Laura Neuman explores run for Md. governor

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A woman may join the Democratic primary for governor at long last.

Former Anne Arundel County Executive Laura A. Neuman, who served as a Republican but has since re-registered as a Democrat, is setting up a campaign committee and will spend the next few weeks making a final decision about whether to run. The committee formally appeared on the Maryland State Board of Elections website on Monday evening, and Maryland Matters has learned that Neuman is in the early stages of assembling a staff and has already conducted a poll ahead of her deliberations.

Neuman would become the 10th Democrat competing in the June 28 primary — and the first woman.

“I’m exploring a run for governor because I believe every Marylander should have access to opportunity, regardless of where their story starts,” she said in a statement provided to Maryland Matters on Monday.

Neuman has a compelling life story — from a turbulent childhood in East Baltimore, to success as a tech entrepreneur, to a short but dynamic stint in Maryland politics — and her entry into the race would instantly change the terrain in the Democratic primary.

But she isn’t as well-known with party activists and primary voters as many of the other contenders, and she is getting a relatively late start, especially compared with candidates who have been in elective office — or in the public eye — for far longer.

Still, her presence in the race could be galvanizing for some voters, both women and men, who have been dismayed by the Democrats’ inability up to now to attract a single woman into the race — especially when there are no women in the state’s congressional delegation and when the Republican frontrunner, state Commerce Secretary Kelly M. Schulz, is a woman.

Neuman, 56, is also hoping that her biography can serve as an inspiration for voters.

She’s a high school dropout who was raped in her Baltimore apartment at the age of 18 and then waited almost 20 years before the perpetrator was brought to justice. She built a career in business, eventually earning an MBA from Loyola University even though she only obtained a GED and never went to college in her younger years. She became a tech entrepreneur and business consultant, and later did government economic development work.

“I grew up in East Baltimore, had to forge my own way as an entrepreneur without finishing high school or college, and spent 19 years pushing the police to investigate my rape case,” Neuman told Maryland Matters. “I believe the path to opportunity and justice should not be that hard.”

From 2011 to 2013, Neuman served as CEO at the Howard County Economic Development Authority, working closely with the Democratic county executive, Ken Ulman. Then, following the resignation of scandal-scarred Anne Arundel County executive John R. Leopold (R) in early 2013, Neuman, an Annapolis resident at the time, applied to replace him.

Laura Neuman, a former Republican who served as interim Anne Arundel County executive, chats with visitors at the J. Millard Tawes Clam Bake and Crab Feast this year. (Courtesy Maryland Matters/Danielle E. Gaines)

The field of applicants eventually swelled to 16, and included then-Del. Steve Schuh (R), the Acting County Executive John Hammond, former County Executive John Gary (R), former Maryland first lady Kendel Ehrlich, and Phil Bisset (R), a former state lawmaker. But Neuman eventually emerged as the appointee after the three Democratic members of the county council teamed with one Republican to put her over the top (the other three Republicans on the council sided with Schuh).

Neuman and Schuh then squared off in the 2014 Republican primary. Neuman raised about $500,000, but Schuh, who was more conservative and had a far longer history in county politics, prevailed, 54.3% to 45.7%.

Since then, Neuman has become a Democrat again — she was a registered Democrat until she was in her early 30’s — and has largely endorsed Democratic candidates in state and local races, including Steuart Pittman, Schuh’s successful challenger in 2018. More recently, she has endorsed Del. Brooke E. Lierman (D-Baltimore City) for state comptroller.

Professionally, Neuman currently serves as an executive in residence at the University of Maryland College Park, where she is a business mentor in the Office of Technology Commercialization. She is also an adviser with Lattus, a Pittsburgh-based business management firm, is a partner in a Baltimore-based venture capital group, and serves on several boards and commissions.

Neuman lives in North Baltimore with her husband, Paul D. Volkman, an executive at a software company, and their two teenaged children.

While she hasn’t been as ubiquitous as some of the other candidates for governor, Neuman has hit some key events this fall, such as the J. Millard Tawes Clam Bake and Crab Feast in Crisfield (where her family owns a home) and the Montgomery County Business Hall of Fame lunch.

If she ultimately runs for governor, it isn’t clear if national women’s groups like EMILY’s List will get behind her campaign, or where she’ll fit in in a field of candidates that’s mostly pushed to the left so far. Political professionals who have spoken to her said they expect she will emphasize her own humble beginnings and political journey and attempt to contrast them with the Ivy League educations and longtime political careers of some of her Democratic primary foes.

Neuman told Maryland Matters Monday that she expected to make a final decision on joining the gubernatorial race “in the coming weeks.”

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