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GOP primary: Backed by governor, Al Redmer says he would bring executive experience to Baltimore County

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

As Al Redmer Jr. approached voters at a festival in Towson, he handed each a glossy flyer that featured a familiar face.

Many smiled when they saw the photo of Gov. Larry Hogan.

“I think the governor’s doing a great job,” one man told Redmer.

Hogan has played a central role in the campaign as Redmer makes his bid to become the first Republican Baltimore County executive in decades. Days before the festival, the two men posed for photos together at downtown Towson shops for a campaign event focused on small businesses.

Now in his second stint as Maryland’s insurance commissioner, Redmer faces state Del. Pat McDonough in the June 26 Republican primary. They are vying for the right to face the Democratic nominee in November’s general election for county executive. County voters haven’t elected a Republican executive since they picked Roger B. Hayden in 1990.

But Redmer has pledged to run “the most competitive Republican campaign for county executive in a generation” — and points to Hogan’s success in Baltimore County as a sign the job is in play this year for the GOP. While county registered Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 2 to 1, Hogan won 59 percent of the county vote in 2014.

Three leading candidates are seeking the Democratic nomination: Councilwoman Vicki Almond, state Sen. Jim Brochin and former state delegate Johnny Olszewski Jr.

In the primary, Redmer is raising much more money than McDonough. He had $121,000 on hand in the most recent reporting period, compared to $22,000 for McDonough.

A former state delegate who has run insurance and financial services firms, Redmer, 62, says his work in the private and public sectors has given him more “executive-level experience” than any other candidate.

“I know how to create the vision and communicate it through the entire organization,” Redmer said. “I know how to create the right culture and tone.”

Redmer spent more than a dozen years in the Maryland House of Delegates, including two as House minority leader.

As delegate, he was “very constituent-oriented,” said Deputy Transportation Secretary James F. Ports Jr., who served in the House with Redmer. Ports called him a fiscal conservative who could “reach across the aisle.”

“Al has always been a statesman,” said Ports, also a Republican. “He was well-respected by both sides.”

Redmer has promised to bring more accountability to county government. He says the county has long ignored basic infrastructure needs and treated neighborhoods unevenly. And many county employees feel their concerns have been ignored, he says, leading to poor morale and customer service.

Public safety, school discipline and government transparency have been top issues in Redmer’s campaign. He says he would approach running the county with a “hands-on” style.

He has pledged to create an Office of Inspector General on his first day in office to audit county contracts and operations.

Now a Middle River resident, Redmer grew up in the Perry Hall area. His father managed A&P stores and his mother worked on and off as a bookkeeper. He has one brother. A half-sister died several years ago.

He got his start in politics in his early 20s, when he was elected to the Republican central committee. A few years later he got a call from Helen Delich Bentley, who was preparing to run for Congress. He had never heard of her before, but agreed when she asked him to work for her campaign, starting a decades-long friendship.

When he was 26, Redmer became president of the Perry Hall Improvement Association. It was a time of growth in the area, and tensions simmered over development. This experience later informed him as a public official, he said.

“I saw firsthand the lack of customer service, from the county and the state,” he said. “I saw firsthand what it was like to represent a community and have government ignore you, blow you off.”

Rossville resident Deb Sullivan, a longtime school activist, got to know Redmer when he was a state delegate. She says he’s always been a “go-to person” for the community, taking their concerns seriously. Sullivan, who’s now running for County Council, thinks of Redmer as “an honest, hard-working regular guy” with the right resume to do the job.

“To me it’s a no-brainer — he’s the only one, hands-down absolutely qualified for the position,” Sullivan said.

Redmer “has a breadth of experience,” said John Dedie, professor and coordinator of political science at the Community College of Baltimore County.

Dedie added that Redmer “has done an outstanding job of tying himself to Larry Hogan, and vice versa.”

The two stood together when Redmer announced his run for office last September at the Boumi Shriners Temple in Rosedale. The governor’s photo appears on Redmer’s website. His name is written on campaign signs, and Redmer’s communications director previously worked in the governor’s press office.

Dedie says Redmer and Hogan need each other. Hogan has gone to lengths to distance himself from President Donald J. Trump, who is unpopular in Maryland. McDonough’s style, meanwhile, has been compared to the president’s.

Dedie believes McDonough would “probably cost Hogan votes” in Baltimore County if he won the Republican nomination for executive.

“Hogan’s future for re-election is tied to Redmer’s winning the Republican primary,” Dedie said. “It’ll just make it a lot easier.”

McDonough says Hogan and Redmer have miscalculated.

“I think the people kind of resent that they’re being told by the governor who to vote for for county executive,” McDonough said. “They want to pick their own county executive.”

Last November, the state elections board fined the Hogan campaign $250 after Redmer sent out a fundraising invitation for the governor during the 90-day annual General Assembly, when state officials are banned from raising money.

During the campaign, McDonough has pointed to that incident in criticizing Redmer. He has also hit Redmer for his handling of Hurricane Isabel claims in 2003 as state insurance commissioner. Redmer defends the agency, saying McDonough mischaracterizes what happened.

“We were hands-on visible, engaged, advocating for the citizens,” he said.

Redmer says his experience and skills set him apart from his opponent.

“Having an idea is not good enough,” Redmer said. “You need to be able to execute.”

Al Redmer Jr.

Home: Middle River

Age: 62

Experience: Maryland Insurance Commissioner; former state delegate and business owner

Family: Wife Sandy, five children.

alisonk@baltsun.com

twitter.com/aliknez

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