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Government & Politics

As Dem Candidates Line Up Their Teams, Franchot Parts With Long-Time Consultants

Governor's Mansion
Government House, the governor’s mansion, in Annapolis. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

As Democratic candidates for governor begin to staff up and hire consultants, Maryland Matters has learned that Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot recently parted company with two consultants he’s worked with for several years. One team of consultants was quickly picked up by another candidate for governor, former attorney general Douglas F. Gansler.

The Franchot-Gansler consultant roundelay was just one of several recent developments on the Democratic gubernatorial personnel front. In other news:

  • Baltimore tech entrepreneur Michael Rosenbaum has added several more consultants and staffers to his campaign team, including Colleen Martin-Lauer, the Baltimore-based fundraiser and longtime adviser to former Gov. Martin J. O’Malley (D);
  • Former Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez announced the first major hires for his campaign, including the only woman running a Democratic gubernatorial campaign this cycle;
  • Former Prince George’s County executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) has re-signed the campaign manager and top consultant he worked with for his runner-up bid in the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial primary;
  • Gansler has parted ways with his recently-hired campaign manager and media firm.

Campaign hires and consultant choices are part of an insider’s game of often-interlocking parts that matters very little to regular voters. But personnel moves do say something about a campaign’s strategic decision-making and organization and, in some cases, its financial health.

Departures of campaign staffers and consultants early in an election cycle aren’t all that unusual — but they’re rarely explained, either.

Franchot this month parted company with Devine Mulvey Longabaugh (DML), his media strategists since 2012. The highly-regarded Washington, D.C., firm has cut several noteworthy ads for Franchot through the years, including his eye-raising spot from 2018 criticizing “the Annapolis machine” and featuring images of then-Senate president Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D) followed by automatons marching in lockstep. The firm also produced one of the most celebrated political ads of the last few elections: the spot for the 2016 presidential campaign of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders featuring the Simon and Garfunkel tune, “America.”

Earlier this year, Franchot’s campaign cut ties with another veteran Democratic strategist, pollster Jill Normington, a partner at the firm Normington, Petts & Associates. Normington had worked for Franchot since 2007, shortly after he was first elected comptroller.

Ben Smith, Franchot’s campaign manager, said the comptroller has already hired another pollster and would soon make announcements about his campaign team.

“As Comptroller Franchot campaigns for Governor during an historic moment in our state’s history, he’s excited to have a strong campaign team of experienced, talented professionals working to share his bold vision for a better quality of life for all Marylanders,” Smith said in a statement provided to Maryland Matters. “We thank DML for its years of terrific work and partnership.”

Shortly after Franchot and DML parted company, the media firm signed on with Gansler’s campaign.

Coincidentally or not, a Gansler campaign adviser, Len Foxwell, was Franchot’s top strategist for many years until last fall, responsible for hiring Normington and DML for the comptroller’s campaigns.

Earlier this election cycle, Gansler had signed with SWAY, a Bethesda-based Democratic media firm that had worked for then-state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D) during his gubernatorial campaign in 2018. Gansler was shopping for media consultants for 2022 because the firm he had used for his previous campaigns for governor and attorney general, SKD Knickerbocker, had signed on with author and former foundation CEO Wes Moore for this gubernatorial election.

Gansler also recently parted company with Colin A. Curtis, a former aide to Miller, who was hired to run his campaign in the spring.

“Colin is an accomplished professional who did a truly exceptional job of building and guiding Doug’s campaign through our successful launch,” a Gansler senior adviser said in an email.  “Doug is very well-positioned to take his campaign to the next level in the coming weeks, and for that is grateful to Colin and wishes him nothing but the very best.”

More hires

Meanwhile, Rosenbaum, the political novice who already announced several key hires in May, is adding more strategists to his burgeoning campaign. Most noteworthy is that a wealthy candidate who is expected to self-fund a significant portion of his campaign is bringing on Martin-Lauer and her deputy, Christopher Uhl, as senior strategists.

While the firm Martin-Lauer Associates is best known for its fundraising work and is closely associated with O’Malley, it has also provided strategic advice to scores of Maryland Democratic candidates and causes over the years, including, most recently, Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott, Baltimore County Executive John A. Olszewski Jr., and Howard County Executive Calvin Ball.

Additionally, the Rosenbaum campaign has hired David Bowman as scheduling and advance director, Isabel Arnold as digital director, and Esther Baldwin as deputy political director.

Arnold most recently was Amy McGrath’s digital director for her 2020 Senate run in Kentucky. Prior to that, she led Tom Steyer’s digital paid media program during the 2020 presidential primary and worked on his Need to Impeach initiative.

Baldwin most recently served as the national director for ballot access, delegate selection and voter protection on Andrew Yang’s 2020 presidential campaign. Previously, she was an
attorney in private practice for eight years, the last six in Baltimore City.

Bowman most recently served as director of operations and senior adviser to the late Georgia congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis. He has over a decade of experience working on Capitol Hill for Lewis’ office and his re-election campaigns.

“The governor’s race is wide open, and the candidate who ultimately secures the nomination will need not only to prove they have the strongest economic credentials to rebuild Maryland’s economy, but also the resources to stand up to a barrage of Republican attacks in the general election. Right now, the only candidate who can confidently make that claim is Mike Rosenbaum,” Travis Tazelaar, Rosenbaum’s campaign manager, said in a statement.

As Perez’s campaign for governor ramps up, he has announced his first hires this week, including Jessica Semachko as campaign manager. Semachko becomes the first woman of the 2022 cycle to helm a Democratic campaign for governor in Maryland.

Semachko has spent the past few years as a top adviser to U.S. Rep. David J. Trone (D-Md.), and has also served as legislative and political director for the SEIU Maryland and D.C. State Council and as campaign manager to Del. Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s) during his unsuccessful run for Congress in the 2016 election cycle, among other gigs.

“Jessica Semachko has dedicated her life to fighting for working people in Maryland and serving as a leader in our party,” Perez said in a statement. “I am so thrilled to have her join our campaign. With her leadership and the expertise of this team, we will win this election and build a Maryland where our kids have equal opportunity no matter what zip code they live in  a place where everyone feels safe, workers have a voice, and small businesses can thrive.”

Other campaign staffers and consultants include: Haley Link Krogman as deputy campaign manager, who will lead all fundraising efforts. Link Krogman as been a fundraiser at the Democratic National Committee under Perez’s leadership, in charge of the Southern region, and also worked at America Bridge, a powerhouse Democratic political action committee.

Tucker Cavanagh, who has been working with Perez since the candidate was in exploratory mode earlier this year, is the campaign’s senior adviser. He has worked on an array of campaigns in Maryland, including running Olszewski’s victory as Baltimore County executive in 2018.

Nina Smith and her firm, PoliSol Public Affairs, Inc., will advise the Perez campaign on communications strategy. Smith has over 15 years of experience in Maryland and in national politics, including working as O’Malley’s chief spokesperson during his second term in Annapolis.

Smith most recently served as 2020 presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg’s traveling press secretary and senior adviser.

Karen Miller will be a fundraising consultant for the campaign. Miller has fundraising and communications experience at the national and state level, including working for state Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City), Sens. Cory V. McCray (D-Baltimore City) and Antonio L. Hayes (D-Baltimore City) and Del. Erek L. Barron (D-Prince George’s).

Trey Nix, with the Declaration Media Group in Washington, D.C., has also been hired as a consultant. Most recently, Nix was the campaign director for the Democratic Governors Association.

Baker, the former Prince George’s County executive who, like Gansler, is making a second run for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, has also begun to staff up.

Baker is rejoining forces with Andrew Mallinoff, who served as his campaign manager four years ago. And David Byrd, a longtime Baker family friend from Los Angeles who has advised all of Baker’s campaigns, will continue to be a key strategist. Byrd cut his political teeth on the 1990 upset win of former D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly (D).

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As Dem Candidates Line Up Their Teams, Franchot Parts With Long-Time Consultants