A New Gig for Ben Jealous

Former Democratic gubernatorial nominee Benjamin T. Jealous is about to take over the group People For the American Way. File photo

Benjamin T. Jealous, the former president of the NAACP and Democratic nominee for governor in 2018, is taking over leadership of the group People For the American Way and the People For the American Way Foundation beginning next week.

He’ll succeed Michael Keegan, who has been president of the organizations for 11 years and will continue to serve as a member of both boards.

People For the American Way, a progressive organization seeded by TV producer Norman Lear in the early 1980’s, was founded, in its own words, to “encourage civic participation, defend fundamental rights, and fight to dismantle systemic barriers to equitable opportunity.” The organization said Jealous was selected to become president after an extensive, nationwide search.

“At a time when so much is riding on Americans’ engagement in the political process, I am thrilled that we are passing the baton to Ben Jealous, who has a clear vision of what we’re fighting for and how to move us forward,” Lara Bergthold, chair of the People For the American Way board, said in a statement.

Jealous headed the NAACP from 2008 to 2013, becoming the youngest leader in the history of the venerable civil rights organization. After leaving the NAACP, he became partner at Kapor Capital, a venture capital firm.

Jealous played a major role in Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, and used the political momentum from that experience to run for governor of Maryland in 2018. He vaulted over better-known and more experienced state politicians to win the Democratic nomination, but finished 12 points behind Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) in the general election.

Jealous pondered a run for Baltimore mayor this year and has talked openly about the possibility of running for governor again in 2022 — or for another office down the line.

Kawana Lloyd, a spokesperson for People For the American Way, said the organization’s board acknowledges Jealous’ possible interest in running for political office again, but she would not say whether Jealous and the board have made any kind of agreement on limitations on his political activity or whether he has signed a contract to lead PFAW for a specific duration of time.

“All of that is confidential,” she said.

Jealous is not the first former Maryland politician to take over the helm of People For the American Way. Ralph G. Neas led the organization from 1999 to 2007 after an unsuccessful run for Congress in Maryland’s 8th congressional district in 1998.

Just last month, Jealous announced that he had created the Maime and Jerome Todd Relief Fund, named for his maternal grandparents, to provide “direct relief” to help unemployed hospitality workers in the Baltimore area afford food, rent, COVID-19 testing and distance learning technology.

In a statement, Jealous said he is pleased to be joining People For the American Way at a “critical moment.”

“We are facing critical elections this fall,” he said. “The pandemic has highlighted the necessity of finishing the work of MLK, Barbara Jordan and FDR. And the rising generation in America has made clear that we must finally and fully reform the relationship between police and our communities. I’m honored to build on PFAW’s long tradition of multiracial organizing and defending freedom, opportunity, justice and equality. With the support of our great members, staff, and board, we will win the fights we must win.”

Jealous’ first day on the new job will be next Monday.

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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.