Editor’s note: Since last month’s Maryland Association of Counties conference, Maryland Matters has been running short profiles of the candidates for governor. More profiles and more coverage of the campaign will follow in the weeks ahead.
Since he announced his bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination four months ago, Baltimore tech entrepreneur Michael Rosenbaum has been talking about his experiences as a job creator, and his belief that nontraditional job candidates can thrive in the workforce with adequate training and support.
The line “talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not,” is part of his standard campaign talking points.
Rosenbaum thought he’d spend early parts of the campaign simply introducing himself to political leaders, civic activists and voters. But he’s been surprised at how eagerly the people he meets have wanted to dive into policy discussions and hear his argument that he’s uniquely equipped to create jobs and boost the economy as Maryland’s next governor.
“We are far ahead of schedule from what I expected,” he said in a recent interview outside a coffee shop in Silver Spring, near his campaign headquarters. “The election is going to be about the economy. There is an amazing appetite — inside the [political] ecosystem and around the state — about doing things differently. People are ready to lean in and engage. I thought it would be longer before a wide range of audiences were ready to engage.”
Rosenbaum is hardly the first business executive to argue that he can replicate his private sector success in government if he’s elected to office. But the first-time candidate firmly believes that the state can create good-paying jobs for a range of Marylanders with a different approach and attitude.
While Rosenbaum is a few weeks away from rolling out specific policy prescriptions, he said traveling around the state has enabled him to hone his message and think about specific challenges, region-by-region. The crux of his argument: “Almost the entire state budget is dedicated to treating the symptoms and not the root causes of poverty.” As an example, he notes that the state spends $12 billion a year to provide health care to poor people, when spending on job creation programs that eventually provide workers with health insurance is a much better investment.
“Government can execute this,” Rosenbaum said. “Government has the tools to execute this. What government has lacked is the courage to execute this.”
Two decades ago, after a stint in the Clinton administration, Rosenbaum started his first tech company, Catalyte, a software engineering firm. More than six years ago, he started a second company called Arena Analytics, which trains and places health care workers at hospitals and medical facilities across the country.
The two companies are headquartered in the Federal Reserve building near Camden Yards. Rosenbaum gave up day-to-day control of Catalyte five years ago, and he turned over the reins at Arena to become a full-time candidate.
“For 20 years, I’ve been working on the core problems that we need to address to go about fixing the state,” he said.
Rosenbaum compares building a campaign operation to building his two companies, and says it’s helpful “to know how to build out organizations.” He has hired several top political strategists to manage the campaign and serve as advisers.
Rosenbaum is a wealthy man, and rumors in the political community say he may spend anywhere from $10 million to $12 million of his own money on the race. Asked about those figures, the candidate demurred.
“We’re raising money aggressively,” he said. “But I’ve invested in every business that I’ve started. This is no different.”
Rosenbaum’s Democratic opponents range from veteran officeholders with years of political experience to relative newcomers, like himself (growing up in Montgomery County, Rosenbaum accompanied his mom to numerous political events, and he was also politically active in Montgomery as a young man, before moving to Baltimore to focus on his start-up businesses).
“The Democrats have a deep bench,” he said. “As a Democrat, I am very proud of that bench. But I’m a different candidate. I have actually been executing on the challenges facing the state for decades.”
Rosenbaum also asserted that the task he faces in introducing himself to voters isn’t much different from any of the other candidates. “Nobody knows almost anyone in this field,” he said.
As he meets business, civic and political leaders, Rosenbaum said he doesn’t ask for their endorsement. “I say, ‘I’m asking you to partner with me when we win.'”