BALTIMORE — Although each Democratic gubernatorial candidate wants to win the June 26 primary, all said they will support the winner for one main reason: unseating Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.
That central theme resonated among the hundreds in attendance Saturday inside the Baltimore War Memorial during a candidates’ forum co-sponsored by the United 4 Maryland political action committee and the Greater Baltimore Grassroots Coalition.
“We want a strong, Democratic candidate who must have the capacity to defeat Hogan and the ability to lead our state forward,” said Betsy Halsey, president of United 4 Maryland. “It’s going to take even harder work to defeat Hogan, but together we will do it.”
A Goucher College poll released Thursday showed Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III leading among the eight Democratic candidates, but 47 percent of voters are still undecided.
The other seven candidates are: former NAACP President Ben Jealous; Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz; state Sen. Richard Madaleno Jr. of Montgomery County; tech entrepreneur Alec Ross; Baltimore attorney Jim Shea; Krish Vignarajah, former policy director for first lady Michelle Obama; and educator Ralph Jaffe of Baltimore County.
All the candidates except Jaffe appeared on stage Saturday, answering a variety of questions and criticizing Hogan’s policies on education, economic development and health care.
The format allowed three candidates at a time respond to a question read by the moderator. For instance, Vignarajah, Ross and Madaleno were asked about their plans to boost mass transit in the Baltimore region, especially after Hogan killed the Red Line project two years ago.
All the candidates received a question on how would they improve relationships between the community and the Baltimore Police Department.
Ross said Baltimore would be safer in 10 years if the city spent money on 1,000 new teachers and teachers instead of 1,000 police officers.
Baker and Kamenentz, who lead efforts to revamp the departments in their respective counties, said a police force must reflect the diversity of a community.
Madaleno criticized Hogan for cutting money for more library hours and affording housing, but increasing funding to detain inmates.
Jealous, who has expressed similar thoughts, also pushed for expanding Baltimore’s Safe Streets programs managed by the city’s health department.
Shea praised his running mate, Baltimore City Councilman Brandon Scott, for helping implement programs and building trust with police officers as chair of council’s public safety committee.
Vignarajah said the state must end mass incarceration and school-to-prison pipeline and focus more on mental health services.
Former candidate Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, who dropped out of the race in January, ended the forum with a fiery 17-minute speech ripping the incumbent.
Cummings, wife of Rep. Elijah Cummings, read a few statistics from another recent Goucher poll about Hogan, including a 61 percent approval rating that is virtually unchanged from a Goucher poll in September. The recent poll also states about 46 percent view him as a moderate, compared to 29 percent who say he’s conservative and 17 percent who don’t know.
“Anybody who makes the argument that they’re OK with Larry Hogan and that he isn’t so bad has a very low standard for what our government could and should be,” Rockeymoore Cummings said. “I want you to confront anybody who [says that].”
Hogan has about $9 million cash on hand, more than four times the amount of Kamenetz, the top Democratic fundraiser.
United 4 Maryland, a group with about 30 grass-roots organizations, activists and community leaders, has at least three more gubernatorial forums scheduled. The dates listed on its website include April 24 at the Silver Spring Civic Center in Montgomery County and May 10 at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.