As Jealous Ponders Bid for Baltimore Mayor, Could Work for Juul Be a Factor?

Benjamin T. Jealous (D) on the campaign trail in 2018. File photo

Former Maryland gubernatorial hopeful Benjamin T. Jealous (D), who is now pondering a run for mayor of Baltimore, has landed a consulting gig with Juul, the leading electronic cigarette manufacturer.

Politico reported on Monday – and Maryland Matters has since confirmed – that Jealous, the former head of the NAACP who lost the 2018 race for governor to incumbent Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), is now working with Juul’s CEO.

“He is serving as an adviser to JUUL CEO, Kevin Burns on youth prevention and other social impact goals,” Ted Kwong, a spokesman for the company, said in an email to Maryland Matters.

It’s an outgrowth of the work Jealous’ new consulting and investment firm, 20X Ventures, is doing for the e-cig company, Kwong said.

When rumors of Jealous’ work with Juul started circulating in February, Jealous dismissed them in a text to Maryland Matters as “internet chatter.”

Now, as Jealous considers his political future, there appears to be a concerted campaign to simultaneously boost his profile and confront potentially embarrassing information like his work for Juul.

Jealous’ positioning comes less than a week after Baltimore’s scandal-plagued mayor, Catherine E. Pugh (D), resigned.

A poll on the 2020 mayoral election released Wednesday morning – which did not include Jealous among the potential candidates – suggests the race is wide open. Bernard C. “Jack” Young (D), who had been the Baltimore City Council president, is serving as mayor through the end of Pugh’s term, which runs through December 2020.

The poll also reveals that Baltimore voters are very pessimistic about the city’s future.

But Jealous appears to be considering the race seriously.

Kevin Harris, a top adviser to Jealous’ gubernatorial bid, said the veteran political activist is writing “a memoir about his early organizing years through the NAACP that will help to provide insight for the next generation of activists.”

Jealous is also touting citizen.com, a public safety app his consulting firm is promoting that takes information from police radio traffic and official social media reports and pushes it to people in the immediate vicinity of shootings, fires or other emergencies.

But Jealous’ association with Juul could be problematic for some voters.

In late 2018, the U.S. Surgeon General, Jerome Adams, issued an advisory on the skyrocketing use of e-cigarettes among young people.

“I am officially declaring e-cigarette use [vaping] among youth an epidemic in the United States,” Adams said.

According to survey conducted by the University of Michigan, 11 percent of high school seniors, 8 percent of 10th-graders, and 3.5 percent of eighth-graders reported vaping with nicotine in a one-month period.

The Yale University School of Medicine said “the worrying part” is that “young people think vaping is mostly harmless.”

Jealous’ consulting gig with Juul could be a factor in his campaign (if he launches one), given reports that e-cigarette use has wiped out most of the gains made by programs designed to convince young people not to smoke.

When rumors of Jealous’ work with Juul first surfaced earlier this year, Dave Heilker, a political consultant in Baltimore, took to Twitter.

“I knocked on hundreds of doors for @BenJealous [in 2018]. I was extraordinarily disappointed when he lost, but I’m more disappointed to learn he’s now peddling death to poor, black youth throughout Maryland,” Heilker posted on his account, @charmgritty.

“I guess we should’ve believed him when he insisted he was a capitalist.”

Having helped elect state Del. Brooke E. Lierman (D-Baltimore City), Heilker is now gearing up to run for City Council in District 12, where the incumbent is Councilmember Robert Stokes Sr. (D).

Dixon, Young top mayoral field

While Jealous ponders whether to enter the mayoral election, a poll on a hypothetical Democratic primary showed a wide open race, with four potential contenders bunched together.

Twenty-three percent of voters said they would vote for former mayor Sheila Dixon, who is considering a political comeback; 19 percent said they would vote for Young, who has expressed a preference for running for his old job in 2020 rather than seeking a full term as mayor; 18 percent said they’d vote for Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby, who has not said anything about her political plans; and 16 percent said they support Thiru Vignarajah, a former prosecutor who entered the race recently. Twenty-four percent said they are undecided.

The poll of 329 likely Democratic primary voters was taken April 29-May 1 by Gonzales Research and Media Services and had a 5.5-point margin of error.

Pugh resigned a day after the poll was completed. And the hypothetical Democratic primary did not include several potential high-profile contenders, including Jealous, City Council President Brandon M. Scott, who just ascended to that job on Monday, state Sen. Jill P. Carter, and former Baltimore Police Department spokesman T.J. Smith, who is now working for Baltimore County Executive John A. “Johnny O” Olszewski Jr. (D).

“Whoever becomes Baltimore’s next elected mayor starts off with a formidable challenge,” pollster Patrick Gonzales wrote in the polling memo.

Only 27 percent of voters said that things in Baltimore are moving in the right direction, while 63 percent said things are on the wrong track.

When asked if “things in Baltimore City are better than they were 10 years ago, worse than they were 10 years ago, or about the same as 10 years ago,” 57 percent of residents said things are worse, 15 percent said better, and 28 percent said things are the same. Sixty percent of voters under the age of 55 said things are worse today than they were 10 years ago.

Only 20 percent of voters were satisfied with public education in Baltimore – just 5 percent were “very satisfied” – while 73 percent were dissatisfied with the quality of Baltimore public education. Among voters under the age of 55, 75 percent said they are dissatisfied with the quality of public education in Baltimore City.

At the same time, just 12 percent of city voters were satisfied with attempts to reduce crime in Baltimore, while 83 percent were dissatisfied with attempts to reduce crime.

“Black or white, young or old, male or female…all are exasperated with the attempts being made to reduce crime in Baltimore,” Gonzales wrote.

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Bruce DePuyt
Bruce DePuyt spent more than two decades on local television, including 14 years as host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the D.C. metro region. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County, as well as a reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, VA. Bruce also is the host of the weekly The Bruce DePuyt Podcast.
Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.

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