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Del. Brooke E. Lierman (D-Baltimore City) announced Thursday that she plans to run for state comptroller in 2022 — an office she hopes to use to close the racial wealth gap in Maryland.
Lierman called the racial wealth gap in the United States an “abomination” in an interview with Maryland Matters, and said she thinks the state’s next comptroller will be well-positioned to elevate women and minority-owned businesses after the pandemic.
Lierman said she believes that government spending has an impact on private sector wealth. Given the comptroller’s seat on the powerful three-member Board of Public Works, she said the next person to hold that office could make a huge impact on minority-owned businesses in the state.
“The power of the purse really lies, at the end of the day, with the Board of Public Works,” Lierman said. “Not just in the programs and projects that we’re building, but who is doing the building and who is receiving those contracts.”
In a virtual campaign launch event Thursday evening, Lierman promised to address financial insecurity in Maryland by beefing up the comptroller’s regional offices around the state. She hopes to use the regional offices to provide resources such as financial literacy education and housing counseling.
She said she plans to use the comptroller’s massive trove of financial data to create an “Office of Outcome Analysis” that would make sure the state’s programs are running efficiently. She pledged to create a website, “Open Book Maryland,” as a transparent database for state government spending and contracts.
Lierman also wants the state to divest its pension funds from fossil fuel companies that aren’t addressing climate change. Other states, including New York, have taken similar measures.
In her nearly six years as a delegate, Lierman has spearheaded efforts to address a wide range of issues from environmental accountability to collective bargaining rights for student athletes. Some of her allies in the legislature, including Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery) appeared at her virtual event on Thursday to endorse her.
Smith described Lierman as an advocate for Maryland families, citing her work to restrict the suspension or expulsion of young students.
“The bottom line is that she cares about Maryland families and kids, and she brings about the change to make them safer, more prosperous, and healthier,” Smith said.
Some Baltimoreans were also present to endorse Lierman, including Monica Guerrero Vazquez, executive director of Centro SOL, a health center for Latinos in Baltimore. Guerrero Vazquez said Lierman would be a “champion” for immigrant families in Maryland as comptroller.
In addition to supporters who appeared on camera with her, Lierman released a lengthy list of “kickoff event host committee members” from around the state, which featured scores of elected officials, including several fellow state legislators. Lierman has 11 local kickoff events scheduled virtually in early January, before the General Assembly convenes on Jan. 13.
Lierman and other Democratic hopefuls are eyeing the soon-to-be open seat of longtime Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D), who is running for governor. Since he was elected comptroller in 2006, Franchot handily won reelection bids in 2010, 2014 and 2018.
“I think we need to make sure that the next comptroller builds on the work of Peter Franchot,” Lierman said, “and is all in on supporting policies to help close the racial wealth divide that’s so evident in my district and across the state.”
If elected, Lierman would be Maryland’s first woman comptroller.
Others who may try to replace Franchot
Lierman is the first to begin a campaign in earnest, but other Democrats are mulling an attempt to become the state’s top fiscal watchdog.
Among them is Timothy J. Adams, who made history last year when he was elected as Bowie’s first Black mayor. Adams is well-versed in the challenges minority-owned businesses face: He founded the multimillion-dollar defense contracting firm Systems Application & Technologies, and remains its president and CEO.
In a statement to Maryland Matters, Adams said he’s “seriously considering” running for comptroller, and added that he’d announce more definitive plans after the holidays. Adams noted that Maryland is among the wealthiest states in the country, but said the state’s status quo only benefits “a few who want to get richer.”
“The next Comptroller must be a forceful advocate for an economy, a government and a political system that works for everyone and not just the insiders,” Adams said in the statement. “These are the values for which I’ve fought my entire life, and it’s why I’m seriously considering running for Comptroller in 2022.”
Sen. Brian J. Feldman (D-Montgomery County), a certified public accountant and tax lawyer, has also been floated as a potential contender. Like Adams, Feldman said he won’t make a decision on whether he will run until after the holidays.
Montgomery County Council President Tom Hucker (D) has also been mentioned as a potential candidate, but he told Maryland Matters that he doesn’t have the time to campaign. He said he needs to be “laser-focused” on providing assistance to county residents instead of on the campaign trail.
“Nobody on the street that I talk to is thinking about 2022 right now,” Hucker said.
Other potential candidates include state Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D-Prince George’s) and Del. Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery).
Lierman’s early announcement rubbed Progressive Maryland Executive Director Larry Stafford the wrong way. In a statement, Stafford criticized Lierman and Franchot for announcing their 2022 campaigns when they should be focused on securing pandemic relief funds to help families and businesses struggling now.
“I would be ashamed to launch a statewide campaign right now at the height of the pandemic, but especially if I’d spent this year fundraising and playing politics instead of working to secure the immediate relief our working families and businesses need right now to survive,” Stafford wrote.