Jealous Guy: Seasoned Maryland Operative Aids Ex-NAACP Chief’s Exploratory Bid

By Josh Kurtz

As he ponders whether to run for governor in 2018, former NAACP President Ben Jealous has turned to a well-known state Democratic operative to help his exploratory effort, Maryland Matters has learned.

Travis Tazelaar, a former executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party, is one of the people guiding Jealous as he travels the state, gauging whether to jump into the gubernatorial fray. Tazelaar would also assume a top role in any formal Jealous campaign – perhaps as campaign manager.

Tazelaar, a former Marine who ran ex-Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s 2011 re-election bid and has also worked for the campaigns of Sen. Ben Cardin (D) and former Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), has been out of the political nitty-gritty for a while. He has spent the past two years working to promote President Obama’s climate change agenda.

But he said he was moved to get back into “the fight” after President Trump’s election – and because he’s impressed with the way Jealous is reaching out to working-class white and working-class African-American voters and talking about economic development and empowerment.

“I’ve been fascinated by his past, fascinated by his intellect,” Tazelaar, 37, told Maryland Matters. “He’s done some pretty amazing, courageous things in his career. A guy with his background and level of fearlessness is right up my alley. And probably what it’s going to take to win – and to govern, quite frankly.”

Tazelaar said that in the exploratory phase of his campaign, Jealous is also working with Hilltop Public Solutions, a firm whose principal, Bill Hyer, is best known for helping elect progressive Bill de Blasio as mayor of New York in 2013. The firm also worked for Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) in 2014 and for O’Malley’s short-lived presidential bid in 2016.

Tazeelar said Jealous is meeting with activists and party stalwarts around the state in an effort to “fill knowledge and capacity gaps.” He said Jealous is “fully embracing his role as a protest leader” and is seeing how voters respond to that message. He’s also crunching numbers and trying to figure out if there is a path to victory.

In the past several days, Jealous has spoken to a Young Democrats gathering and to the influential BEST Democratic Club in Baltimore.

“He’s getting around the state and getting a feel for what folks are thinking and saying,” Tazelaar said. “Do they have an interest in a candidacy like this?”

Tazelaar said Jealous plans to decide whether to become a candidate in about a month. “He’s not going to let this go into the summer,” he said.

Other Democrats contemplating challenging Gov. Larry Hogan (R) in 2018 include Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, Rep. John Delaney, former Attorney General Doug Gansler, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, state Sen. Rich Madaleno, state House Appropriations Chairman Maggie McIntosh, Baltimore tech entrepreneur Alec Ross and Baltimore attorney Jim Shea.

Tazelaar formerly worked for David Byrd, a close friend and adviser to Baker – and some Maryland political watchers thought their relationship meant that Tazelaar might wind up working for Baker this election cycle. Asked whether his decision to work for Jealous had anything to do with Baker’s viability or message, Tazelaar replied, “Not at all. What’s motivating me is what kind of candidate Ben would be.”

Tazelaar lamented that some Democrats take internecine party warfare too personally.

“We’re all part of the same family,” he said. “We’re not fighting Germany here. When the dust settles and ultimately somebody wins [the primary], we should all be friends.”

TEASE Be sure to check out our great pre- and post-mortems on the General Assembly session, which wraps up on Monday, in the days ahead.

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