The Democratic primary for the Maryland Court of Accounts could be historic

In the race for the Democratic nominee for the Maryland Court of Auditors, a connected state delegate goes up against a wealthy defense contractor – both of whom would make history if elected.

Bowie Mayor Tim Adams would become the first African American and first paraplegic to hold the statewide office, while Del. Brooke E. Lierman (D-Baltimore City) would be the first woman. The winner of the July 19 primary election faces Harford County executive Barry Glassman (R) in the general election.

In television commercials and interviews, Adams emphasizes his business background and leadership experience, while Lierman emphasizes her legislative expertise and understanding of how government works. Both say they want to make changes to increase competition for large government contracts.

They are vying to replace Peter Franchot, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor who has been comptroller since 2006. The Comptroller serves a four-year term and, unlike the Governor, is not limited to two terms. The office was last open in 1998.

Lierman had the financial advantage in early June, according to the latest campaign finance reports, leaving her $1.5 million to fund the campaign’s crucial final weeks.

Adams, who is self-funding his campaign, has contributed more than $2 million and had about $965,800 in cash on hand, reports show.

According to a recent Goucher College poll, Lierman leads Adams with 28 percent to 14 percent voter support, but more than half of voters — 52 percent — were undecided as of mid-June.

“It’s the most important office you’ve never heard of,” said Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Center for Politics at Goucher College. “People don’t pay attention to the day-to-day of taxpayer money and refunds of unclaimed property.”

With inflation rising and warnings of a recession, Lierman and Adams say accountability for government finances is more important than ever.

The primary responsibility of the State Comptroller, known as the state’s chief financial officer or accountant, is to collect approximately $16 billion in taxes annually, including taxes on individual and corporate income, sales, gasoline, alcohol and tobacco. The office also handles information technology for the state and pays the state’s bills and employees’ paychecks. The agency has 1,100 employees and a budget of $110 million.

Lierman, 43, lives in Fells Point. She is a civil rights and disability attorney with the Baltimore law firm of Brown Goldstein and Levy. Her father, Terry Lierman, is a former leader of the Maryland Democratic Party.

During the legislature, she served for five years on the House Appropriations Committee and vice chair of the Environment and Transportation Committee; She also sits on the Oversight Committee on Pensions and is a co-founder of the Maryland Transit Caucus.

Lierman last session sponsored successful legislation that divested the pension fund from Russia and asked the Board of Trustees of the Maryland State Retirement and Pension System to consider the impact of climate change on investments.

She also led a coalition to create a community-based gun violence prevention program that is poised to receive federal dollars under legislation passed in Congress in late June, a development that puts Maryland ahead of other states, she said.

“I’ve tried to think ahead to make sure Maryland is set up so that we can attract and use available federal funds in thoughtful ways and channel them to communities that need them,” she said.

The availability of federal infrastructure funds, available as the nation emerges from the pandemic, gives the state a chance “over the next four years to change the face of Maryland for the better for the next 40 years,” she said.

Lierman said that if she were elected comptroller, she would work to minimize single-source contracts, prioritize Maryland-based companies and invest in minority-owned companies. She wants to modernize the tax office and perform data analysis to ensure businesses pay their fair share of taxes and families reap benefits like the income tax credit. She worked on creating a legal department within the Court of Auditors that can write legally binding letters to let companies know how certain tax laws apply to them.

She also wants to refocus on the Comptroller’s 12 field offices to have a presence in the community, such as holding meetings with church groups and senior centers to talk about financial education and tax preparation services to ultimately build more financially resilient communities.

Lierman has touted the support of high-profile Maryland Democrats, including US House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, US Rep. Jamie B. Raskin and Prince George’s County Executive Secretary Angela D. Alsobrooks. She was also endorsed by Afro and The Washington Post (the newspaper’s editorial and news departments are separate).

While Lierman has ties to established Democrats, Adams is entering the race from the private sector.

Adams, 63, is the founder and CEO of Systems Application & Technologies, a national defense and security company based in Upper Marlboro with approximately 700 employees in 23 states and nearly $100 million in annual sales. SA-TECH tests military weapon systems and aircraft.

Adams said he had to overcome significant obstacles, including federal contracts written to prevent new, small and minority-owned companies from competing. As a result, Adams says, he can identify contracts that are narrowly tailored to reduce competition.

He was elected Bowie’s first black mayor in 2018, a bipartisan role. Adams, who sits on Luminis Health’s board of directors, said he created a city health officer to expose inequalities affecting underserved communities and prioritize care for the elderly, a key role amid the coronavirus.

Adams said an accident 15 years ago left him with a spinal cord injury but strengthened his faith and gave him a chance to help others. As mayor, he personally visited city facilities to ensure they were wheelchair accessible.

“I’m someone who not only broke those barriers because of my race and socioeconomic status, but also had an accident and became a quadriplegic. That didn’t stop me, that didn’t stop me from running my business,” he said.

Adams said 30 years in business, as mayor, and his philanthropic activities prepared him to be an auditor because he knows “what it really means to do payroll” and understands that diversity creates more competition, which leads to “more innovation and lower prices”.

As an auditor, he said he would initiate a top-down audit of all tax credits, identify which companies are not paying their fair share, and hold them accountable. He said he wasn’t intimidated by the large number of undecided voters.

“Voters are just starting to tune in,” Adams said. “If you read about my life, you will understand that I have overcome great adversity throughout my life.”

Adams said he largely self-funds his campaign to ensure voters hear his credentials and said he is not from the “political elite”. He campaigned for Del’s support. Darryl Barnes (D), Chair of the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus, and Melony G. Griffith, pro tempore President of the Maryland Senate.

“I have led a large organization not only through the pandemic but also through two recessions,” he said. “That’s why you need an experienced manager. … I don’t have to learn on the job. I know how to get through difficult times. I did it.” The Democratic primary for the Maryland Court of Accounts could be historic

Dustin Huang

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