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GOP primary: Pat McDonough sees Baltimore County as 'runaway train' he can get on track as executive

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of profiles of candidates for Baltimore County executive.

The way Del. Pat McDonough sees it, Baltimore County is a runaway train going off a bridge.

In his eyes, the county is rife with corruption. Schools aren’t teaching kids what they need to know. Some neighborhoods are crumbling, struggling with crime and vacant homes.

“My objective is to stop that train,” said the 74-year old Republican. “Four years from now, I don’t think I can fix it.”

After decades as a state legislator and talk radio host, McDonough is running against Maryland Insurance Commissioner Al Redmer Jr. in the June 26 Republican primary for Baltimore County executive.

Among McDonough’s campaign promises: He says he would issue a moratorium on new subsidized housing in the county. He would revoke a 2017 executive order issued by the late County Executive Kevin Kamenetz that prohibits local police from asking anyone’s immigration status.

He has pledged to phase out the Common Core curriculum in schools, though as county executive he would not have the power to make such a change.

He wants to make English the county’s official language — a move recently criticized by the immigrant rights group CASA as discriminatory and anti-American — and promote citizen patrols similar to Shomrim, the Orthodox Jewish neighborhood watch group.

“We are going to have constitutional zero tolerance” on crime, said McDonough, whose current district includes parts of Harford County as well as Baltimore County. “Which means we are not going to tolerate a lot of nonsense. It’s going to be a tough law enforcement philosophy in Baltimore County.”

Two years ago, McDonough challenged U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger in a bid for Congress, losing with about 33 percent of the vote.

He was an early critic of former county schools superintendent Dallas Dance, who pleaded guilty to perjury charges for failing to disclose earnings from consulting jobs. McDonough filed an ethics complaint about Dance’s side work in 2013, and says that complaint helped bring the issue to light.

Over the years, critics have condemned the talk radio host for what they call his inflammatory rhetoric — particularly about minorities and immigrants. In 2012, activist groups decried his comments that “roving mobs of black youth” terrorize Baltimore.

“I think he appeals to a lot of the Donald Trump-type supporters who are angry at government and angry at the way society’s changing,” said John Dedie, professor and coordinator of the political science program at the Community College of Baltimore County.

Dedie says McDonough has strong support in areas such as the county’s east side, where the shuttered Bethlehem Steel plant became “the poster child for economic angst.” But many of the residents there are registered Democrats and can’t vote for him in the primary, Dedie said.

“His big problem is going to be [getting] regular Baltimore County Republicans to vote for him,” Dedie said.

Three major candidates are running for the Democratic nomination for executive: Councilwoman Vicki Almond, state Sen. Jim Brochin and former state delegate Johnny Olszewski Jr.

Roland “Rody” Barthelmes, a 70-year-old Essex man who volunteers for McDonough’s campaign, said he was a registered Democrat from age 18. About six months ago, he switched parties so he could vote for McDonough.

“I believe in everything he stands for,” Barthelmes said.

Barthelmes, who used to work for Giant Food doing computer work, says other politicians “say what they think you want to hear and then they do just the opposite.”

With McDonough, “I know when he says what he says, he means what he says,” Barthelmes said.

Another supporter, 21-year-old Will Grant of Middle River, praises McDonough as “the most clear-cut, straightforward talker.”

Grant interned for McDonough in Annapolis and now volunteers for his campaign. A conservative Republican, he thinks McDonough would crack down on crime and keep taxes down. Grant also thinks Redmer, who is endorsed by Gov. Larry Hogan, is too much of an insider.

“It seems like Redmer is a little too tied into the whole political system,” Grant said. “He would align more with Hogan than he would Baltimore County.”

McDonough says his role model is William Donald Schaefer, the late Democratic comptroller, governor and mayor of Baltimore.

“Donald Schaefer was creative. He was innovative,” said McDonough, who worked in Schaefer’s job development office when he was mayor.

In 1979, McDonough challenged Schaefer in the Democratic mayoral primary. He called him incompetent and a “horrible” manager, according to a Baltimore Sun article at the time. McDonough says now he was disappointed in Schaefer then but later became a strong supporter.

Today, a large poster featuring photos of Schaefer and President Ronald Reagan hangs in McDonough’s campaign headquarters in the Carroll Island Shopping Center.

“Pat McDonough,” the poster reads. “Following in the Footsteps of Great Leadership.”

In the early 1980s, McDonough served one term as a Democratic lawmaker in Annapolis, but says he became a Republican because he was inspired by President Reagan.

McDonough grew up in the southeast Baltimore neighborhood of Washington Hill. He was one of four boys; two of his brothers died of illness as babies. His father ran service stations and his mother worked at a department store.

“I grew up in a great melting pot community, meeting all kinds of different people,” he said.

As a young adult, he worked for his father’s service stations. Later, he ran an event-management company.

McDonough is far behind his opponent in fundraising. In the most recent campaign finance reporting period, Redmer raised five times what McDonough did — roughly $167,200 to McDonough’s $32,800. Redmer outspent McDonough fourfold in that period.

While Redmer has the backing of Hogan and House Minority Whip Del. Kathy Szeliga, McDonough carries little influence with Republican party leadership.

“My opponent likes to say he’s independent,” Redmer said of McDonough. “My opinion is he’s not independent — he’s isolated. He doesn’t work well with Democrats. He doesn’t work well with Republicans.”

In endorsing Redmer this spring, the conservative media outlet Red Maryland called McDonough “a doofus.” The organization described McDonough as self-interested, with “few if any actual accomplishments.”

Outwardly, McDonough brushes off his detractors. He says that’s what his supporters like about him.

“I have no hidden agenda,” he said. “You know exactly what I’m all about. I don’t care about criticism; it’s immaterial to me.”

Baltimore Sun librarian Paul McCardell contributed to this article.

Pat McDonough

Age: 74

Home: Middle River

Experience: State delegate; radio host and producer

Family: Wife Valerie.

alisonk@baltsun.com

twitter.com/aliknez

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