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Election 2022 Government & Politics

Baltimore Businessman Wallace Contemplating Run for Governor

Baltimore tech entrepreneur Robert L. Wallace is polling to see whether he’d be a strong candidate for governor. Photo courtesy of Nevins & Associates.

Robert L. Wallace, the Baltimore business executive who racked up a respectable 20% of the vote as an independent candidate for mayor in 2020, is contemplating a late entry into the gubernatorial election.

Wallace told Maryland Matters on Tuesday that he is paying for a poll to determine his potential strength in both the June Republican primary and as an independent candidate in the general election.

Wallace said he knows most of the Democratic and Republican candidates for governor and thinks “they are all fine people.” But he said he would bring a different history and perspective to the race that could potentially appeal to a wide segment of the electorate.

“I feel like my story is a very unique story and I’ve had a unique set of experiences,” he said. “I think my story and my experiences set me apart.”

Wallace, 65, grew up poor in the Cherry Hill neighborhood of Baltimore but went on to become a tech entrepreneur after receiving degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and Dartmouth College. He has been active on a variety of civic and philanthropic fronts, including serving on the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, an appointee of Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R). He also sits on the boards of the Greater Baltimore Committee, Maryland Economic Development Commission, Kennedy Krieger Institute, and the Capital Region Minority Supplier Development Council, and is Chairman of Global Vessels International, a humanitarian organization.

Wallace is a cousin of the late Prince George’s County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D).

Although he was a longtime Republican, Wallace ran for mayor as an independent in 2020, arguing that Baltimore had grown stagnant under a succession of Democratic leaders and touting his ability to bring jobs to the city. While some polls during the campaign showed him within striking distance of the Democratic nominee, then-City Council President Brandon M. Scott, Wallace wound up finishing second with 20%, a full 50 points behind Scott. He spent about $600,000 on his campaign, and a significant chunk came from his own pocket, according to campaign finance records. A year ago, his mayoral committee was carrying $343,000 in debt — loans he had made to the campaign.

Wallace acknowledged the difficulty of running as an unaffiliated candidate in Maryland but said his experience in 2020 taught him that voters are hungering for an alternative to the two-party system.

“It’s expensive,” he said. “It’s tough. Our state is not built for an independent candidate. But I do believe that’s changing. You’d be amazed at the number of people who have called me daily, urging me to run. I think people are beginning to see that the two-party system isn’t serving them well.”

Nevertheless, Wallace has not ruled out competing in the Republican primary.

If he runs — either as a Republican or as an independent — Wallace would change the political dynamic of the race. The GOP primary currently appears to be a two-way fight between former state Commerce Secretary Kelly M. Schulz, who is running with Hogan’s support and is using some of his key political advisers, and state Del. Daniel L. Cox, who was endorsed by former President Trump. Robin Ficker, a perennial candidate, has also launched a campaign.

Wallace in the past has been critical of Trump’s comments about Baltimore and his attacks on the late Maryland Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (D).

If he enters the race as an independent, Wallace could draw voters from both the Democratic and Republican columns, with his pro-business and up-from-the-bootstraps messages.

Even though he is currently registered as an unaffiliated voter, Wallace could enter the Republican primary as long as he switched his party enrollment at the same time he filed to become a candidate for the GOP nomination, said Jared DeMarinis, director of the Candidacy and Campaign Finance Division at the Maryland State Board of Elections.

“We would say that you have to change your registration at the time,” DeMarinis said.

The filing deadline for candidates wishing to compete in the June 28 Republican and Democratic primaries for state and local offices this year is Feb. 22.

If Wallace wanted to run as an independent candidate for governor, he would need to file paperwork notifying the state of his intention to do so by early July at the latest. He would have to collect 10,000 valid petition signatures from registered voters throughout the state by early August to earn a place on the November ballot.

“There’s a lot of factors I’m weighing,” Wallace said. “I’m waiting to see the data from the poll first before making a decision. I want to be very intentional about my chances.”


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Baltimore Businessman Wallace Contemplating Run for Governor