Mark Gail/for The Washington Post via Getty Images
Glenn Ivey gavels in
The former Prince George’s County prosecutor thinks the third time’s the charm in his bid to represent Maryland’s 4th District in Congress
When Glenn Ivey, now a congressional candidate in Maryland, moved to the Washington, D.C. region, the place he now calls home felt off-limits to his family.
It was 1968, and riots had overwhelmed the streets of Washington, D.C.; the Iveys settled in a far-out Virginia suburb. Maryland’s Prince George’s County, where Ivey lives, is known today as one of the most affluent majority-Black counties in the country. But at the time, the county had a reputation as a white stronghold that was not particularly eager to welcome middle-class Black families like the Iveys.
“It was dangerous for Black people to come out here. In fact, they made it known that you weren’t welcome,” Ivey said in a conference room at his law office in Landover, Md.
Tokens of Ivey’s three decades of public service in Prince George’s County hang on the walls. One frame holds a page from the Congressional Record on the day the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill passed in 2001, giving a shout-out to Ivey for his work on the legislation. A photo shows Ivey with Eric Holder, who served as attorney general in President Barack Obama’s administration and was Ivey’s boss when both worked in the Washington, D.C., U.S. Attorney’s Office. There’s also a framed picture of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
As a child, Ivey said, “I was aware of elected officials then, but they were all white, pretty much. So I never really thought about being someone who could run for office till I got to college.”
Now, Ivey is running for Congress in Maryland’s heavily Democratic 4th District, hoping to take over the seat Rep. Anthony Brown (D-MD) is vacating to he run for Maryland attorney general next year. It’s Ivey’s third time running for the seat; he lost to Brown in a primary in 2016, and briefly challenged incumbent Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) in the 2012 primary before dropping out.
“One of the big problems we’ve got right now is leaders in Congress — in the House, the Senate — [and] governors sort of cowering from the responsibility of standing up to the folks who were spouting lies,” said Ivey, referring to claims that “‘the election was stolen,’ [and] the ‘stop the steal’ stuff. I mean, that’s all false.” A renewed sense of civility and a commitment to the facts is what Ivey, a former county prosecutor, wants to bring to Washington.
Ivey, 60, will face off against political up-and-comer Jazz Lewis, the chair of the Democratic caucus in the Maryland House of Delegates. Lewis has garnered the endorsement of his former boss, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), but Ivey has a unique host of Prince George’s County political connections; his wife, Jolene, sits on the County Council, and their son Julian serves with Lewis in the House of Delegates. He has been endorsed by municipal leaders across the county.
“He was sort of like the Jazz Lewis of his time, regarded as an up-and-comer with a bright future,” said Josh Kurtz, founding editor of the nonprofit news site Maryland Matters.
After serving in a governor-appointed role as chair of the Maryland Public Service Commission, Ivey won two terms to serve as state’s attorney in Prince George’s County, with a term that ended in 2010. He hasn’t held elected office since. “If you’ve been watching his career for 25 years, I think some people would be surprised that he hasn’t gone farther,” Kurtz said.
In an interview with Jewish Insider, Ivey spoke at length about his views on police reform and Democrats’ ill-fated “Defund the Police” messaging, restoring American leadership in foreign policy and his surprise at the rising racism and bigotry that followed Barack Obama’s presidency.
“There’s a level of tension and conflict that I don’t really remember since, like, maybe 1968,” Ivey reflected.
Ivey wasn’t shy to criticize actions taken by members of his own party, and he often went into great detail about his policy positions, sounding at times like a professor — which he is, spending a few weeks each year teaching a winter-term course at Harvard Law School, his alma mater.
“I don’t think he’s a natural politician. I think he is a natural public servant,” said Ron Halber, a friend of Ivey’s and the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.
The political process played a role in Ivey’s life from the time he was young, long before he knew anything about politics. When he was growing up in Rocky Mount, N.C., his hometown was still segregated.
“The civil rights movement was happening, and I saw that the things people were doing as part of the movement was changing things in Rocky Mount,” he recalled. “You’d have Dr. King doing a march somewhere on the other side of the world, as far as I knew as a 7-year-old. But it made a difference here because my mom could now teach in white schools, as well as Black schools.”
His father was a veteran who attended college through the GI Bill, and he then got a job through President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society program.
“I could see the impact that the government [and] public action was having on my life, and I wanted to be part of that,” said Ivey. “It’s funny, at 8, but that’s what I remember.”
Most of Ivey’s work in public service until now has had to do with the law — but enforcing laws, rather than writing them, as he would do in Congress. And while Ivey served as a prosecutor more than a decade ago, he said his actions in that role are in line with the current trend toward more progressive prosecutors that has been embraced by many Democrats.
“Police excessive force, I would say, would have been the top issue” in his first run for state’s attorney, Ivey said. “We got convictions.”
He also tried to implement “programs that weren’t directly crime suppression, direct law enforcement, but went to the intervention and prevention sides of the issues, and other things we can do to preempt people before they start committing crimes,” explained Ivey.
“I think he was considered very competent. I think he was also considered a very compassionate prosecutor, and I think most people view him as a fair minded and reasonable prosecutor,” said Albert Wynn, who represented the seat for 15 years until losing in a primary to Edwards in 2008.
Ivey remains a believer in law enforcement, and he argued that the “Defund the Police” movement that took hold in 2020 after the killing of George Floyd damaged the Democrats.
“The slogan that the concept describes is not what people want. They want better policing. They want targeted policing. They want fair policing. They don’t want excessive force,” he noted. “They want the policing that you get in other communities where the police comport differently. They behave differently in Bethesda than they do in Glenarden or Landover,” he said, drawing a contrast between largely white suburbs and largely Black ones.
Violent crime, which has spiked this year and last, will almost certainly be “a big part of the Republican playbook in the midterms,” Ivey predicted. He called the “Defund the Police” slogan a “distraction” from real issues. “I didn’t know it was going to turn into the Republican cudgel that it’s become. I think we’re looking at a really bad cycle coming up.”
Ivey didn’t say whether he would opt to align more with progressives or moderates in the House Democratic Caucus, but he did offer some praise for the progressive members who pushed to add items like paid family leave to President Joe Biden’s spending bills. “I think that the self-designated progressive group that was pushing Biden’s agenda, I liked what they did,” said Ivey. (He spoke to JI before several progressive members voted against the bipartisan infrastructure legislation.) “I thought, by and large, the things they were trying to get were good. I think a lot of moderates did too.”
When it comes to his foreign policy priorities, Ivey is grappling with how Washington can regain the trust of allies after “these really dramatic shifts” between Obama, former President Donald Trump and Biden. “Europe in particular, they must just be completely confused about what we’re doing,” he said, pointing to Biden’s recent diplomatic spat with Paris over U.S. submarine sales to Australia. “If you’re a country that’s been working with and relying on the U.S. from a foreign policy standpoint, you must have whiplash from what’s been happening.”
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one area where Ivey says the U.S. could play a leading role. “If something’s likely to happen there, I think the United States would have to play a brokering role,” Ivey said. “I think we do need to try and work to earn that role again, and I don’t think it’s unique to the Middle East. I think there’s other disputes around the world where we’ve lost a lot of credibility. And I think it’s gonna take a while to regain it.”
It’s this desire for the U.S. to help broker a two-state solution that has led Ivey to some of his positions on Israel. For instance, he opposes placing conditions on U.S. foreign aid to Israel because “my sense of it is that it’s aimed at sort of trying to leverage some components of negotiations with the Palestinians about a two-state solution,” Ivey explained. “I’m in favor of a two-state solution. But I think we have to allow the parties to negotiate that for themselves. And I want to be careful about us trying to do too much to twist the arms, to force one side or the other to do it a particular way.”
Ivey traveled to Israel in 2005 with other local elected officials on a JCRC trip. It was around the time of Israel’s disengagement from Gaza, which left a lasting impression about the dangers of Hamas.
“There was a lot of hope, I think, that the Palestinian Authority would be able to continue ruling [in Gaza] and would do a good job and win over the people. But that’s not how it’s played out,” Ivey acknowledged. “It’s a tough situation there, and it’s hard to see how to turn that around, because Hamas apparently has popular support there.”
At the time, when Ivey was a county prosecutor who didn’t work on foreign affairs, one of his biggest takeaways had to do with Israeli food. “People warned me about the food. You know, ‘It’s terrible food, blah, blah.’ But I got to really like it,” he said.
He returned from the trip right around the time his wife was mounting her first political campaign, for the statehouse, and Ivey was charged with taking care of their kids. But they got tired of pizza and hot dogs. “They took up a collection and bought a cookbook for me. And it happened to have a lot of Mediterranean in it, and I recognized some of it from the trip to Israel. I started cooking that,” he said. “I actually got quite good at it.”
Ivey’s first run for Congress, when he took on Edwards, was predicated on strong support from the pro-Israel community in more heavily Jewish parts of Maryland like Montgomery County and Baltimore.
“The fact that Glenn was running against Donna Edwards was certainly a factor in my involvement, and in the community’s involvement,” said Behnam Dayanim, a lawyer and an activist in the local Orthodox community who hosted a fundraiser for Ivey in 2011. “Glenn has been a supporter of the community and is viewed as an ally on Israel and other issues of importance.”
Ivey has stuck by his support for Israel in this race. He said he would vote to fund Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system. “I didn’t really understand the argument against it, to be real candid,” Ivey said. “Iron Dome is aimed at protecting civilians, which is reasonable to me, but I thought sort of a byproduct of it was that the Israeli military doesn’t have to be as aggressive [in its actions in Gaza].”
“I think there’s a fair debate about whether the military was excessive in some ways. I don’t know. I’ve heard arguments on both sides about it. But I think it’s fair to say that with Iron Dome, they don’t have to do as much to protect the civilian population. So from that standpoint it’s a good thing,” he explained.
Ivey opposed the nuclear deal with Iran that was negotiated by the Obama administration in 2015, but noted that “the one thing that did seem to be working with that, based on what I’ve heard, is that the Obama deal did slow [things] down, at least to some extent.” Before the U.S. reenters the deal, Ivey said he would want to see a commitment to “full and neutral inspections [of Iranian nuclear sites]” and an end to Iran’s funding of Hamas and Hezbollah. “If [Biden’s] gonna go back in and it looks like he is, and I think he probably should, I think those are the key pieces that you need to have to reach a deal that makes sense.”
Ivey opposes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. “I get why people are doing it, and I hear what they’re saying, but I just don’t think it’s the right approach,” noting that “it’s not something I favor.”
“I do kind of wonder about their motives, to say the least. I’ll leave it at that,” Ivey added about the movement’s leaders.
When asked about his approach to fighting antisemitism and other forms of hate, Ivey paused for a moment. “When [Obama] was elected, I really thought this was, like, a new day in the United States,” he said. “People were dancing in the streets over the guy. I really didn’t expect the kind of backlash that came from his election. And that’s kind of ironic, because I grew up in the South.”
The 2017 Unite the Right protest in Charlottesville woke him up to the threat of antisemitism. “I remember putting the TV on for that. I assumed it was an anti-Black march, right? And then I heard the audio on the news, and they’re like, ‘The Jews will not replace us,’” Ivey recalled.
“I do think it was Trump that really unleashed the full force of this thing,” Ivey said, as he discussed the host of trials going on in recent weeks around racial violence: the Unite the Right civil trial, the trial of the men now convicted of murdering Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery and the upcoming trial of the man accused of killing several Asian-American women at spas across Atlanta.
“I don’t know if we can put it back in the bottle. I’m just not sure,” said Ivey. “I’m heartened that Merrick Garland — the attorney general and the Department of Justice — is making this a big focus. But I do think there’s a social component to this that needs to happen at the community-by-community level. And I don’t see that happening right now.”
In Ivey’s community, and particularly in his family, a commitment to public service remains strong. While his wife and son remain active in other local elected positions, his daughter works in international development in Africa.
And it’s his family that is feeding Ivey’s campaign. “When [Jolene] ran for lieutenant governor, I was doing the cooking,” Ivey recalled. “It’ll be Jolene’s turn now.”
For a man who has committed his career to applying the law equally, that’s only fair.