Josh Kurtz: Baltimore Ravin’s

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If you’re looking for Maryland’s political leaders Tuesday night, most will be in Baltimore.

They’ll be there to pay tribute to Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who appears headed to a big victory in the Democratic mayoral primary. Most of the state’s top Democrats endorsed Rawlings-Blake, the young interim mayor, for a full term, and they have high hopes for her.

Just as significant, the political players will be paying tribute to Baltimore, the grand dame of Maryland who is past her prime but still holds plenty of allure. This is especially true of the four Democrats who seem likeliest to run for governor in 2014: Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, state Comptroller Peter Franchot, state Attorney General Doug Gansler, and Howard County Executive Ken Ulman.

The quartet is already trolling for votes in Baltimore, both in the city and in the surrounding suburbs. But each candidate’s pitch is not without serious flaws.

First, chew on this: It is entirely possible that Baltimore, which fancies itself the center of Maryland’s political universe, will not have its own candidate for governor in 2014. Brown, Franchot and Gansler are all from the D.C. suburbs. Ulman is from that demilitarized zone in the middle of the state – not quite D.C., not quite Baltimore.

Can Baltimore really not have a candidate of its own?

Rawlings-Blake, whose stature around the state continues to grow, is simply too new on the job to contemplate a statewide bid. The same holds true for Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz (D), who is intensely ambitious, but probably needs to wait his turn.

Jim Smith, Kamenetz’s predecessor, is still around – and sitting on upwards of $600,000 in his campaign account, according to the last finance report he filed. But the usually mild-mannered Smith has ruffled some feathers in the past year or so: by injecting himself into races in the county last year despite his lame-duck status; by openly campaigning to become president of Towson University; and by joining his son’s development law firm since leaving office.

Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger would be a formidable candidate for governor if he ran – with the current line-up of contenders, he probably wouldn’t even have to campaign in the 301 area code; he could just waltz into the governor’s chair. But Ruppersberger, who thought seriously about running in 2002, is enjoying his gig in Congress, especially his post as top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. He probably isn’t going anywhere.

Could someone else from the Baltimore area emerge? Sure – there are plenty of ambitious politicians there, and someone might see an opening. A business or civic leader could take the plunge – and voters might welcome a fresh face. The “Baltimore first” crowd – which has diminished through the years, as William Donald Schaefer and his allies fade from the scene, and as the Baltimore Sun struggles to stay afloat – may still demand representation.

More than likely, though, the field is set. It may be a coincidence that the leading candidates for governor are from the Washington area. But you can certainly make the case that this is the latest proof that the political center of gravity in the state has shifted dramatically, the fulfillment of former Gov. Blair Lee’s dreams when he put Steny Hoyer on his ticket back in 1978.

Still, the candidates will be flocking to Baltimore regularly – for money, for support from key leaders, for media visibility. Just tonight, in fact, Ulman is hosting a fundraising dinner at the Maryland Club downtown – and he’ll no doubt find time to hit Rawlings-Blake’s victory party after dessert.

Like the good gentleman callers they are, Brown, Franchot, Gansler and Ulman each are working their charms on Charm City and environs. But there’s no perfect match yet.

Ulman has perhaps the easiest pitch. He’s the closest to Baltimore and his county is covered regularly in the Sun. He’s a member of Baltimore regional governing organizations, and his dad, a lawyer, has ties to the Baltimore legal community. But he’s a Columbia boy – he can’t escape that fact.

Brown has a few things going for him. Some of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s top Baltimore backers are now in his corner and helping to guide him. And whether he does it subtly or overtly, he’s clearly hoping a racial appeal wins him the lion’s share of African-American voters in the city and county. If there are two or three white candidates in the primary, that may be enough for Brown to win. But the black vote isn’t monolithic – and Baltimore isn’t Prince George’s County. And Brown, like Barack Obama before him, will have to overcome the knock in certain corners that he isn’t “black enough.”

Gansler, who still sometimes seems to regard his travels around the state as anthropological expeditions, has allies in the Baltimore legal community. Some of it is institutional support that would flow to any attorney general – and some of it is genuine friendship. Gansler also touts his work bringing lacrosse to inner-city youths. Laudable, yes. But a political winner?

Franchot, the blue blood from ultra-liberal Takoma Park who once cast himself as the legislature’s top irritant to Baltimore County hero Bob Ehrlich, has now remade himself as Mr. Dundalk, an avatar of fiscal prudence fighting for the interests of blue-collar voters. Franchot if nothing else has a sense for jumping into political voids when no one else is. But – using this as a metaphor for the bigger picture – is flirting politically with Joe Bartenfelder, as Franchot did last year, when Kamenetz was dominating the Democratic primary for Baltimore county executive, a winning strategy?

Seems like each of these guys, when romancing Baltimore, could say it better with flowers. There may be hell to pay for the winner for not getting it right with Baltimore powerbrokers – as Parris Glendening can certainly attest.

But if Baltimore leaders are lamenting their lack of hometown gubernatorial contenders – and with it, their diminishing hold on statewide power – they can at least take solace in the knowledge that all these candidates for governor will almost certainly be turning to their town for running mates. A lot of ambitious people will be waiting for their phones to ring.

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at .

Recent Center Maryland columns by Josh Kurtz:

Jack Johnson and the Offal Truth

Betting the Chalk

Death Knell for Democrats?

The Bruce of Summer

Nightmare Scenario

Sources: Congressional delegation Dems eye Bartlett as redistricting target

Talkin’ 'Bout Their Generation

A Triple Play of Political Shame – An Indictment of the Ehrlich Campaign, Maryland’s Fumble on Gay Marriage, and the Prince George’s Ethical Saga

White Prince George's

A DREAM Denied?

Frack This!

The Undercard

Talking Union Blues
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Josh Kurtz has been writing about Maryland politics since late 1995. Louie Goldstein, William Donald Schaefer and Pete Rawlings were alive, but the Intercounty Connector, as far as anyone could tell, was dead.


But some things never change: Mike Miller is still in charge of the Senate. Gerry Evans and Bruce Bereano are among the top-earning lobbyists in Annapolis. Steny Hoyer is still waiting for Nancy Pelosi to disappear. And Maryland Republicans are still struggling to be relevant.


The media landscape in Maryland has changed a lot, and Kurtz is happy to write weekly for Center Maryland. He's been writing a column for the website since it launched in January 2010.


In his "real" job, Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily down on Capitol Hill. But he'll always find Maryland politics more fascinating.


Kurtz grew up in New York City and attended public schools there. He has a BA in History from the University of Wisconsin and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University. He's married with two daughters and lives in Takoma Park, Md. He hopes you'll drop him a line, or maybe go out for a meal with him, because he's always hungry -- for political gossip.