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Tensions flare at televised Democratic Gubernatorial debate

2022 Maryland Democratic Gubernatorial candidates chat before the MPT/WBAL-TV debate June 6, 2022
Callan Tansill-Suddath
2022 Maryland Democratic Gubernatorial candidates chat before the MPT/WBAL-TV debate June 6, 2022

Most of the Democratic gubernatorial debate hosted by Maryland Public Television and WBAL-TV on Monday was measured and informative.

The candidates talked of how they plan to attract Marylanders who remain loyal to Republican Governor Larry Hogan, and how they plan to tackle crime and the continuing effects of COVID-19.

But around 45 minutes in, things got heated when Deborah Weiner, an anchor and reporter with WBAL, asked each of the eight candidates to characterize their own integrity.

John King spoke of his role as former President Barack Obama’s Secretary of Education in cracking down on for-profit colleges that targeted vulnerable students; like American Military University that Wes Moore was associated with.

“If we're serious about public education,” King said, “then we have to live those values.”

“I have been a public servant for my entire life,” Moore shot back, reminding viewers of his military service and time as CEO of the Robin Hood Foundation, one of the nation’s largest anti-poverty organizations.

“I just haven’t been a politician.”

Then, he turned on Comptroller Peter Franchot, charging that he has taken money from companies that have state contracts.

“No, not once, not twice, but 12 times that has happened, that he has offered a contract to someone who has donated to his campaign,” Moore said. “And so the thing when we're talking about integrity, pay for play is not part of that integrity pledge.”

Franchot said his reputation for integrity is what landed him in first place in a Baltimore Sun-University of Baltimore poll released Sunday.

Tom Perez, a former assistant U.S. Attorney General for Civil Rights delayed answering a question about the gas tax to go after Moore.

“In 2007 to 2012, I was fighting predatory lenders,” Perez said, “And during that same time, Wes was working at Citibank. Citibank was one of many banks that were very bad actors in the foreclosure crisis. I took on big banks. And I personally don't know how working at Citibank is a public service.”

Moore fired back, recalling that Perez received a vote of “no confidence” from the Congressional Black Caucus when he was head of the Democratic National Committee.

“The truth is, Tom, when we're talking about things like what it means to hold people accountable, and what it means to fight for the little guy, the little guy is the one who has actually been oppressed by you,” Moore said.

A poll released Sunday by the Baltimore Sun, the University of Baltimore’s College of Public Affairs, and the Schaefer Center for Public Policy shows Franchot in the lead with 20% of the vote. Moore and Perez have 15% and 12%, respectively. But topping the list at 31% are undecided voters.

Callan Tansill-Suddath is a State House Reporter for WYPR, where she covers the General Assembly.