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The Beltway vs. Baltimore

Maryland’s Democratic gubernatorial primary may be the last hurrah of the state’s traditional power base.
Photograph of Gansler by Greenhouseoutgasser/Wiki Commons. Photograph of Mizeur by Rachael Spiegel.

Being lieutenant governor of Maryland has never been a steppingstone to the top job, but Anthony Brown could snap that streak this year. If he can win the June 24 Democratic primary, Brown also has a shot at becoming the state’s first African-American governor. But equally enthralling to Annapolis insiders is another rare quality: Brown is from Prince George’s County.

For 50 years, Marylanders have elected primarily Democrats from the statehouse or Baltimore’s political machine—just one Republican, Robert Ehrlich, has held the office since Spiro Agnew quit to become Vice President in 1969. (Both hailed from the Baltimore area.)

No matter who gets the nod this year—Brown’s opponents, attorney general Doug Gansler and Delegate Heather Mizeur, are from Montgomery County—the Democratic candidate will come from DC’s increasingly wealthy, politically motivated suburban ring. “Everyone knows power has shifted to the Washington suburbs,” says Len Lazarick, who publishes the website MarylandReporter.com.

The trend’s harbinger was Parris Glendening, the longest-serving Prince George’s county executive, who leveraged his base into two terms in Annapolis, from 1995 to 2003. “He demonstrated the power of PG County,” says Tom Marquardt, former editor of the Annapolis Capital newspaper. “He laid the path.”

But this campaign has left out Baltimore entirely—even the GOP candidate, Larry Hogan, is an Annapolitan. “We Baltimoreans feel a bit put off,” says Matthew Crenson, a Johns Hopkins University political scientist. “It’s as though they turned their backs on us.”

In truth, Brown is something of a hybrid. Since 2007, he has served under Governor Martin O’Malley, who is so thoroughly Baltimore that he inspired a character on TV’s The Wire. Early on, O’Malley dubbed Brown his heir and gave him oversight of Maryland’s health-insurance exchange to polish his administrative résumé. (Or not: The glitchy exchange, which cost $130 million and signed up fewer than 70,000 new customers, has become Brown’s biggest liability.) O’Malley, who’s considering a 2016 presidential run, has good reasons to back an African-American Iraq veteran. But the old guard, insiders say, also prefers to put Brown in the governor’s mansion and keep Montgomery County out.

Montgomery is now one of the richest US counties, with more than a million residents—political consultants, lobbyists, and media players among them—whose median income is nearly $100,000 a year. “We have economic preeminence,” says state senator Jamie Raskin, who represents Silver Spring and Takoma Park. “Add political preeminence and it becomes very scary for them.”

So far, the gaffe-prone Gansler has not given the establishment much to fear. His “brashness,” Marquardt says, puts voters off, and Gansler’s best weapon, the health-care-website failure, won’t likely fire up pro-Obama Dems.

Whoever prevails, Lazarick says, the Washington suburbs are already winning. In April, Brown helped break ground for a Department of Housing and Community Development campus in New Carrollton, the first major Maryland state agency to be awarded to Prince George’s. “Old habits die hard,” Raskin says. “You can’t blame the leadership for trying to hold onto power.”

This article appears in the June 2014 issue of Washingtonian.

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Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.