Crime, education and the economy were leading issues discussed Monday by eight candidates who are seeking Maryland's Democratic nomination for governor during their first statewide televised debate.
Candidates also used the opportunity during the debate at Maryland Public Television to confront opponents they believe they are more closely competing with in the crowded primary, which will be held July 19. The governor's office is open this election cycle because Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is term limited.
Rushern Baker, Jon Baron, Peter Franchot, Doug Gansler, Ashwani Jain, John King, Wes Moore, and Tom Perez participated in the hourlong debate for broadcast Monday night.
Franchot, who has been the state comptroller since 2007, and former Attorney General Doug Gansler, emphasized their experience in statewide office as qualifying them to take on issues the next governor will be facing. Tom Perez, a former U.S. labor secretary and a past chairman of the Democratic National Committee, also stressed his experience in local, state and federal government.
Wes Moore, a bestselling author and former CEO of the Robin Hood Foundation — which focuses on fighting poverty — criticized Franchot during the debate, saying he has accepted campaign donations from entities he has voted to approve contracts for as one of three members of the state's powerful Board of Public Works.
Franchot responded that he has demonstrated integrity in a life of public service. He noted he has been elected four times in statewide races to be the state's tax collector.
“I’ve spent my entire life serving the people," said Franchot, who also served as a delegate from Montgomery County in the state legislature.
Moore cast himself as a person who has worked for the public good outside of politics.
“I have been a public servant for my entire life," Moore said. "I just haven’t been a politician.”
Perez, who also served in former President Barack Obama’s administration as assistant attorney general for civil rights from 2009 to 2013, questioned Moore's commitment to public service. Perez said he fought predatory lenders when Moore was working for Citibank during the foreclosure crisis.
“I don’t know how working at Citibank is public service,” Perez said.
Moore responded by questioning Perez's work on predatory lending, saying “no one went to jail” as a result of his efforts. He also said Perez got a vote of no confidence from the Congressional Black Caucus when he was the chairman of the Democratic Party in 2018.
Perez said he wasn't involved in prosecutions of Wall Street bankers, but he pointed out two large cases he settled involving fair housing.
Perez said he was running to increase jobs and opportunities across the state.
“I want to get stuff done,” Perez said, highlighting his endorsement by The Washington Post.
Baker, a former Prince George's County executive, focused on how he worked to restore public trust to the state's second largest county, after his predecessor went to prison in a public corruption scandal. Baker also noted he is running his campaign with public campaign financing.
John King, a former U.S. education secretary, said he would focus on making sure education is well funded in the state. He said a huge investment in K-12 education known as the Blueprint for Maryland's Future would be a floor, not a ceiling, if he is elected governor.
“We have to commit to the investment necessary,” King said.
Gansler, who also is a former Montgomery County state’s attorney, emphasized fighting crime.
“This election is about crime and criminal justice,” Gansler said, adding that he supports hiring more police and training them in de-escalation techniques.
Baron, a former nonprofit executive, said the state needs to take innovative approaches to improving education and boosting stagnant wages. He's said he supports providing high-quality tutoring to struggling early elementary school students so they don't fall behind.
Jain, a former Obama administration official, said he was running to make government more inclusive, bringing experience from the public and private sectors.
Jerome Segal, who also is seeking the nomination, was not invited to the debate.
“The Maryland Public Television debate is a significant event that is airing statewide on other media outlets, including WBAL-TV," Segal said in a statement. "My exclusion from the debate is a major blow to my campaign, and I believe it is illegal.”
Tom Williams, MPT's managing director of communications, said MPT used its best judgement in determining Segal's campaign did not meet participation criteria. Williams said MPT will offer him an opportunity to discuss his campaign on an MPT program.