Hope­fuls line up for Balto. Co. exec

Two years out, GOP and Democrats eye race for open seat

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Pamela Wood

It’s nearly two years un­til Bal­ti­more County vot­ers pick their next county ex­ec­u­tive, but Democrats and Re­pub­li­cans are al­ready pre­par­ing for a race that both par­ties ex­pect to be highly com­pet­i­tive.

Democrats, who have held the of­fice since 1994, are ea­ger to de­fend their turf. Three prom­i­nent of­fi­cials — County Coun­cil Chair­woman Vicki Al­mond, state Sen. Jim Brochin and for­mer Del. John Ol­szewski Jr. — say they are con­sid­er­ing a run to lead the state’s third-largest county.

“We want to keep the mo­men­tum go­ing,” said Tara Eber­sole, chair­woman of the Bal­ti­more County Demo­cratic Cen­tral Com­mit­tee.

But Re­pub­li­cans, en­cour­aged by the elec­tion of GOP Gov. Larry Ho­gan in 2014, see their best op­por­tu­nity to win Bal­ti­more County ex­ec­u­tive in decades. Ho­gan won the county two years ago with nearly 60 per­cent of the vote; the pop­u­lar gov­er­nor will be on the bal­lot again in 2018.

Del. Pat McDonough says he’s think­ing about the job. Other po­ten­tial can­di­dates in­clude state House Repub­li­can Whip Kathy Szeliga, fresh from a run for U.S. Se­nate, and Laura Neu­man, the for­mer county ex­ec­u­tive in Anne Arun­del.

The GOP will pro­vide “re­sources to run a bet­ter cam­paign” for Bal­ti­more County ex­ec­u­tive than in the past, said Joe Clus­ter, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Mary­land Repub­li­can Party.

The seat will be left open by the de­par­ture of cur­rent County Ex­ec­u­tive Kevin Kamenetz, who is lim­ited to two terms. The Demo­crat won the job in 2010 with 54 per­cent of the vote and was re-elected in 2014 with 56 per­cent. The last Repub­li­can ex­ec­u­tive was Roger B. Hay­den, who was elected to a sin­gle term in 1990.

No can­di­date has of­fi­cially an­nounced a

cam­paign for 2018.

“Lots of folks are in­ter­ested,” said Al Men­del­sohn, chair­man of the Bal­ti­more County Repub­li­can Cen­tral Com­mit­tee. “I think that lots of peo­ple are anx­ious to give the other party a try, be­cause they haven’t been im­pressed with what they’ve seen of late with the Democrats.”

Al­mond said “a lot of peo­ple are look­ing at a lot of dif­fer­ent op­tions, now that the na­tional elec­tion is over. We’re all look­ing ahead to see what we’re go­ing to do. For me, per­son­ally, it’s another year be­fore any­thing pub­lic hap­pens.”

The Reis­ter­stown Demo­crat, in her sec­ond term on the County Coun­cil, said she’s been en­cour­aged to run but is fo­cus­ing for now on her work as coun­cil chair­woman.

“I don’t think you get a pro­mo­tion if you don’t do your present job well,” she said.

Brochin has an in­de­pen­dent streak that some­times ran­kles Demo­cratic lead­ers in the state Se­nate, and he said it’s un­likely he’ll rise to higher po­si­tions in An­napo­lis. He said he is “se­ri­ously con­sid­er­ing” a run for county ex­ec­u­tive.

He said the job would give him an op­por­tu­nity to re­form a sys­tem that he said fa­vors the in­ter­ests of de­vel­op­ers and at­tor­neys over res­i­dents.

“It’s a sys­tem that’s rigged,” the Tow­son Demo­crat said. “I think that com­mu­ni­ties and the com­mu­nity as­so­ci­a­tions and the peo­ple are the last ones that are con­sid­ered.”

Ol­szewski was once a po­lit­i­cal in­sider — he was a state del­e­gate, and his fa­ther was a coun­cil­man — but now he finds him­self on the out­side. In 2014, he lost a bid to rep­re­sent Dun­dalk in the state Se­nate, and his fa­ther re­tired.

He formed a group called Bet­ter Bal­ti­more County and has goneto fes­ti­vals and com­mu­nity events to meet and talk to vot­ers. The group’s web­site car­ries the author­ity line of Ol­szewski’s cam­paign com­mit­tee, but he de­clined to say whether it’s a pre­cur­sor to a for­mal cam­paign.

“Look, to the ex­tent there is a cam­paign, it will be help­ing in­form the work we do,” Ol­szewski said. “I’d like to see it con­tinue re­gard­less.”

The pic­ture on the Repub­li­can side is less clear, with a longer list of po­ten­tial can­di­dates, but only one —McDonough — speak­ing openly about a cam­paign.

McDonough, a con­ser­va­tive ra­dio talk­show host from Mid­dle River, lost a chal­lenge to Demo­cratic Rep. C.A. Dutch Rup­pers­berger this month. He said he’s keep­ing his cam­paign con­sul­tants on the job and hold­ing two fundrais­ers in the next two months, which will help him de­cide if he can raise enough money to launch a suc­cess­ful cam­paign.

“It’s trend­ing where peo­ple want a change in Bal­ti­more County,” McDonough said. The Re­pub­li­cans have a good shot, he said, so long as they are will­ing to put for­ward a tough politi­cian, not “some mushy Repub­li­can.”

Other po­ten­tial Repub­li­can in­clude Szeliga, Neu­man, County Coun­cil­man Wade Kach; state In­sur­ance Com­mis­sioner Al Red­mer, and Deputy Trans­porta­tion Sec­re­tary James F. Ports Jr.

Szeliga, who lives in Perry Hall, said it’s too soon to say what her fu­ture holds.

Szeliga raised her pro­file with her Se­nate run against Demo­crat Chris Van Hollen and built a team of cam­paign work­ers and vol­un­teers that could prove use­ful in a fu­ture run.

For now, though, she’ll say only: “I’m def­i­nitely run­ning for some­thing.”

Kach rep­re­sents north­ern Bal­ti­more County on the County Coun­cil af­ter serv­ing 40 years in the House of Del­e­gates. He said he hadn’t thought about run­ning for county ex­ec­u­tive un­til peo­ple started nudg­ing him this year.

Kach said it’s too soon to say what he’ll run for in 2018.

“All I can say is, four years ago at this time, I had not made my mind to run for County Coun­cil,” he said. “It’s just too early. I’m not rul­ing it out.”

Neu­man was ap­pointed Anne Arun­del County ex­ec­u­tive in 2013 to suc­ceed John R. Leopold, who was con­victed of mis­con­duct in of­fice and re­signed. She lost the 2014 Repub­li­can pri­mary for the job to even­tual ex­ec­u­tive Steve Schuh.

Neu­man moved from An­napo­lis to Tow­son this year. She said she’s flat­tered that peo­ple have asked her to run, but a cam­paign is not at the top of her list right now.

“I’m al­ways amazed and sur­prised by that kind of sup­port,” she said. “It’s re­ally touch­ing that folks know the work I did in Anne Arun­del.”

Red­mer, in his sec­ond turn as state in­sur­ance com­mis­sioner, has been named as a pos­si­ble can­di­date by in­sid­ers from both par­ties. He said he’s not cur­rently weigh­ing a run.

“I’m not a can­di­date,” the Mid­dle River man said. “I’ve been men­tioned ev­ery cy­cle since 1998, and I have never run. “The ru­mor mill con­tin­ues.” Still, Red­mer, who spent 12 years in the House of Del­e­gates, wouldn’t com­pletely rule out a cam­paign.

“When you run for pub­lic of­fice, you never say you’re never go­ing to run again,” he said.

Ports also spent 12 years in the House of Del­e­gates and is now work­ing in a Repub­li­can ad­min­is­tra­tion for the sec­ond time. The Not­ting­ham man could not be reached for com­ment.

The field of can­di­dates could be­gin to take shape af­ter Jan­uary, when cam­paign fi­nance com­mit­tees must file an­nual re­ports.

Each party’s nom­i­nee could eas­ily spend $1 mil­lion. Re­pub­li­cans say their can­di­date might be able to spend less if the party ral­lies be­hind a sin­gle can­di­date be­fore the pri­mary.

Ho­gan’s vic­tory two years ago helped Bal­ti­more County Re­pub­li­cans gain seats in the House of Del­e­gates, state Se­nate and County Coun­cil.

County Democrats hold a 2-1 edge over Re­pub­li­cans in voter regis­tra­tion. Democrats say they aren’t tak­ing Bal­ti­more County for granted.

“The party is very, very much in­ter­ested in Bal­ti­more County -— al­ways has been, al­ways will be,” said Chuck Con­ner, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Mary­land Demo­cratic Party. “We in­tend to treat Bal­ti­more County as a bat­tle­ground ju­ris­dic­tion for 2018.”

McDonough

Neu­man

Kach

Ports

Red­mer

Al­mond

Brochin

Szeliga

Ol­szewski

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