Seven of the nine Democratic candidates seeking the nomination for Maryland governor participated in forums stretched over a two-day period on topics such as health care, education and the environment.
Each candidate seeking to distinguish themselves in the sessions hosted by the Prince George’s County NAACP branch agreed the state should supply universal pre-kindergarten, invest more in mental health services and provide paid family and medical leave.
But one main focus remained to ensure those listening Thursday, Nov. 4 and Monday, Nov. 8 highlighted how they would help Prince George’s, the state’s biggest majority-Black jurisdiction and home to the most registered Democrats.
“We’ve got to make sure everything from grant capital that’s coming to our small businesses to how we’re adjusting to procurement reform [happens],” author and former nonprofit executive Wes Moore said Monday. “All these elements need to be in place if we’re going to create true economic pathways for our small and micro-businesses and other businesses within Prince George’s County.”
Besides Moore, former Prince George’s Executive Rushern L. Baker III, former Obama administration official Ashwani Jain and Baltimore entrepreneur Mike Rosenbaum joined in Monday’s discussion.
When asked about how each candidate would address accountability in law enforcement, they responded with the following answers.
Jain said, if elected next year, he would eliminate school resource officers and police from school buildings, end the cash bail system and require the state to end for-profit prison contracts.
“I don’t think it’s extreme to demand accountability,” he said. “It does not diminish whatever work is being done; we demand accountability in every other field and our criminal justice system should be no different.”
Rosenbaum, who created two software companies, Catalyte and Arena, said government agencies must recognize law enforcement jobs are difficult and must hire the right people.
In addition, “we need the ability to fire people quickly when someone isn’t good. Until we do that, we will still have bad cops on the streets. We’ll still have problems,” he said.
Moore, who’s also an Army veteran, said the state should scale, fund and “celebrate” work being done locally such as Prince George’s State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy operating a public integrity unit and pursuing police officer misconduct cases with 11 open indictments against police.
Baker said the work to revamp the police department in Prince George’s took place after a consent decrease ended in 2004 because of excessive force complaints. For instance, he said officers received implicit bias training and other reform measures.
“The governor’s office working with the local county executives and legislatures to actually give real police reform is what we need to do,” said Baker, who served as county executive from 2010 to 2018.
Janna Parker of Temple Hills challenged Baker on that notion Monday, especially after the county settled a suit in July for $2.3 million with Black and Latino officers who accused the police department of racial and discriminatory practices. Some of the supervisors including former Police Chief Hank Stawinski worked while Baker served as county executive.
“The reality is Baker’s policies around the school system and police have further damaged both of those institutions and the residents he was elected to serve,” Parker wrote in the Zoom’s chat section. “We are all very aware of his record as a county executive in this county. If you’re going to run on that as your experience, then you’re going to own every bit of what your tenure put the residents of this county through…”
Near the end of the more than 90-minute session, Baker did receive support from Ava Richardson who wrote, “Mr. Baker, I would like to volunteer to help with your campaign. Praying that you win.”
John King Jr., former U.S. education secretary in the Obama administration, didn’t participate Monday because he teaches an undergraduate course on education policy at the University of Maryland in College Park.
The Prince George’s NAACP branch would like for the candidates to return before the June 28 primary.
“I know we went a little late [Monday] but we have to be informed,” said Linda Thomas Thornton, president of the county NAACP. “This is not the last time. Hopefully you’ll come back and talk with us on different topics.”