BALTIMORE – John Sarbanes, a Baltimore-area lawyer and the son of Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., followed in his father’s footsteps Wednesday, declaring a run for the 3rd Congressional District seat on a platform of improving health care and education.
“The fact that 46 million people are uninsured, with millions more underinsured, is not only morally wrong and economically irresponsible, in terms of our standing in the international scene, it’s downright embarrassing,” Sarbanes said in his prepared remarks.
The chairman of the health care law practice at Venable LLP, a Baltimore law firm, Sarbanes made a case for universal health care coverage and criticized the “deepening crisis” of the current health care system.
Sarbanes, 43, has not run for public office before. He joins at least five other Democratic candidates running for Rep. Ben Cardin’s seat, D-Baltimore, next year.
In what political observers have called a game of musical chairs, Cardin is leaving to run for Sarbanes’ father’s seat after the five-term senator announced he would not seek re-election. The elder Sarbanes held the 3rd District seat for three terms before his election to the Senate.
In front of more than 50 supporters at the Warehouse at Camden Yards, John Sarbanes linked his years of nonprofit work in public education and health care to his family’s history of public service. He drew a common thread through the disparate neighborhoods of the 3rd District.
“People marvel at the geography of the 3rd District, that it’s too spread out and has no real core,” Sarbanes said. The district includes Baltimore City and parts of Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Howard counties.
“But, of course, this district does have a core, because in every one of its communities, people are looking for the same basic things — good schools, affordable health care, a clean environment and the opportunity to advance,” Sarbanes said.
Sarbanes has made each of these a campaign issue, calling himself the voice “for fairness and opportunity.”
Eight years ago, he went part time at his law firm so that he could spend 20 hours a week working with State Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick on problems faced by low-performing schools, particularly in Baltimore City, Sarbanes said. The work gave him new insight into the instruction, management and funding in the public school system, he said.
Sarbanes also called the war in Iraq “a mistake” that has damaged America’s standing in the world.
Sarbanes grew up in a family that emphasized service to the community, a value sown by a father who is Maryland’s longest-serving senator, he said.
Sarbanes expected his family name would matter to some supporters.
“What it says is that I come from a family that puts a high premium on public service,” Sarbanes has said. “I understand that I have to demonstrate to people the things I’ve done and that make me qualified to run and hopefully be elected to this office.”
Sarbanes has already raised more than $100,000 in his bid for Congress, according to Federal Election Commission reports.
“He has always taken time out of his life to devote himself to public service,” said Michael Leotta, a Takoma Park lawyer from outside the 3rd District who attended the event. “I think the voters will be able to see that.”
Sarbanes’ Democratic rivals for the party nomination include Dr. Peter Beilenson, the former Baltimore health commissioner; state Sen. Paula Hollinger, D-Baltimore County; Oz Bengur, Maryland Democratic Party treasurer; Kevin O’Keeffe, a former senior aide to Anne Arundel County Executive Janet Owens; and Bill Burlison, an Anne Arundel County Council member.
Married with three children, Sarbanes graduated from Princeton University’s school of public and international affairs in 1984. He spent a year in Greece as a Fulbright scholar before joining Harvard Law School. He graduated in 1988. He has spent 15 years as a board member of the Public Justice Center, a nonprofit advocate for the poor and disadvantaged.