By Josh Kurtz
Michael Rosenbaum, a Baltimore tech entrepreneur who has been active in the city’s civic and philanthropic scene for the past two decades, is entering the Democratic race for governor.
Rosenbaum is releasing a 2 1/2-minute announcement video Tuesday outlining the rationale behind his candidacy.
In an interview Monday, Rosenbaum said of all the candidates, he is best equipped to prepare Maryland for the post-pandemic recovery.
“I think that we in Maryland are going to be looking for someone who can build an economy on the other side of COVID,” he said.
For two decades, Rosenbaum, 49, has run companies that aim to take workers from low-income backgrounds and train them for high-tech and health care jobs for which they might not otherwise be prepared or qualified. The mission, he said, “is built on the idea that talent is equally distributed but opportunity is not.”
Rosenbaum said he would try to apply the same principles to state government, of creating sustainable careers with living wages, and would assemble an administration that asks, “How do we find everybody’s superpower?”
“The fact that there is poverty in Maryland, or any kind of lack of opportunity or mobility, is really a travesty,” he said.
Rosenbaum grew up in Bethesda, attended the elite St. Alban’s prep school in Washington, D.C., received his B.A. from Harvard University, and then earned a masters degree from the London School of Economics and Politics and a law degree from Harvard.
He served in the U.S. State Department, where he worked on trade issues, and in the Clinton White House, focusing on tech, labor, urban and rural policy for the Council of Economic Advisers and Vice President Al Gore. He later worked as a law clerk for a U.S. Court of Appeals judge and practiced law at the D.C. firm Hogan & Hartson.
Rosenbaum said observing the legal system up close gave him insight into “how a set of systems works,” and also taught him that even when government allocates more money for the criminal justice system, the streets don’t necessarily become safer. He makes similar observations about the U.S. education and health care systems.
After his work for the federal government and his nascent legal career, Rosenbaum “made a bet on Baltimore,” in his words, maxed out his credit cards, and started his first tech company, Catalyte, a software engineering firm. More than six years ago, he started a second company called Arena Analytics, which places health care workers at hospitals and medical facilities across the country.
Rosenbaum’s civic work includes serving as a trustee of Johns Hopkins University – whose Homewood campus in Baltimore is just two blocks from his house, which he shares with his wife, a public health professional, and their two teenaged daughters. He is a trustee of the Baltimore Museum of Art, which is also not far from his neighborhood, and has been involved with other foundations and nonprofits in Baltimore.
Growing up, Rosenbaum accompanied his mother, a teacher and school principal, to political events in Montgomery County, where she was a regular volunteer for David L. Scull, a Democratic member of the House of Delegates and later the County Council.
“I used to lick envelopes and knock on doors with her,” he recalled, “so I’ve been involved in politics in a very grass-roots way.” As a young man, he co-founded the District 16 Democratic Club.
But “as a civic leader, as a business leader in the greater Baltimore area for some time, I’ve been involved with sort of helping political leaders and government leaders think of a set of questions, work on a set of questions,” Rosenbaum said.
Asked to assess the tenure of Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), who is term-limited in 2022, Rosenbaum said, “The governor has led us through an incredibly difficult time and he deserves lots of credit for that. But I think the next governor is going to have to deal with a very different set of issues.”
Just as Rosenbaum has helped political leaders address questions and challenges, he’s ready to pose some questions – and offer possible solutions – for the voters to consider.
“The systems that we have in place don’t work,” he said. “And the fact that I have spent over 20 years building companies that successfully challenge these systems, leading to all these pathways to economic mobility – I think that’s the question we’re going to be asking of our next governor: How do we build that economy, who can build that economy, and how can we challenge these systems and assumptions and build the kind of economy that we’re going to need?”
Asked if he planned to self-fund his campaign, Rosenbaum said, “I expect to fundraise.” He argued that doing so would help him build a campaign organization and “a governing coalition.”
Rosenbaum is entering a Democratic field that is growing ever more crowded.
Already in the Democratic race for governor: Former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot, former Obama administration official Ashwani Jain, and former U.S. Education Secretary John B. King Jr.
Nonprofit executive Jon Baron has created an exploratory committee ahead of a possible gubernatorial bid. Likely to run: Former Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, foundation executive and best-selling author Wes Moore, and former Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez.
The newly-minted candidate said that even with his political contacts and experience, he realizes that he is about to embark on a whole new phase of his political involvement.
“I’m incredibly excited to be going around the state,” Rosenbaum said, “and talking to folks about these ideas.”