Del. Darryl Barnes will leave legislature, become partner in Annapolis firm
The longest serving chair of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland will step down next week to become a partner in an Annapolis lobbying and government relations firm.
Del. Darryl Barnes (D-Prince George’s) plans to leave his duties as a legislator April 15 and, on the same day, become a partner in Evans, Barnes & Associates.
In addition to joining Gerry Evans and his daughter Hayley at the firm, Barnes will continue to own Quora Alkaline Water and to run the nonprofit organization he founded, Men Aiming Higher, which mentors youth and young men and volunteers in the community.
Barnes said that, before making the decision to leave the General Assembly, where’s he has been since 2015, he talked with his family and he cried.
“This was a difficult decision for me. I’m going to miss the people that I built long lasting relationships with,” he said in an interview. “But this is a golden opportunity to continue to do all the things I want to do…I still get to be an entrepreneur, but I’ll still be able to have influence on policy that affects our community.”
Maryland law prohibits former members of the General Assembly from lobbying the General Assembly until one year after they leave office, but Barnes said it does not prohibit him from providing advice on procurement in counties and municipalities.
Bringing Barnes into the firm is “all about new ideas, fresh blood and…a natural evolution of the firm,” Evans said in a brief interview. “I think it’s a game changer. It will change the landscape of lobbying in Annapolis forever. He’s been at the helm of every major policy initiative of the General Assembly in the last decade. Hopefully, he will pave the way for more folks of color to take a more prominent role in advocacy and lobbying.”
A goal Barnes has set for the first 90 days at the firm: create the Maryland Black Lobbying Association.
“When you talk about a body here that is one of the largest Black caucuses in the union, we need more representation talking to our members. I am on a mission to make that happen,” Barnes said.
Barnes, who turns 58 on April 21, serves as chair emeritus of the Legislative Black Caucus and was its chair for more than five years.
Barnes led a caucus Black Agenda starting in 2020, after Del. Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) began her first full year as House speaker. That agenda led to a conversation with a dozen gubernatorial candidates in October 2021 asking them to answer this question: “What is your Black agenda?” It also led to criminal justice reform and paid family leave for more Marylanders.
One achievement Barnes said he was particularly proud of is getting former Gov. Larry Hogan (R), in March 2021, to sign legislation outlining a $577 million investment in the state’s four historically Black colleges and universities. Hogan had earlier offered $200 million to settle a lawsuit brought by alumni and supporters of the HBCUs that alleged underinvestment by the state in the campuses.
“I’m glad we got that one right there. We settled a 15-year-old lawsuit,” Barnes said.
Barnes said Maryland does not do do enough contracting with or buying from Black businesses.
He has noted, for instance, that the state’s goal for MBE firms to receive 29% of state contracts has not been met and remains below remains below 15%.
“Because of his work, the caucus continues to be laser-focused on ensuring that our minority businesses have full access and win contracts and that we build a wealth among Black entrepreneurs and Black communities,” said Del. Jheanelle Wilkins (D-Montgomery), who now chairs the Black caucus. “He has been a driving force where we are now as a state [and] where we are seeing leaders at every level…and identifying solutions ensuring that our MBE goals are met.”
Besides pushing for more Black lobbyists, because only “a handful” are seen in Maryland, Barnes said the firm plans “to start opening up shop in other states.”
Firm representatives will travel to Atlantic City, New Jersey, in June to participate in an event where they will discuss diversity, equity and inclusion, procurement opportunities and minority participation. Part of that, Barnes said, will come from his experience with the largest state legislative Black caucus in the nation.
“That’s the influence that I’m bringing to the table. I’m excited,” he said.
Meanwhile, someone must replace Barnes as a member of the 25th legislative district that includes Forestville, Largo and parts of Upper Marlboro.
The county’s Democratic Central Committee will select a person to join Sen. Melony Griffith and Dels. Karen Toles and Nick Charles in representing District 25.
Charles, who chairs the Prince George’s House Delegation and will become the senior delegate for the district, said no one has expressed interest to him in being appointed to the seat. However, that person would replace “a stalwart fighter” in Barnes, especially for the minority business community.
“I’m so proud of the work that he’s done,” Charles said. “Whoever the central committee selects to replace Darryl will be somebody that’s going to bring that same fire because that’s how we get down in District 25.”
Barnes will still have an office in Annapolis, although he won’t be a lawmaker.
“I’m only a five-minute walk from here to help coach and mentor some of our younger delegates,” he said. “I tell freshmen delegates all the time: take as many pictures as you possibly can and memorialize your time down here because this is something that you will be able to reflect on and share with your family.”