When Democrat Carl Jackson lost a House of Delegates race in Baltimore County’s 8th District last November by just 570 votes, he was so depressed he didn’t know what to do.
“I was low,” Jackson recalled in an interview earlier this month.
Jackson, a 34-year-old financial analyst at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, had been called to politics by President Obama’s exhortation at the end of his second term that young people interested in making a change should run for office. The father of three further whet his political appetite by volunteering on a hotly contested congressional special election in Georgia in 2017.
Without a political goal, Jackson felt lost.
But it wasn’t long before he began circulating through the community again. Baltimore County Executive-elect John A. Olszewski Jr. (D) helped, inviting him to co-chair the public safety workgroup for his transition team.
Jackson also resumed his volunteer activities in the district. He joined the Baltimore County Pedestrian and Bicycle Committee at the suggestion of County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins (D).
“I felt like, despite me not winning, I was making a difference in the community,” he said.
It was clear to anyone who was paying attention that Jackson was taking steps to keep himself politically viable for a second House run in 2022.
“There was no way I could come that close and not try it again,” Jackson acknowledged.
Then, he hit on the idea of paying a political consultant to dissect his defeat. The result: A 10-page analysis that revealed both Jackson’s political strengths and weaknesses, along with campaign finance data, precinct-by-precinct vote totals, turnout analysis, and more.
The report made Jackson feel better. He began to show it to political professionals and party activists. And it strengthened his resolve to run for the seat again.
In a race for three seats, in one of the most competitive legislative districts in the state, Jackson, a first-time candidate, finished behind a longtime Democratic incumbent, Eric Bromwell; a Democrat making his second bid for the seat, Harry Bhandari; and a Republican who previously served in the legislature, Joseph C. Boetler III. He finished ahead of two Republicans – one of them an incumbent.
The 2018 Democratic candidates in District 8, he said, were “a ticket that represented and looked like America.” It was led by state Sen. Katherine A. Klausmeier, a white woman, and featured Bromwell, a white man, Khandari, a naturalized citizen from Nepal, and Jackson, who is black, running for the House.
The consultant’s analysis assured Jackson that “we all contributed to the ticket.” It also reinforced his sense that the district – long a bastion of white working-class voters who are generally conservative – is “diversifying.”
“This will be a roadmap for my next election,” he said of the campaign diagnosis. “This really shows my commitment to this thing.”
As it happens, Jackson is getting a second shot sooner than he expected.
Bromwell resigned earlier this month to take a job with Baltimore County government, leading Olszewski’s fight against the opioid crisis. Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) will appoint Bromwell’s successor following a recommendation from the Baltimore County Democratic Central Committee, which will follow a recommendation from the District 8 members of the central committee.
Contests for legislative appointments don’t always follow the normal rules of political campaigns. But Jackson has the backing of several current and former elected officials, including Olszewski, Klausmeier, Bromwell, Bhandari and Bevins.
Bevins said she found Jackson to be “a man of integrity” and “solution-driven.”
“He continues to work with community groups showing leadership and genuine concern and interest in the district,” Bevins wrote in an open memo.
Other Democratic leaders have encouraged the central committee to show a commitment to further diversifying the district’s — and the county’s — legislative delegation.
But Jackson does not have the field to himself. Nina McHugh, a 34-year-old foster care advocate and member of the Democratic central committee is also seeking the appointment to replace Bromwell. The deadline for signing up is Friday; the central committee interview candidates next week and will make its recommendation a week after that.
A similar process is playing out in Baltimore County’s District 42A, where former Del. Steven W. Lafferty (D) also resigned to take a job in the Olszewski administration.
McHugh, who spent 10 years in foster care as a child, said she is seeking the House seat because she wants to be an advocate in Annapolis for the voiceless, like foster children. “As someone who survived, I am ready to speak out.”
McHugh, a single mother, said her year-plus on the central committee has prepared her for the political world.
“The central committee is a step into what’s happening in Annapolis,” she said. “It allows me to see what’s going on behind closed doors.”
And McHugh is unfazed by all the well-established politicians lining up to back Jackson. She said she’ll be rolling out key supporters over the next few days.
“I know I’m not the endorsement choice,” she said. “But neither was Johnny O when he ran [for county executive]. I want to be the people’s choice, not the endorsement choice.”
Regardless of who the next delegate is, the District 8 lawmakers could face a very changed district in 2022, depending on how the next round of redistricting goes. The 8th District, which includes White Marsh, Parkville, Overlea, Perry Hall and Rosedale, is one of the few remaining purple districts in the state.
“I hope the powers that be don’t redraw the district,” Jackson said. “It’s fair.”