(Staff and handout photos./The Democratic candidates for governor in Maryland are, clockwise, Kevin Kamenetz, Ben Jealous, Alec Ross, Krishanti Vignarajah, Richard S. Madaleno Jr., James Shea and Rushern L. Baker III.)
Four out of the five Democratic gubernatorial candidates in Maryland who have announced their running mates have chosen women to join their ticket, a sign of the importance of female voters in a state that has no women in Congress or in top statewide positions.
State Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery) on Monday tapped Luwanda Jenkins, a Baltimore native who worked in the administrations of the last three Democratic
governors, as his running mate. Tech entrepreneur Alec Ross named Julie Verratti, a co-owner of a craft brewery in Montgomery County.
And Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III was scheduled to announce Tuesday his selection of Elizabeth Embry, a high-ranking attorney in the state attorney general’s office who ran for mayor of Baltimore in 2016.
“Lieutenant governors are often selected to counterbalance the strengths and weaknesses of a candidate, so I’m not surprised that these male candidates are going for women lieutenant governors,” said Melissa Deckman, a political science professor at Washington College. “With the MeToo movement and lack of female representation statewide, they are trying to reach out to women voters who are important to the Democratic Party.”
The 2016 retirement of then-Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D), and the resignation that year of then-Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D) to seek Mikulski’s seat, left Maryland without a woman in its congressional delegation for the first time in 77 years.
In addition, no woman holds any of the top four statewide elected executive positions: governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and comptroller.
In November, another gubernatorial candidate, former NAACP president Ben Jealous, chose Susan W. Turnbull, a former vice chair of the Democratic National Committee and former chair of the state Democratic Party, as his running mate.
Turnbull co-founded Emerge Maryland, which recruits and trains Democratic women to run for office and is part of a national network that has seen record numbers of women candidates since Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump in 2016.
Former Michelle Obama aide Krishanti Vignarajah is the only woman in Maryland’s crowded Democratic gubernatorial primary. The winner of the June 26 contest will face popular Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and his deputy, Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, in November’s general election.
Neither Vignarajah, who is making her first run for public office, nor Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz have announced their running mates, which they must do by the Feb. 27 filing deadline. Attorney Jim Shea, who is also seeking the Democratic nomination, last week announced Baltimore City Council member Brandon Scott as his pick for lieutenant governor.
Del. Marice I. Morales (D-Montgomery), who organized a rally in Annapolis on Monday night to highlight women’s issues, said she thought it was “phenomenal” to see gubernatorial candidates choosing women to join their tickets.
“It sends a strong message nationwide that the cries of the movement are being heard by people in positions of power,” she said.
She noted that the choices also represent other historically underrepresented communities, with Jenkins an African American woman who has long advocated for minorities, and Verratti a lesbian who is active in LGBT issues.
Jenkins, 55, directed the Office of Minority Affairs for three years when Parris Glendening (D) was governor and was special secretary of minority affairs for five years for Gov. Martin O’Malley (D). She played a similar role in the administration of Gov. William Donald Schaefer (D).
Jenkins also has 17 years in the private sector, including executive positions at the Baltimore Sun, CareFirst BlueCross and the Cordish Cos., a real estate development concern.
“Now is the time for more women in leadership roles,” said Jenkins, who is chief operating officer for the LEADERship, a program of the Greater Baltimore Committee. “We need to be at the table.”
She described herself in an interview as a wife, a mother and a daughter, caring for aging parents, “typical of so many women who play a pivotal role.”
Ross, who called himself “unabashedly a feminist,” said he believes his choice of Verratti, 38, a small-business owner who has actively campaigned for social justice issues, will resonate with younger voters.
“We need to make sure we don’t take one step forward and one step back,” Ross said. “It’s time to have women in elected office.”
Verratti co-founded Denizens Brewing in Silver Spring four years ago and previously served as a senior policy adviser at the U.S. Small Business Administration. A graduate of George Washington University Law School, she has testified before Congress and state and local lawmakers on issues that affect small businesses, the beer industry, and gays and lesbians.
Last year, she served on Maryland’s “Reform on Tap” task force, which was created by Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) to highlight the craft beer industry’s growth and to push an overhaul of the state’s laws to encourage more expansion.
Embry, Baker’s running mate, described herself as a “daughter of Baltimore” during her unsuccessful 2016 mayoral bid. Her father, Robert C. Embry Jr., was a city council member, school board president and housing commissioner. He now runs the Abell Foundation.
She is chief of the criminal division of the Maryland Attorney General’s Office. Attorney General Brian E. Frosh has endorsed Baker.
Before joining the attorney general’s office, Embry, 40, served as deputy for policy and planning in the Baltimore state’s attorney office. She has also been assistant solicitor in the Baltimore office of law and a felony prosecutor in the Baltimore state’s attorney office.