Countless Maryland Democrats admire California Sen. Kamala Harris from afar. Now that she’s about to become the party’s trailblazing nominee for vice president, she’s sure to become a role model.
Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) has a different perspective. For more than a decade, she’s considered Harris a professional mentor and a personal friend.
“It’s a fun story to look back on,” Alsobrooks said in an interview Tuesday — a few hours after hosting the virtual breakfast for the Maryland delegates to the Democratic National Convention.
And every time Harris works her way up the political ladder, Alsobrooks says she is invariably told by one acquaintance or another: “Oh my God, that’s the lady you’ve been talking about.”
As a prosecutor contemplating running for Prince George’s County state’s attorney in the 2010 election, Alsobrooks read a magazine profile about Harris — then the district attorney in San Francisco. She said she was struck, of course, by the star treatment given to a young, Black woman prosecutor. But just as significant, she was intrigued to read about the reforms Harris was bringing to the DA’s office.
Alsobrooks said she was then inspired to buy Harris’ 2009 book, “Smart on Crime: A Career Prosecutor’s Plan to Make Us Safer.” Soon, she found herself espousing some of Harris’ ideas on the campaign trail, like establishing a workforce development program for first-time offenders and fighting truancy in local schools as a way to keep youths out of trouble.
“It was some of the smartest things I ever heard of,” Alsobrooks said. “It was just not the way prosecutors thought.” She wondered if there was a way to pick Harris’ brain to put some of those ideas into practice in Prince George’s.
A mutual acquaintance who knew Harris from Howard University put them in touch. To Alsobrooks’ surprise, Harris invited her to come to San Francisco, where she spent three or four days meeting with police, prosecutors, educators, advocates, ex-offenders and other stakeholders.
“I’m totally floored,” Alsobrooks recalled. “I didn’t know this woman.”
Alsobrooks won her election in 2010 — the same year Harris elevated her profile by winning the race to become California attorney general. One of the first calls Alsobrooks received after the election was from Harris.
“Congratulations,” Harris told her. “How can I help you?”
From that point on, they kept in regular touch, Alsobrooks said. Frequently, when Harris came to Washington, D.C., for official business and for political fundraisers, the two would get together.
“It’s been a mutually supportive relationship,” Alsobrooks said.
On the weekend before the 2016 California primary, Alsobrooks traveled to the Golden State to stump for her friend, who was competing in the race for U.S. Senate. She toured the state by bus with a group that included Harris, her husband, Douglas Emhoff, and U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), visiting businesses, churches and community meetings.
To Alsobrooks’ surprise, Harris invited her to sit next to her on the bus between every stop, but instead of talking about the California race, “she really grilled me — and I mean grilled — to find out what I was doing here.”
Shortly after Harris was sworn in to the Senate, she and Alsobrooks got together at a Mexican restaurant on Capitol Hill, as Alsobrooks contemplated running for Prince George’s County executive in 2018. Sitting together in a booth, with Harris scribbling on a yellow legal pad, “we sketched out my race, issue by issue,” Alsobrooks said. Throughout that campaign, Harris continued to dispense advice, recommending consultants and talking strategy.
So when Harris launched her campaign for president, it was inevitable that Alsobrooks — now county executive — would help her. She traveled to Detroit to lend moral support during one of the televised presidential debates last winter, bringing her teenage daughter along.
“When I see her out there, people have no idea” how supportive Harris can be for her friends. “She’s very focused on helping women — especially minority women in elected leadership.”
Alsobrooks said she is now ready to be dispatched wherever Harris, whom she describes as “the quintessential big sister,” needs her. But it may turn out that she’s needed at home.
Every presidential election year, it’s assumed that Democrats in Maryland, a Democratic stronghold in federal elections, will be traveling out of state to help their nominee. This time, Alsobrooks isn’t so sure.
She’s been publicly critical of Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s decision to hold a facsimile of a standard election this fall — “I’m very irate about it,” she says — instead of sending ballots to every voter’s home. And with questions being raised about the U.S. Postal Service’s ability to deliver completed ballots to elections officials on time, Alsobrooks believes leading Maryland Democrats need to be vigilant and work to ensure that their constituents vote.
“We have to make sure we oversee a fair election, here in Prince George’s County, here in Maryland,” she said. “This time it’s a real thing, it’s not a ceremonial thing.”