BALTIMORE — Six of the nine Democratic candidates for Maryland lieutenant governor made their cases Thursday during their first candidates’ forum at Pennsylvania Avenue AME Zion Church as the June 26 primary nears.
During the nearly two-hour discussion, each candidate mostly agreed to resurrect the city’s Red Line project, provide more money for the state’s four historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and push for a Democrat to manage the state.
Five of the candidates — Sharon Blake, Valerie Ervin, Luwanda Jenkins, Baltimore City Councilman Brandon Scott and Susan Turnbull — said jurisdictions should have fully elected school boards.
Elizabeth Embry, who is pairing with Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, echoed her running mate in her response.
“In looking across the country at elected versus non-elected school boards, there’s not a strong story in one outperforming the other,” said Embry, a former Baltimore prosecutor. “What is true that the school boards that are most effective are the ones with the strongest people on them.”
Turnbull, a former chairwoman of the state’s Democratic Party, said Prince George’s offers an example of a jurisdiction without a fully elected school that brings a lack of accountability and led to various scandals. The school system’s CEO Kevin Maxwell, also known as a superintendent, announced Tuesday he plans to step down at the end of the school year.
“We believe in the people’s ability to elect their leaders,” said Turnbull, who is running with former NAACP President Ben Jealous. “Government only works when it is accountable.”
The lieutenant governor, though technically second in command in the state, is often considered inconsequential. But, as seen in 2015 when Gov. Larry Hogan was sidelined while undergoing cancer treatments, the role can quickly and unexpectedly become of the upmost importance.
“The position, although people perceive it as ceremonial, you are a heartbeat away from functioning the state government and budget,” said Scherod Barnes, chair of the Baltimore City Democrat State Central Committee. “You never know when you may be called.”
During Thursday’s forum, Blake addressed the topic of criminal justice reform and working with police officers, saying officers should reside in the community they protect and serve.
Blake, a former president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, mentioned how a Baltimore police officer assisted after she experienced car trouble on her way to the forum.
“Those are the kind of police officers that we need in Baltimore City and throughout the state,” said Blake, running mate of Krish Vignarajah, a onetime policy director for former first lady Michelle Obama.
Ervin, a former Montgomery County councilwoman and running mate of Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, said the state should decriminalize marijuana and those jailed for possessing small amounts should be released from jail and records expunged.
“Until we crack this code of deep structural racism and how we are going to tackle that in public policy, this is going to continue to be a problem,” Ervin said.
Scott, the only elected official among the running mates, said control of the Baltimore Police should be relinquished from state control and “given back to the city.”
“Baltimore, like every other jurisdiction, should be in control of its Police Department,” said Scott, the running mate of Baltimore attorney Jim Shea.
Jenkins, who worked in Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration and Baltimore native, said resources to fight crime and offer mental health services must be provided to enhance the state’s largest city.
“The state of Maryland cannot succeed unless Baltimore City succeeds,” said Jenkins, the running mate of state Sen. Richard Madaleno Jr. of Montgomery County. “We must all be a partner with the city of Baltimore in reducing crime.”
The three other Democratic candidates — Julie Verratti, co-owner of Denizens Brewery and running mate of tech entrepreneur Alec Ross; Freda Jaffe, running mate of Ralph Jaffe of Baltimore County; and Charles S. Waters, running mate with James Hugh Jones II of Baltimore City — did not attend Thursday’s forum.