The final full day of politicking at the Maryland Association of Counties summer conference ended Friday with six candidates for statewide office circling the tents and pressing the flesh outside the convention hall in Ocean City, where several hundred state and local officials were eating crabs and drinking beer.
In all, seven declared candidates for governor and one likely contender, along with all three candidates for state comptroller, made the scene for at least part of the first three days of the MACo convention, moving from the convention hall to the receptions to private meetings and campaign fundraisers.
Apart from the beneficial political exposure, 10 months before the state primaries, several of the statewide candidates — some of whom are running for office for the first time — said their time at MACo was a learning experience.
“One of the things you see when you’re at a gathering of people from all over the state is that there are so many shared concerns,” former U.S. Education secretary John B. King Jr., one of the Democratic candidates for governor, said Friday night. “Everybody’s dealing with transportation challenges. Everybody’s dealing with climate change, though it manifests itself in different ways. It brings people together. It makes me hopeful about our politics.”
Former state attorney general Douglas F. Gansler, who is making a second run for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, called the conference a time to bring people together.
“There’s a lot of discussion about policy and politics here,” he said. “In terms of the politics, it’s clearly the calm before the storm. Everybody gets along and everybody wants to see each other, and there’s hugs and kisses, which as time goes on will change.
“In terms of policy, there’s a lot of differences but there’s a lot of policy issues that bring people together — a lot of the panels had Democrats and Republicans — which I think is helpful.”
Harford County Executive Barry Glassman (R), a former MACo president and candidate for comptroller, said he spent the conference meeting with former colleagues and other “Big Eight” county executives.
“It’s a good networking time but it’s also a learning time,” Glassman said. “We can learn best practices from each of the localities.”
Former Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez, who is running for governor, said being in Ocean City this week was an efficient way to connect with dozens of people he has been planning to meet with anyway — whether through scheduled get-togethers or the serendipity of running into them at receptions.
“It’s a target-rich environment,” he said.
Perez, a former U.S. and Maryland Labor secretary who hopes to vacuum up a significant amount of support from unions, noticeably lingered at a table of union leaders as he worked the room at a fundraiser Friday for House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County).
Del. Brooke E. Lierman (D-Baltimore City), another comptroller candidate, said she used the conference to learn about what local leaders and business owners are looking for from state officials — and found that building out broadband was among their top priorities.
“It’s interesting to hear ideas about how our elected statewide officials can support local communities to build strong families and businesses,” Lierman said.
Another first-time candidate, Democratic gubernatorial contender Wes Moore, called MACo “a great time for me.”
“It’s a chance to be around all of our leaders and people who’ve been spending this time with communities, hearing first-hand from their constituents about what’s going on and how people are feeling,” he said. “And for me, as a candidate for governor, it’s been invaluable. You get a chance to see old friends but also to really understand and hear from people who are on the ground and doing the work, about what are the things we need to do to really put together a future-facing response to the type of year that we’ve had to see in the past.”
Maryland Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz, a declared candidate for the Republican nomination for governor, declined to talk about the politics of MACo, but said in her official role she had a “wonderful” time catching up with local officials at the conference. Schulz said she spent some of her time Thursday touring businesses in nearby Berlin, and members of the governor’s cabinet traditionally gather for a reception on the Friday afternoon of the MACo convention.
“I think all of the stakeholders here feel the same way,” Schulz said, “They want to be able to make sure that we are moving forward and the state is working together with their localities to to make economic development a part of prosperity for everyone.”
Other candidates for governor in Ocean City this week were Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D), Baltimore tech executive Michael Rosenbaum, and former Republican National Committee chair Michael S. Steele, who has formed an exploratory committee. Bowie Mayor Timothy L. Adams, a Democratic candidate for comptroller, was also on hand.
“MACo is a good reminder — in the middle of summer, around crabs and social gatherings — that we’re all Marylanders and we need to go forward as Marylanders,” Gansler said.