Anthony Brown and wife Karmen Walker Brown

Maryland Lt. Governor Anthony Brown is hugged by his wife Karmen Walker Brown after he announced his candidacy for governor in Largo Friday. (Baltimore Sun / May 10, 2013)

Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown became the first candidate to join the 2014 Maryland governor's race Friday with a call to close the gap between rich and poor in education, health and economic opportunity.

Before a crowd at Prince George's Community College that organizers estimated at 2,500, the Democrat outlined priorities that could have come straight out of the playbook of Gov. Martin O'Malley, Brown's term-limited partner in Annapolis.

Brown is the first candidate, Democrat or Republican, to formally announce his candidacy, and he did so in uncompromisingly liberal terms — pledging to maintain Maryland's No. 1-ranked school system, to keep college tuition low and to invest aggressively in infrastructure and career training.

"We're at our best when we take care of one another," he told the crowd. "Each of us is strengthened when all of us succeed."

While he praised the accomplishments of the O'Malley-Brown administration in advancing education, the lieutenant governor vowed to see that government benefits are more evenly distributed.

"It's not enough to have the best school system in the country unless every child in Maryland, whether they live in Capitol Heights or Bethesda, gets a world-class education," he said.

(Speaking to a Baltimore Sun reporter the day before, he used Baltimore in place of Capitol Heights, a lower-income community in Prince George's County.)

Brown was introduced by his wife, Karmen, who told the crowd that her Harvard-educated husband could easily have chosen a career on Wall Street.

"Instead he chose to serve," she said.

Joining Brown on the platform were his parents, Jamaican-born Dr. Roy Brown, 89, and Swiss-born Lily Brown, 86.

Among those on hand to lend support for Brown was Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Calvert County resident whose political roots — and part of the district he represents — are in Prince George's, Brown's home county.

Miller would not describe his appearance as an endorsement but came reasonably close.

"Right now, he's my favorite candidate," he told reporters.

Warming up the crowd, Miller praised Brown's military service as a judge advocate general in the Army and Army Reserve. Miller called the lieutenant governor the highest-ranking U.S. elected official to have served in Iraq.

Brown plans to follow up Friday's kickoff with an appearance Saturday with O'Malley in Waverly. He also plans events in Silver Spring and Frederick.

The lieutenant governor is expected to face a highly competitive primary in June 2014. Likely rivals include Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, Del. Heather Mizeur and Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, though Brown has put out feelers to Ulman as a potential running mate. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger is also considering a run.

On the Republican side, Harford County Executive David R. Craig and Frederick County Commission President Blaine Young are viewed as the top contenders. Also in the mix are Del. Ron George of Anne Arundel County and Dan Bongino, the 2012 GOP hopeful for U.S. Senate. An effort is under way to draft businessman Charles Lollar, a former candidate for Congress.

The Gansler campaign didn't wait for Brown's announcement to lob a verbal grenade his way. In an email Friday afternoon, Gansler adviser Doug Thornell suggested that Brown should have accomplished his goals — such as expanding health care and reducing disparities between rich and poor — during the current administration.

"Wasn't that what he was supposed to be doing for the last seven years?" Thornell asked.

Like President Barack Obama, Brown is a multiracial candidate who identifies as African-American. In Maryland, the black vote is expected to make up at least one-third of the Democratic primary electorate — a factor that is not lost on the candidate.