When the word got out in Maryland political circles that Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz was considering former Montgomery County Councilwoman Valerie Ervin to join his Democratic gubernatorial ticket as his running mate, reactions were mixed, ranging up and down on a sliding scale of wow to worry.
Incidentally, A Miner Detail was the first Maryland media outlet to report Kamenetz was considering choosing Ervin to run alongside him as his lieutenant governor.
Several Montgomery County politicians and political insiders immediately reaped praise onto Ervin, hailing the pick as nothing short of game-changing. Other politicians, however, reserved fewer kind words for Ervin, with some even referring to the first African-American female elected to Montgomery County’s County Council as “crazy.”
But one universal sentiment emerged amid the mixture of reactions: Valerie Ervin is a powerful political force in Maryland politics – love her or disdain her, and never, ever cross her.
An unlikely political duo – Ervin, a staunch progressive with deep ties to unions; Kamenetz, a technocratic workhouse with a moderate, business-friendly record – both share a wealth of combined experience in their respective county governments.
First elected to the Baltimore County Council in 1994, Kamenetz was re-elected three times, serving a total of 16 years as a county councilman. In 2010, Kamenetz ran for county executive and won a four-year term. He ran again in 2014 and won a second term as the county’s chief executive.
Ervin, who lives in Silver Spring, got her start in politics as an education advocate. She was elected to the Montgomery County Board of Education in 2004 and served only two years until she ran successfully and was elected to the Montgomery County Council in 2006. She was re-elected to the Council in 2010 but resigned her seat in December 2013 to take a job with the New York-based Working Families organization, a non-profit that promotes economic and social justice for low-income families.
Since joining Kamenetz’s ticket, Ervin has far exceeded her role as Kamenetz’s number-two, charming small and large audiences alike and proving her policy chops among scores of some of Maryland’s most educated voters.
Where Kamenetz may lack in likeability and personality, Ervin’s raw, salt-of-the-earth compassion and genuineness erase some of the doubts Democratic voters may have about Kamenetz. After all, Maryland Democrats say Kamenetz, fairly or unfairly, has a likeability deficit.
Soft-spoken but nonetheless impassioned, Ervin shines in front of Democrats on the campaign trail. Democratic voters say Ervin is instantly likable and relatable.
“Nothing Valerie says is contrived, which is a refreshing difference from her running mate, who can appear cold and calculating,” one prominent Montgomery County activist told A Miner Detail.
An undecided Montgomery County Democratic voter said of Ervin, “Kamenetz has gotten a lot better on the campaign trail talking to Democrats, but Ervin makes everything Kamenetz says actually believable.”
Perhaps Ervin, Kamenetz’s top surrogate on the campaign trail, is Kamenetz’s political whisperer.
Poll after poll shows Kamentz lagging behind Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker and sometimes tied with former NAACP chief Ben Jealous. Kamenetz, not aloof to political realities, knew that by choosing Ervin as his number-two, her star power in many of Maryland’s African-American and labor communities could ultimately bolster his chances.
Ervin, moreover, still maintains a strong base of political support in Montgomery County – the neck of the woods where Kamenetz still lacks significant political support.
Whether Kamenetz – who has more cash on hand than any of his Democratic rivals, according to the latest campaign finance reports – will pull out a victory on June 26 is still completely up in the air. The polls show that Maryland Democratic voters are still largely undecided on whom they want to see take on popular Republican Gov. Larry Hogan in November.
Whatever happens, Kamenetz will and should be remembered for making an audacious choice in choosing Valerie Ervin as his best salesman.