By Hamil Harris, Special to the AFRO

Maryland Public Television hosted a Democratic gubernatorial debate in Baltimore where eight contenders on stage, and one on video. tried to distinguish themselves in a race where the current Republican Governor has more money in his war chest than all of his opponents combined.

The nine candidates offered their condolences to the team and family of former Baltimore County Executive and candidate Kevin Kamenetz who died May 10. Since his death, his running mate for Lieutenant Governor,  Valerie Ervin has taken his place and during her opening remarks she said that she was “running the last leg” of a race that was began by Kamenetz.

Gubernatorial candidates Left to Right Krish Vignarajah, Rushern L. Baker III, Valerie Ervin and Ben Jealous. (Courtesy Photos)

The panelist, which included MPT’s Charles Robinson and former state delegate Clarence Mitchell IV, questioned  the  candidates on what they planned to do if elected in terms education, public safety, health and small business development.

Since the eight candidates only had 90 seconds to answer very little ground was covered in terms of depth.

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker has been seen as the front runner in the race for months. He said in the age of Republicans, from President Trump to Governor Larry Hogan, “We are in the fight of our lives.”

Citing his mother being raised in a Baltimore public housing projects, former NAACP President Ben Jealous highlighted his humble Baltimore roots to say that he is more sensitive to the needs of the poor.

“If you want to make Donald Trump mad vote for a Civil Rights leader,” Jealous said. “I was named person of the year by the Baltimore Sun for my fight for the Marriage Equality Act and Dreamers.

When each candidates was asked about the one thing  they would do to improve education, Jealous said  that he would “fully fund,” education programs, Ervin and Baker  both said they would put more money in the schools.

Krish Vignarajah, a former aide to Michelle Obama, said the schools and education couldn’t be more critical because too many students are dying of drug overdoses and are “freezing in classrooms.”

Ervin said if she were elected she would work to restore the $900 Million Hogan cut to build Baltimore’s redline train and in terms of public safety she would invest more in the police department to restore trust in the community.

The other African American in the race is James Jones, a resident from Baltimore City.

The other candidates on stage included Sen. Richard S. Madaleno, high tech entrepreneur Alec Ross,   lawyer Jim Shea and Ralph Jaffe, a teacher who has run for Governor four other times.

One person watching this race closely is Theresa Dudley, President of the Teachers Union, weighed in on the race. “We are very saddened by the death of Kevin Kamenetz. Our endorsement of Ben Jealous remains the same,” Dudley told the AFRO.  “I think Jealous verses Hogan, Jealous is going to win.”

Rev. Henry P. Davis, Pastor of the First Baptist Church Of Highland Park, said “The upcoming primary election should be taken very seriously as should any opportunity to participate in the electoral process.”

While Davis said the governor’s race is important, he contends that people need to pay attention to all candidates for elected office.

“Many could focus their attention only on the gubernatorial candidates, but we cannot miss the importance of those running for the other offices that can be found on the ballot,” he told the AFRO.