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Laura Neuman officially joined the Democratic race for governor Monday, releasing a dramatic four-minute video that charts her rise from humble, volatile beginnings in East Baltimore to the pinnacles of business and Maryland politics.
Neuman, who served as Anne Arundel County executive in 2013 and 2014 — as a Republican — becomes the first woman in a 10-candidate Democratic field.
“I wasn’t supposed to make it this far,” Neuman says in the campaign video, which she mostly narrates. “I wasn’t supposed to make it anywhere, really.”
She then unspools her from-the-bootstraps life story: Growing up in poverty, the victim of domestic abuse. A high school dropout who lived in a Pontiac for six months. Raped at age 18, two weeks after she moved into her own apartment — a case that took decades to solve, because police initially doubted her story.
“I did not feel seen, I did not feel heard, and respect wasn’t even part of the discussion,” Neuman says in the video. “I ultimately realized that if I was going to be successful I would have to bet on myself and prove myself.”
From there, the narrative becomes decidedly more upbeat: Neuman built a career in business, eventually earning an MBA from Loyola University in Baltimore even though she only obtained a GED and never went to college. She became a tech entrepreneur and business consultant, and later became the economic development director in Howard County.
In 2013, Neuman applied for and was appointed Anne Arundel County executive, defeating better-known candidates, taking over from scandal-plagued John R. Leopold (R).
“I made [county government] more transparent, made it more efficient and I won the praise of both parties,” she says in the video.
Around the same time, Neuman’s rapist, who, she says, turned out to be “the worst serial offender in Maryland history,” was ultimately captured, providing justice and closure to many of his victims.
“Knowing that each of those women had their day in court is the thing I’m most proud of,” she says.
Neuman sought a full term as county executive in 2014, but was defeated in the Republican primary by then-state Del. Steve Schuh, who was considerably more conservative and had greater political experience. Neuman has since moved away from the GOP, first becoming an independent and then a Democrat, as she concluded that she was out of sync with the party, particularly on issues like abortion rights and same-sex marriage.
She has since returned to the world of business and economic development, serving 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 is now personally prosperous, living in North Baltimore with her two teenaged children. But she is clearly banking on connecting with voters by telling them about her early years of financial and emotional privation.
In her announcement video, Neuman says she was moved to run for governor after meeting a boy who lives in her old East Baltimore rowhouse. He too feels unsafe, attends underperforming schools, and wonders about his future.
“We have failed this child,” she asserts. And at the end of her ad, she says, “People may not have seen the potential in me, but I see the potential in everyone.”
In the Democratic gubernatorial field, Neuman is hardly the only candidate with a rags-to-riches story. Former Obama administration Education Secretary John B. King Jr., author and former nonprofit CEO Wes Moore, and former Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez have all spoken about growing up in tenuous economic circumstances, after their fathers died young (in King’s case, he lost both parents by the time he was 12).
But Neuman will now occupy a unique position as the only woman in the race, and her presence will certainly be noteworthy any time the candidates appear together publicly. The question is whether she can capitalize on that status.
While many Maryland Democrats were embarrassed by the fact that a woman had not gotten into the primary, Neuman isn’t nearly as well known as many of the other candidates. Although she has been hitting campaign-style events for the past several months and publicly announced that she was exploring a run for governor last month, she doesn’t have strong connections with party regulars or activists in women’s groups. And she’s getting a late start for a primary that’s just 5 1/2 months away.
It also isn’t clear how Neuman plans to fill out the narrative about her campaign and its goals. Her new campaign website features short statements on seven issues: economy, education, transportation, environment, civil rights, health care and housing.
But Neuman seems unfazed.
“Where I came from,” she says in her video, “people get written off all the time.”