BALTIMORE, Md. - The campaign to be Maryland’s next governor became heated last month when race was inserted into the campaign for the first time.
This came after the Washington Post released a recording of Attorney General Doug Gansler in which he can be heard telling campaign volunteers during a July 15 meeting in Annapolis that Lt. Gov . Anthony Brown is relying on his race to get elected.
On the recording, Gansler says Brown's “campaign slogan is ‘Vote for me, I want to be the first African-American governor of Maryland.’” He calls that a “laudable goal,” but says Brown needs to back that up with accomplishments.
Gansler's campaign didn't dispute the comments, but accused Brown's campaign of recording the comments illegally. Brown's campaign denies any involvement, but calls the comments "out of touch with Maryland values."
“Doug strongly believes that candidates running for office should be judged on their record and ideas and not on their race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation,” said Gansler strategist Doug Thornell in a statement. “These are beliefs that Doug has fought his entire career to uphold and are central to who he is as a person.
“The comments he made at a organizing meeting before a small but diverse crowd make that point crystal clear. He understands that taken out of context, as it was, his words could be misinterpreted by some and for that he is deeply disappointed. The Brown Campaign will most likely try to mount a personal attack against Doug, and that is deeply troubling as is their focus on dirty tricks over discussing real issues and innovative solutions that will improve the lives of Marylanders.”
Changing the political paradigm
While the rhetoric from both the Gansler and Brown camps has quieted, the issue of race and diversity in Maryland politics is not likely to go away.
According to U.S. Census figures, 30 percent of Maryland’s 5.8 million residents are African-American, with another 8.7 percent being Hispanic and 6 percent being Asian.
Richard Vatz, a professor of rhetoric and communication at Towson University, said there’s no disputing that race is a factor in Maryland politics. He pointed to the 2002 gubernatorial race as a prime example.
In that race, Republican and then-Rep. Bob Ehrlich selected Michael Steele, an African American, to be his running mate. The Democrat, then Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, selected retired Naval Adm. Charles Larsen, a white Republican, to be her running mate.
“Race was brought to the forefront in that election,” Vatz said. “There were many in the African-American community that were angered that the Democratic candidate went with a white candidate. Race and diversity has been prevalent in every state election since then.”
Ehrlich said that election “changed the paradigm” of Maryland politics forever.
“Having Michael Steele being the first African-American lieutenant governor in Maryland was definitely historic, but it was also inconvenient for the progressive establishment in Maryland because Michael was a Republican, pro life and conservative.”
Ehrlich said he was sensitive to Steele’s race at the time, but stressed it wasn’t the only reason he was chosen.
“Michael definitely brought more to our ticket than the color of his skin,” said Ehrlich, alluding to the 2002 Baltimore Sun editorial when the publication endorsed Townsend for governor. “Michael was chairman of the state Republican Party, had a solid resume, someone who was like-minded and someone I could trust.”
Ehrlich added that there is a sense of irony that the issue of race is being debated at the same time that the country is reflecting on the 50 th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
“It’s logical to conclude that Dr. King’s dream has not become a reality yet,” Ehrlich said. “We’ve obviously come a long way when you see we have had two straight African-American lieutenant governors and an African-American president. However, that will only come true when race is completely irrelevant.”
Question qualifications, not race
Vatz said that there is nothing wrong with questioning a candidate’s credentials and whether they have made the case to voters as to why they should choose him or her. While Vatz believes Gansler, who like Brown is a Democrat, did not do himself any favors with his recorded comments, he does not believe Gansler crossed any racial lines.
“Anthony Brown has a charisma problem, in that he has none,” Vatz said. “Gansler was right to question Brown’s record. The lieutenant governor is a good man and has a solid resume, but he has done little to speak about the issues facing the state.
“This race has to be more than just about trying to be the first African-American governor. I could come out and say I want to be the first Jewish mayor of Baltimore, which is a great goal. But I need to answer the question of why should you vote for me.”
Todd Eberly, a political science professor