—– By: Ann Costantino —–
For some, former Democratic county executive candidate, State Senator Jim Brochin, is the benchmark for this midterm’s county executive race.
In recent years, county officials have been criticized for accepting campaign contributions from a developer and later voting on matters that benefit that developer. Having run on a platform to end what has been called a culture of “pay to play,” for some citizens who have had enough, Brochin represented a new dawn, one that would fix Baltimore County government so that it would serve its citizens, instead of special interests.
But, for some voters, figuring out which of two candidates running to win the seat on Nov. 6—could or would put Baltimore County’s citizens’ interests first—is the question.
Baltimore County executive candidates, Johnny Olszewski, Jr. and Al Redmer, Jr., faced off on Tuesday at a candidate forum held at The Temple Oheb Shalom in Pikesville where they were confronted with such questions concerning several issues central to then-candidate Brochin’s platform.
Moderated by Alan Zuckerberg, president of Pikesville Communities Corporation, a coalition of Home Owners Associations in the Pikesville and Stevenson areas, Zuckerberg’s questions focused mainly on that “pay to play” culture in Baltimore County and, if elected, how each candidate would distinguish himself from the past administration.
While most questions posed by Zuckerberg to the candidates dealt with unsavory development deals and county decisions, the theme that night seemed to center on how each candidate would be most like Brochin, who lost to Olszewski by 17 votes in June’s county executive primary. In the close Democratic race, then-candidate and county councilwoman, Vicki Almond, trailed Brochin by nearly 1,000 votes. Almond has endorsed Olszewski. Gov. Larry Hogan has endorsed Redmer.
“Brochin had the gumption to make the clean-up an underpinning of his campaign and there is no doubt in my mind (and obviously in the mind of the developer community) that Brochin would have performed an immediate purge of those persons whom many of us recognize as pro-developer,” Zuckerberg told The Baltimore Post after the forum. “Brochin was clear in his message to the public and the development community…”
With that in mind, questions posed to the candidates by Zuckerberg were centered around that theme on Tuesday. Zuckerberg got straight to the point and did not mince words.
“During the primary campaign, State Senator James Brochin said that Baltimore County had a corrupt ‘pay-to-play’ land development culture… Do you agree with Sen. Brochin’s characterization, and if so, what will you do to end this culture?” Zuckerberg asked.
Redmer responded, “Yes, I do. It was the frustration of dealing with bureaucrats which encouraged me to run for office… Baltimore County has been run by cronyism, fear, and retribution. Don’t take my word for it,” Redmer said. “Ask any county employee. For years, if you know the right guy, you get to go to the front of the line,” Redmer said. “It’s a long line and it’s an unresponsive line. What is good for one, is good for everyone else. We cannot have favoritism.”
Olszewski answered, “To be clear, developers and others have for far too long had influence,” he said. “As county executive, I am going to change that…There are very good people working in the county. Leading sets the tone…” he said.
Throughout the evening, both candidates said they would be collaborative. Both promised transparency. Both said they wanted campaign finance reform. Ideas were discussed about using technology and email blasts to inform citizens of proposed changes so that they would be alerted early and could get involved. And both candidates agreed with the idea of implementing a reasonable non-compete clause as a condition of county employment “to help stop corruption.” Zuckerberg prefaced a question stating that appointees of high level department positions in the county had taken advantage of a ‘revolving door’ culture whereby “they leave the County and quickly become employed with a company, law firm, engineering firm or others with whom they or their department has helped in one way or another.”
Zuckerberg then asked the candidates, if elected, if they would remove county administrative officer, Fred Homan. It was a promise Brochin had made during his primary campaign.
Citing the county administrative officer’s role in assisting a developer using taxpayer money, Zuckerberg said, “If elected will you seek to promptly remove the current County Administrative Officer in accordance with Charter Article IV, Sec. 404, which allows for his removal?”
Olszewski answered by saying “Anyone who does not share (my administration’s) values will not be part of my administration. There will be a new approach, new leadership and a new day,” he said. Olszewski said members of the audience could discern, if they wished, what he was inferring by that statement.
Redmer answered, as an administrator who has led hundreds of employees, “I’ve had decades of delegating responsibility.” Citing a culture of collaboration, Redmer continued, “I delegate to the appropriate leader. I never delegate to one person,” he said. “There will not a chief administrative officer running Baltimore County, no matter who that is.”
In a previous interview last November, Brochin told The Baltimore Post, “We desperately need to change the culture in this county and a change agent that will come in and change the culture. And that means, one minute after 12 – after sworn in – getting rid of the chief administrative officer of Baltimore County.”
Asked by The Baltimore Post if he would endorse Olszewski or Redmer, one of whom would be in the position to do so, Brochin declined, stating he is staying out of the county executive race, altogether.
Instead, Brochin said he is supporting three candidates from different races: Republican Incumbent Gov. Larry Hogan, Democratic candidate for the US Congress in Maryland’s 1st District, Jesse Colvin, and Michele Guyton, PhD., a Democrat running for State Delegate in Legislative District 42B.
“I think Andy Harris (Republican) is just an atrocious congressman,” Brochin said, calling Colvin “impeccable.”
“Colvin would be representing his district, instead of a political party,” Brochin said, while stating he felt Harris was too partisan. Brochin said he thinks Colvin, a Democrat, has the ability to stand up to Nancy Pelosi, minority leader of the US House of Representatives. “I don’t think (she) would tell him what to do.”
Regarding his support for Gov. Hogan, Brochin said, he is a “shining light in an era of nasty partisan politics. He hasn’t played party politics. I think he has been incredible and even-handed. 40% of his administration are Democrats. He’s been a really smart and pragmatic governor,” Brochin said. “And people are lucky to have him… I think he is doing a great job.”
Of Guyton’s bid for State Delegate, Brochin said she is “overqualified for the job. She’s a psychologist, has three kids in the school system, and has children with disabilities. She’s smart, pragmatic and even-handed. And she is one of the only Democrats appointed to the State Board of Education by Gov. Hogan. I think she is smart and does her homework… She is not afraid to make a tough decision,” Brochin said.
While Brochin declined to disclose his preference for county executive and who he thinks most closely aligns with his vision for Baltimore County, voters will make their choices.
Faced with having to choose a county executive, forum moderator, Zuckerberg, told The Baltimore Post, “With Brochin out of the picture, I must decide which of the two candidates will come the closest to take Brochin’s goal.” He said of Tuesday’s forum, “The questions…were pointed and hopefully the answers were sincere, and committed both candidates to a course of action that will go a long way to achieve the goal advocated by Sen. Brochin.”
*** The writer of this article encourages respectful discourse concerning all candidates and elected officials.***