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Baltimore County executive candidates outline visions in debate

Four of the leading candidates for Baltimore County executive outlined their visions for the county's future at a forum Wednesday.

The three candidates in the competitive Democratic primary — County Councilwoman Vicki Almond, state Sen. Jim Brochin and former Del. Johnny Olszewski Jr. — offered largely similar visions, though they emphasized a few differences and took occasional swipes at one another.

The one Republican on stage — state Del. Patrick L. McDonough — described a county that he said is plagued by crime, drugs and poverty.

The debate at the University of Baltimore was sponsored by the university, The Baltimore Sun and WJZ.

McDonough said he asks people if they’re satisfied with the status of the county and the county’s future.

“The answer is always no,” he said.

He promised “dramatic and powerful change” if he’s elected, including: hiring more police officers, calling on federal authorities to help combat gangs, cracking down on school discipline problems and banning the use of additional government housing vouchers.

“I disagree with my good friends up here,” McDonough said.

The Democrats said the county needs improvements, but offered a more optimistic view of the county.

“For too long, we’ve settled for the status quo,” said Olszewski, a former teacher and “proud progressive Democrat.” The Dundalk man said he supports universal pre-kindergarten, tuition-free community college and increasing the minimum wage.

Brochin, of Cockeysville, opened with his pledge to stop “pay-to-play politics,” in which he says developers and builders have given campaign donations to gain access to government leaders.

Brochin said he’s been the voice of his constituents in the General Assembly for 16 years, and now he wants to take his vision county-wide.

Almond, a longtime Reisterstown resident, touted her experience serving two terms on the County Council.

“I believe that I really know Baltimore County politics. … I feel like I know what needs to change,” Almond said. Responding to Brochin, she said there’s no “pay-to-play politics” in the county.

Asked if the county has enough money to meet its needs — such as building schools and improving infrastructure — none of the candidates said they would raise taxes.

Some said they’d revisit the public school system’s technology program, which gives laptops or tablets to every student. Brochin, Olszewski and McDonough offered different suggestions of how much money could be saved by scaling back technology spending and putting the money toward new and remodeled school buildings.

Almond said the county needs a 10-year plan to figure out how to pay for schools.

The candidates differed on the county’s settlement agreement with federal housing officials that requires the county to spend more money to attract affordable housing.

The Democrats all said they’d support the requirements of the settlement. Olszewski said he’d push for a law that would ban landlords from establishing blanket policies against accepting housing vouchers.

“As county executive, we will end housing discrimination in Baltimore County,” he said.

Brochin and Almond said they’d support a requirement for builders to reserve a certain number of units in their developments for lower-income residents.

McDonough said he’d file a lawsuit to void the settlement. He said former County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who signed the settlement, “sort of caved in on it.”

Missing from the forum was the other contending Republican, state insurance commissioner Al Redmer Jr. Redmer said he had a family conflict. He also said he would not agree to any one-on-one debates or forums with McDonough.

Redmer claims McDonough has been spreading falsehoods about his campaign. Spokeswoman Hannah Marr said Redmer “could not in good faith agree to a Republicans-only debate.”

“The campaign was not given an option to appear with all five major candidates, but would have accepted had that option been made available to us,” Marr said.

McDonough filed a complaint with ethics officials alleging that Redmer has been campaigning on state time, but has not offered evidence to back up his claim. Redmer has denied any wrongdoing.

McDonough said Wednesday he thinks Redmer doesn’t want to debate him because he “can’t compete” with him.

The candidates are vying to lead Maryland’s third-most populous jurisdiction and oversee a $3 billion budget.

The county executive’s seat is open this year because Kamenetz was limited to serving two terms. Kamenetz was a leading Democratic candidate for governor when he died of sudden cardiac arrest on May 10.

The Baltimore County Council appointed Don Mohler, Kamenetz’s chief of staff, to complete Kamenetz’s second term, which ends in early December.

The primary election is scheduled for June 26. Early voting starts June 14.

pwood@baltsun.com

twitter.com/pwoodreporter

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