New Democratic Party leader promises to work ‘in every corner’ of Maryland

Published 11/20/2023 3:26 p.m. EST, Updated 11/20/2023 5:50 p.m. EST

The new leaders of the Maryland Democratic Party, First Vice Chair Charlene Dukes, left, and Chair Ken Ulman, center, are joined by Gov. Wes Moore at the party's election on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023 at a union hall in Prince George's County.

Ken Ulman knows what it’s like to win elections and he knows what it’s like to lose — and now he’s in charge of helping Maryland Democrats secure victory up and down the ballot.

Ulman was overwhelmingly elected chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party by party officials on Saturday, kicking off a new challenge for the former Howard County executive who now is a plugged-in consultant.

He takes over for former party chair Yvette Lewis, who stepped down this fall after leading the party to record fundraising levels and helping win back the governor’s mansion.

Though he’s still forming his plan for leading the party, Ulman said Democrats need to have strategies for outreach and success in all 24 jurisdictions, even rural counties that Democrats may have written off in the past.

“I love every corner of the state. I know every corner of the state,” Ulman said.

Ulman has a deep history in Maryland politics. After graduating from the University of Maryland, he was a staffer and strategist. He went to law school and was elected to the Howard County Council in 2002, followed by two terms as Howard County executive from 2006 to 2014.

In 2014, Ulman ran for lieutenant governor alongside gubernatorial candidate Anthony Brown. The two lost out to Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan and his running mate Boyd Rutherford in an election that shocked many Democrats.

“I’ve learned a lot in successful elections ... and I also know about an unsuccessful election in 2014, and I bring some lessons learned there as well,” Ulman said.

One lesson learned is that Democrats need to avoid complacency. Though the Democratic Party dominates in much of Maryland, Ulman said the party can’t assume it will always succeed.

Maryland may be a strong blue state, he said, “but we can’t take anything for granted.”

In the 2024 election, Democrats will work to hold on to two open U.S. House of Representatives seats and one open U.S. Senate seat, as well as secure an amendment to the state’s constitution guaranteeing reproductive rights.

Ulman said Democrats in Maryland also need to do their part to reelect President Joe Biden.

“We have democracy on the ballot in the presidential race,” he said.

Ulman said he was asked to run for party chair by Gov. Wes Moore, who as governor is the de facto top Democrat in the state. Ulman got a call “out of the blue” from Moore, whom he considers a friend.

“He said, ‘Are you sitting down?’” Ulman recalled. “I said, ‘Uh-oh.’ He said, ‘I need you to serve.’ I said, ‘OK, what are we talking about?’”

Ulman said Moore was “very persuasive” and convinced him that he should go for it. Ulman then set out to get to know party central committee members who would vote in the election, which involved many phone calls and Zoom meetings.

Ulman plans to balance his work with the party with his work at Margrave Strategies, a consulting firm he founded that is deeply involved in growth in and around the University of Maryland, College Park.

Ulman said he’ll serve as party chair on a volunteer basis, “but that doesn’t mean a limited basis.”

Democrats also elected Charlene Dukes, former president of Prince George’s Community College, as first vice chair.

More from The Banner