glendening (D) and Martin J. O’Malley (D) who also has private sector experience. The choice was first reported by The Baltimore Sun.
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III is expected to announce his selection Tuesday. Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and former Obama administration official Krishanti Vignarajah have yet to reveal their picks.
Attorney James L. Shea last week tapped Baltimore City Councilman Brandon M. Scott to be his No. 2, and former NAACP president Benjamin Jealous selected former Maryland Democratic chairwoman Susan W. Turnbull in November.
Like Ross, Verratti, a Silver Spring native, has never sought or held elective office. But she is, like Ross, a veteran of the Obama administration, where she worked in the Small Business Administration, focusing on the Affordable Care Act, veterans’ entrepreneurship, women’s business ownership and local economic development policies.
“To be honest, I never thought about running before,” she said in an interview.
But Verratti, who holds a law degree from George Washington University, is no stranger to politics. She has been active in Equality Maryland, the group that helped pass same-sex marriage in the state, the Human Rights Campaign, the Innocence Project, and other civic and political organizations.
And as a businesswoman who has had to navigate Maryland and Montgomery County’s Byzantine liquor laws to establish Denizens, a popular brew pub that opened in 2014, she has spent plenty of time getting to know state and local officials. Verratti is the co-owner of Denizens with her wife, Jessica Bruno, and her brother-in-law, Jeff Ramirez.
“From my experience, I know how to build relationships,” she said.
Verratti currently serves on the Reform on Tap Task Force, set up by state Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) to boost Maryland’s craft brewing industry.
“Julie Verratti is about to become the breakout star of the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial primary,” said Len N. Foxwell, Franchot’s chief of staff. “She blends activism with an instinct for fiscal responsibility. That blend of social progressivism and fiscal moderation is where the vast majority of Marylanders live their lives.”
Ross is banking on the image of two young entrepreneurs – he is a 46-year-old author, tech policy expert and futurist – appealing to a broad and nontraditional swath of the electorate.
“Ours is the exact kind of team I think people will be fired up about,” he said in an interview.
Without naming any of his six Democratic primary opponents, Ross said he and Verratti will be the only candidates expressing a new vision for the future.
“When I look at the race, it feels to me like 1968 vs. 1998 vs. 2018,” he said. “There are some people who, like Dorothy, want to click their heels and go back to 1968. Some are grounded in the Democratic institutions and orthodoxy of 1998.”
Ross said one of the things that impressed him about Verratti is that she took a circuitous route to where she is now, including earning an associate degree from Montgomery College before going to a four-year university and law school. He said that fact will make her relatable and inspirational to the tens of thousands of Marylanders who are currently attending community college.
Ross and Verratti met last fall at a meet-and-greet he hosted for Montgomery County business leaders. Both said they were immediately impressed with each other.
“In a hotel ballroom in Rockville, in a sea of guys with suits, there’s this woman in this leather jacket who is asking all these insightful questions,” he recalled. “Suffice it to say that woman in the leather jacket really stood out.”
Verratti said that she was “blown away” by what she heard from Ross, particularly his insistence that he wouldn’t write off any jurisdiction in Maryland as he seeks votes. “He was the real deal. … I think he’s got some transformative ideas.”
Asked, in a primary with candidates who have been in elective office for decades, whether the Ross-Verratti ticket has sufficient governing experience, Ross replied, “I’ll put our executive branch experience up against anyone’s.”
And asked whether a ticket with two white candidates of the same generation is sufficiently diverse for the Democratic electorate, Ross said, “I think it would be spectacular for Julie Verratti to be the first statewide elected official who is openly gay.”
After their appearance at the Young Democrats event Monday, Verratti flies to Colorado, where she will attend a meeting of the Brewers Association board of directors, on which she is a new member. She’ll be back in Maryland on Friday for a series of political events – and is anxious to hit the campaign trail.
“I’m always kind of living life at 11,” she said.