By Josh Kurtz
A Baltimore tech entrepreneur and author is seriously considering running for governor this election cycle, according to multiple Democratic sources — and some say he has begun to talk to consultants and potential staffers about putting together a campaign.
Alec Ross is a 45-year-old distinguished senior fellow at Johns Hopkins University who worked for Hillary Clinton at the State Department and is the author of a highly-acclaimed book, “The Industries of the Future.” [see his website here: http://alecross.com/]
“I think he’s very seriously exploring,” said state Sen. Bill Ferguson (D), who talked to Ross about his interest in the gubernatorial race about a month ago.
While Ross did not respond to messages left on his home telephone and by email over the past two days, he has upped his political profile in recent weeks and has dropped hints on social media that he is on the verge of making a major announcement.
“Working HARD and looking forward to sharing plans soon,” he wrote on his personal Facebook page Saturday. “Needs time to develop a little out of sight, but soon.”
On a separate Facebook page, Ross has begun jabbing Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and is attempting to tie Hogan to the policies of President Trump. One post last week linked to a Washington Post article on the possibility of drastic cuts to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay cleanup program.
“If Larry Hogan can’t stop his fellow Republican from doing this then he’s pretty useless,” Ross wrote.
Last month, when the Maryland General Assembly was passing legislation to allow the state attorney general to sue the federal government without the governor’s permission, Ross posted: “Fairly disgusted that the Donald Trump-appeasing Governor of Maryland will not let our attorney general do his job. Larry Hogan is not defending our values or our constitutional rights.”
Ross briefed the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee in Annapolis earlier in the General Assembly session about economic and technological trends. He was also interviewed recently about his new book on C-SPAN (see the interview at https://www.c-span.org/video/?419580-1/industries-future).
During the C-SPAN interview, he said that his involvement in President Obama’s campaign in 2008 heightened his interest in politics and “set me on the path that I’m on now.”
Just how advanced Ross’ campaign planning is could not be immediately determined. One elected Democrat said he has heard that Ross “is telling people he can raise big money.”
Another source said Ross is already conferring with at least two national Democratic strategists who have Maryland experience: David Dixon, a veteran media consultant who worked for former Gov. Martin O’Malley‘s (D) 2010 re-election campaign, and Oren Shur, who was press secretary for Sen. Ben Cardin (D) when Cardin won his first statewide race in 2006 and briefly served as his communications director on Capitol Hill. Most recently, Shur was director of paid media for Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Dixon did not respond to a phone message left Monday at his Washington, D.C., office. Shur did not respond to a message sent to his Twitter page.
Ross is well off but probably not in a position to self-fund his campaign, sources said. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, he has contributed $4,950 to federal political candidates since 2007 – Obama and Clinton primarily, along with $250 to Josh Gottheimer, a Clinton administration insider who won a congressional seat in New Jersey last fall. According to state campaign finance records, Ross donated $250 to Anthony Brown in 2014.
Ross does not appear to have reached out extensively to senior Democratic elected officials in Maryland, but does talk regularly with community leaders, nonprofit executives, philanthropists and political thinkers in Baltimore.
“It caught me by surprise that he was interested” in running for governor, Ferguson said. “I didn’t expect that conversation.”
Ferguson called Ross “highly impressive – he’s been incredibly successful in government and outside of government.”
Ross lives in the Homeland neighborhood of Baltimore with his wife, Felicity Messner Ross, who teaches in the Roland Park Middle School Ingenuity Program, and his three school-aged children.
He grew up in Charleston, W.Va., and worked as a night-time janitor in a local bar. He attended Northwestern University, earning a degree in History, and then came to Baltimore in the Teach for America program, where he was assigned to Booker T. Washington Middle School (his future wife taught across the hallway).
After that, Ross mostly worked in the technology and financial sectors, according to his LinkedIn page. He co-founded the One Economy Corporation, a nonprofit which worked to bring the Internet to lower-income communities. He then served as a technology policy adviser to the Obama campaign, and landed a job as a senior adviser for innovation under Clinton at the State Department, where he spent four years working on the intersection between technology and foreign policy.
Since leaving the State Department in March 2013, Ross has concentrated on writing, academic work, assisting certain high tech companies and community service. He has been at Hopkins for about a year and a half, where he focuses on how emerging technologies impact geopolitics and global economics.
“I think we need to rewrite our social contract,” Ross said during his C-SPAN interview, arguing that most government policies were designed for the industrial age and not the current, information-driven era.
“I do think you need some brand-new thinking about it and it doesn’t really fall across the traditional right-left, Democrat-Republican binary.”
Veteran Baltimore state Sen. Nathaniel McFadden (D) said Monday night that he knew of Ross and his work by reputation, but had not met him. He was surprised to hear that Ross was thinking of running for governor.
“I wish him luck,” McFadden said. “I hope he knows what he’s getting into.”
Other potential Democratic candidates for governor include Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, U.S. Rep. John Delaney, former state Attorney General Doug Gansler, former NAACP President Ben Jealous, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and House Appropriations Chairwoman Maggie McIntosh.
Ferguson, who like Ross is a Teach for America alumnus, said Ross is still doing his due diligence, reaching out to an array of people for advice.
“I think he’s got a long road ahead of him,” Ferguson said.
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