Josh Kurtz: Convention-al Wisdom, Part 2

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It was awkward, to say the least, when three potential 2002 candidates for governor – Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Baltimore County Executive Dutch Ruppersberger, and Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan – bumped into each other early one morning in the fitness room at the Marina del Rey Marriott during the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles.

“We can run together,” Ruppersberger suggested, in an effort to break the tension.

All three were in L.A. to cheer the party’s presidential nominee, Al Gore. But all were also there to bond with Maryland delegates and other political people who had traveled cross-country for the spectacle, and promote their potential statewide bids.

Duncan, for example, sponsored a luncheon for the Maryland delegation at a kosher dairy restaurant not far from Beverly Hills, owned by Stephen Spielberg’s mother – who happens to be the mother-in-law of Duncan’s former top aide, Jerry Pasternak. Duncan and Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, seen then as another potential 2002 contender, were hailed as rising stars at a gathering of the now defunct Democratic Leadership Council – the group designed to make Democrats act more like Republicans and think more kindly about Wall Street.

Townsend, additionally, took advantage of her family’s star power. At a memorable dinner in the TransAmerica building in downtown L.A., attended by Frank Zappa’s widow and other luminaries, the normally cautious Townsend talked openly and movingly about her uncle JFK’s triumphant trip to L.A. in 1960, when he became the Democratic presidential nominee, and her father RFK’s murder there eight years later.

It was a surreal scene – Townsend’s voice at a dramatic whisper as police battled protesters 34 floors below, with police cars zipping around corners. From all that way up, it looked like nothing more than a Pac-Man game.

I’m sure Ruppersberger held events in L.A. that week, too. But the memory, alas, is failing me. Perhaps his events took place on the same night two beautiful Latinas with Stanford degrees smuggled me into a Los Lobos concert (true story).

So here we are, 16 years later, with another Democratic National Convention almost upon us.

Potential 2018 candidates for governor of Maryland and other high offices will be there to cheer the party’s presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. But they will also be in Philadelphia to bond with Maryland delegates and other political people who will travel up I-95 for the spectacle, and promote their potential statewide bids.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who is pondering a gubernatorial bid, is hosting a late-night reception Wednesday at JG Domestic, a hip restaurant next to 30th Street Station (run by the same people who own Rural Society in the Madison Hotel in D.C., for those who follow that sort of thing). Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, another potential contender, is sponsoring a lunch. State Sen. Jim Rosapepe, who would like to run for state comptroller if the job becomes vacant in 2018, is hosting an Italian dinner on Monday night.

You forget how pampered and well-fed delegates are during the course of a convention week.

It would be unfair to say that you can judge the state of a potential candidate’s campaign by the lavishness of the reception he or she holds during a national political convention. But it is fair to say that of all the potential Democratic contenders for governor, at this not so early stage, Kamenetz is ahead when it comes to traveling the state, putting together a political operation and reaching out to influential Maryland Democrats.

Other possible Democratic gubernatorial contenders will also be in Philadelphia in two weeks. Congressman John Delaney’s dance card has yet to be determined, a spokesman told me last week. Former state Attorney General Doug Gansler will be making the rounds, just as he has hit a few Democratic functions around the state this spring and summer.

U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez will be in Philly, but it isn’t clear whether he will get to hang out at all with his fellow Marylanders. He could be on another trajectory entirely.

So Kamenetz snags a hot night spot for his event. He’s got a top-notch consultant in David Heller, fresh off working for Catherine Pugh’s Democratic primary win in the Baltimore mayoral election. He has used a nationally recognized pollster, Harrison Hickman. He’s using the incomparable Colleen Martin-Lauer for fundraising. He has been far more aggressive on the fundraising front than any of the other potential candidates (though Delaney, of course, can self-fund if necessary).

Kamenetz has also quietly been traveling around the state for several months, meeting with local elected officials and state legislators in a kind of listening tour to learn about their issues and priorities. Those trips are likely to accelerate in the months ahead, as Kamenetz is set to take over as the new president of the Maryland Association of Counties later this year.

Kamenetz isn’t necessarily a beloved figure, at home or among fellow Maryland pols. But the leaders he meets are coming to respect him. And some Democrats see the attacks on Kamenetz by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) on the issue of school construction and air conditioning as a badge of honor for the Baltimore executive.

Kamenetz seems to be following the Parris Glendening model for winning the Democratic nomination. Glendening wasn’t a beloved figure, either. But he was smart and strategic and received a lot of financial support from his county’s developers – and used his time as MACo president and leader of one of the state’s biggest counties wisely.

None of which is to say that Kamenetz will, like Glendening, ascend to the highest office in the state. But he’s building something – and that’s something for Maryland Democrats to contemplate as they’re feasting and downing another late-night cocktail in Philadelphia later this month.

NOTE TO READERS: I’ll be at the conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia – primarily for my day job, but I will try to keep an eye on the Maryland delegations as well. If you are there and see or hear interesting stuff – or if you maybe want to meet for one of those aforementioned late-night cocktails, give me a shout.

During the conventions weeks, I’m going to change up my column schedule. They’ll appear on Thursdays – July 21 and 28.

Thanks for reading!


Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily on Capitol Hill. He can be reached at . Follow him on Twitter -- @joshkurtznews


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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.