Maryland Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery Co.) officially announced her selection of the Rev. Delman Coates as her running mate in her bid to become Maryland's first female governor and country's first out lesbian governor at a campaign rally in Silver Spring Wednesday night.
Coates, the pastor of the 8,000-member Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Md., brings racial, gender and – perhaps most importantly – geographic balance to Mizeur's ticket, potentially allowing the campaign to better compete in vote-rich Prince George's County, which is the home base of Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, one of Mizeur's rivals for the Democratic nomination. Mizeur's other Democratic opponent, Doug Gansler, made a similar play for the county's voters by selecting Del. Jolene Ivey (D-Prince George's Co.) as his running mate.
Mizeur insisted, however, in her Wednesday speech before a packed room at the American Legion Post 41 headquarters that she did not choose Coates based on a campaign calculation.
''I am not just picking a running mate for an election season,'' Mizeur said. ''This wasn't a calculation based on how do you win a campaign. I am choosing a partner who is best situated to help me deliver on a shared vision for the future of Maryland.''
Praising Coates as a friend and confidant with a ''brilliant mind and a strong and caring heart,'' Mizuer emphasized Coates's dedication to progressive causes and record of defending social justice throughout his life – including, most prominently, his willingness to stand up for marriage equality, even appearing in ads in late 2012 for the Marylanders for Marriage Equality coalition that urged voters to approve Question 6, the ballot initiative allowing same-sex couples to obtain Maryland marriage licenses.
''[Coates] is known as a charismatic leader, an innovative thinker, and a risk-taking change agent,'' Mizeur said. ''Our efforts to pass marriage equality in the state Legislature had one pivotal moment: the moment that Pastor Coates led a group of ministers and faith leaders to testify in favor of the legislation.''
''This is a man who knows how to move mountains by word and action,'' Mizeur continued. ''And every candidate for statewide office in the state of Maryland comes before Pastor Delman Coates seeking his blessing. I asked for his partnership.''
Both Mizeur and Coates mentioned a number of progressive causes on which their campaign is based, including universal preschool, child care affordability, an end to high-stakes educational testing, environmental safeguards against ''fracking,'' support for small businesses, the imposition of a ''millionaire's tax'' and stopping the ''war on drugs.'' Mizeur implored those present to become actively involved in the campaign and become part of the ''grassroots army'' they would need to beat their well-known and well-funded opponents.
Taking the stage to chants of ''Delman! Delman!'' Coates said he was joining Mizeur's campaign with ''great enthusiasm'' in the hope of bringing about ''transformational change.'' Noting that he is the only member of the three Democratic slates that does not have a background in politics, Coates said he was nonetheless qualified to serve as the state's lieutenant governor.
''I don't come bearing a political title, or long history in elective office,'' Coates said. ''But while I have not been elected to public office, that does not mean I have not been serving the public. My life's work has been on the front lines of our biggest community issues, working with families impacted by foreclosures, advocating for individuals reintegrating into society after a prison sentence, and fighting for equal marriage rights for all Marylanders.''
Coates also took what could be interpreted as a swipe against Mizeur's rivals for the nomination, as Brown seeks to become Maryland's first African-American governor and Ivey seeks to become the first female African-American lieutenant governor.
''You already know that every candidate in this race is historic, and that's important,'' Coates said, adding in a joke that he believes he would be the first ''completely bald'' lieutenant governor. ''It's what makes being a part of a pluralistic democratic society exciting. But people care mostly about results, not identity politics.
''When Heather first approached me about her campaign and told me she was running, the first thing she said to me was, 'Delman, this campaign is not about making history. It's about making a difference,''' Coates recounted. ''This campaign is about transformational change, and not transactional politics.''
Though Mizeur trails significantly in polls – a Gonzales Research poll from October showed Brown leading Gansler and Mizeur by a 41-21-5 margin – her supporters think she still has potential to become a viable alternative to the other two Democrats running, particularly if she can increase her name recognition and solicit funding or endorsements from outside groups, such as the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which has not yet made an endorsement in the governor's race.
Kevin Walling, a former staffer with LGBT rights organization Equality Maryland and a candidate for the House of Delegates in District 16 in Montgomery County who considers Mizeur a mentor and friend, handicapped Mizeur's chances.
''I think she's right in it,'' Walling said. ''If you look at the percentage of women who vote in Democratic primaries, it's 62 percent. … You're going to see a lot of time and effort spent between the lieutenant governor and the attorney general, spending a lot of time taking each other on head-to-head, and Heather's got a real good shot of running right up the middle with a positive campaign.''
Walling pushed back against narratives that claim that the candidates for governor – through their running mate selections – have snubbed or abandoned the Baltimore area. He noted that Mizeur is frequently holding events in and traveling back and forth between Baltimore City and the other areas of the state. He also warned not to underestimate Mizeur's chances, saying she impresses wherever she goes.
''I was in a meeting today with some people from the labor community, and they said she was a total rock star when she spoke to the building trades,'' Walling said. ''When she's out there in the community, connecting with people, she can't be beat. And neither can Delman. There's no question, when I was at Equality Maryland, Delman was an integral part to speaking to the African-American church community about the need for marriage equality. He helped lead the fight. … He was the boots on the ground that really carried the day and pushed us forward in those communities on marriage. So I think it's a great team.''