Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Alec Ross has selected Denizens Brewing Co. co-owner Julie Verratti as his running mate for lieutenant governor.
Though Ross’s choice creates a ticket of candidates who have never been elected to public office, he believes the pair’s previous government experience and business knowledge will convince Democratic primary voters to choose them.
The choice also broadens the reach of the campaign to include Ross’s base in Baltimore and Verratti’s in Montgomery County—two locations that are home to more than 600,000 registered Democrats in the state.
Verratti, 38, founded Denizens in downtown Silver Spring in 2014 with her wife, Emily Bruno, and brother-in-law Jeff Ramirez. Prior to that she worked as an adviser at the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Ross, 46, previously served as senior adviser for innovation at the State Department when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state. He’s pursuing the Democratic nomination for governor in the June 26 primary against candidates including Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, state Sen. Richard Madaleno (D-Kensington), former NAACP President Benjamin Jealous, Baltimore attorney James Shea and former Michelle Obama aide Krishanti Vignarajah.
Whoever emerges from that crowded field will face off in November against Republican incumbent Gov. Larry Hogan, who remains popular in the state.
Ross and Verratti first met in Rockville in September when Ross was a guest at a meeting of the Democratic Business Council of Maryland; Verratti serves as a founding board member. He said she stood out by asking smart questions while wearing a leather jacket among a crowd of people in suits and business wear.
“I was like, ‘I need to get to know this woman,’ ” Ross said. “I was determined to get to know her and that was the beginning of the relationship.”
He said her combination of small business experience and activism led him to choose her as his running mate.
“Julie and her wife, Emily, represent the essence of Maryland values including diversity, entrepreneurship and activism,” Ross said.
Verratti was born in Montgomery County and lives in Silver Spring. She attended Montgomery College before getting a bachelor’s degree from Brandeis University and a law degree from George Washington University.
She said she had no plans to run for elected office until Ross convinced her to do so.
“He’s one of the only candidates I hear talking about higher education policy and not just everyone must go to college, but looking at the industries of the future, using our community colleges to train people for the skills that they need,” Verratti said. “Neither of us have been in elected office before. We’re not beholden to any of the old ideas or old debates. I think we’re going to have the political will to get things changed in the state.”
In a January poll by Gonzales Research, Ross garnered about 1 percent support from likely Democratic voters—putting him behind leading candidates such as Baker, who polled at 24 percent, and Kamenetz and Jealous, who were each at 14 percent.
But Ross doesn’t consider himself a long shot.
“The only poll that matters in this primary will be on June 26,” Ross said. “When I look at the data, I see a race that is wide open, wide open.”
Verratti said she’ll focus her message on entrepreneurship while on the campaign trail.
“There are so many regulations and barriers to entrepreneurship that I think we can change to make it easier for jobs to be created, for businesses to be created and for businesses that exist to grow,” Verratti said. “One of my top priorities as lieutenant governor is to make Maryland the very best state in the country for people to start small businesses and grow their businesses.”