Teaming Up, Md. Progressive Groups Say Remaking City Hall Is Job One

Baltimore City Hall. File photo

Two statewide progressive organizations are set to jointly endorse a roster of City Council candidates in the upcoming Baltimore City elections.

But just as significantly, the joint endorsements represent a new level of partnership between the two groups, Progressive Maryland and the Working Families Party.

While the groups have largely pursued the same agenda over the past several years — both on the policy front and in state and local elections — this new level of cooperation is designed to strengthen the progressive movement in the state and ensure that the two groups are working together, leaders said.

“We are proud to be announcing this new partnership and slate of passionate progressive challengers in Baltimore,” said Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party. “This is the start of something big in Maryland, and the Working Families Party is proud to stand with Progressive Maryland in committing to putting together the people power and resources necessary to ensure
success in November.”

In the April 28 Democratic primaries, the Maryland Working Families and Progressive Maryland have endorsed five Council incumbents seeking reelection: Zeke Cohen (District 1), Danielle McCray (District 2), Ryan Dorsey (District 3), Kristerfer Burnett (District 8) and John Bullock (District 9).

The groups have also endorsed Logan Endow, a public health expert who is running for the open seat in District 4; Tori Rose, a former federal government worker who has worked in the mental health field and is running for an open seat in District 7; public health professional Phylicia Porter for the open seat in District 10; attorney Phillip Westry over Councilman Robert Stokes (D) in District 12; community activist Akil Patterson, who is seeking an open seat in District 13; and Odette Ramos, executive director of the Community Development Network of Maryland, who is running for an open seat in District 14.

The groups’ preferred candidates are substantially similar to endorsements announced Friday by two health care unions that work closely with the Working Families Party and Progressive Maryland. The two groups plan to endorse in the primaries for mayor of Baltimore and City Council president in the weeks ahead.

In 2018, Progressive Maryland and the Working Families Party worked together on a somewhat more informal basis to elect three Baltimore City state senators competing in Democratic primaries: Jill P. Carter, Antonio L. Hayes and Cory V. McCray. Together, the two groups estimate that their volunteers knocked on more than 20,000 doors in support of endorsed candidates.

Progressive Maryland is the older of the two organizations. It arrived in Maryland in the 1990s and was initially known as Progressive Montgomery, where it focused on local affairs. The group’s first director was Tom Hucker, who became a state legislator and now serves on the Montgomery County Council.

The group initially was affiliated with the New Party, a national organization that was set up to pressure the Democratic Party and its candidates to move to the left.

But several years ago, as Progressive Maryland became somewhat less visible, the Working Families Party, a New York-based organization that allied itself with unions and other progressive groups to push Democrats to the left, moved into Maryland. Both groups largely worked the same territory, and as both have retooled over the years they are now determined to work in concert as much as possible.

“It wouldn’t be practical to do a legal merger but this is an alignment for sure,” said Larry Stafford, Progressive Maryland’s executive director. “The idea is to make progressives a much more powerful force in Maryland politics and to put together the pieces for a progressive governing structure.”

In New York, where “fusion” tickets are allowed, enabling candidates to appear on a ballot on more than one political line, and minor political parties often influence elections, the Working Families Party has become a potent electoral force. The party runs candidates of its own in many elections, often cross-endorsing the most progressive Democrat who may be competing in a primary. There are times when a candidate with the support of both the Democrats and the WFP appears on the ballot, but occasionally Working Families runs its own nominee against a Democrat.

But with ballot access rules tighter in Maryland, Working Families has chosen instead to attempt to influence Democratic primaries without becoming a political party or running candidates of its own. The organization endorsed Benjamin T. Jealous, the former NAACP president, in the Democratic primary for governor in 2018, and he wound up winning the nomination.

Some of the candidates that the two organizations have endorsed for Baltimore City Council are actually members of the two organizations. Rose is one of them.

“The Working Families Party and Progressive Maryland represent the values that I have been working towards for years as a resident and advocate for those underserved in our community,” she said. “When it comes to health care,
wages, and crime, I pledge to be the change Baltimore needs.”

But candidates who are not directly affiliated with the two organizations are also eager to receive their blessing.

“These two organizations have worked for years to help those too often ignored by the powers that be,” Westry said. “Together we will fight for Baltimore that works all of us, not just the wealthy few.”

Progressive leaders in Maryland have long complained that the Democratic Party and veteran elected officials have not been particularly responsive to their groups’ agendas. But with the pace of turnover accelerating in Annapolis, with liberals elected as county executives in the state’s five largest counties in 2018, and with several competitive Democratic primaries on tap in Baltimore City, progressive leaders are increasingly bullish on their ability to move the political conversation.

That job starts, they said, with the April primaries in Baltimore.

“Our progressive champions will fight for bold solutions that reduce homicides and mass incarceration, create local jobs with union wages that include opportunities for people who
are formerly incarcerated, and fight the overdose epidemic by treating it as the public health crisis it is,” Stafford said.

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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.