As mourners paid respects to Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz on Friday, his wife Jill told the crowd of Maryland politicos that she had recently warned her husband: “This campaign is killing you.”
“He barely slept; he wasn't eating well,” she said. But in a competitive primary for governor, he wouldn't have it any other way.
“He was in this to win it,” she said. “He was driven, and he loved what he was doing.”
Kamenetz died of cardiac arrest Thursday morning, hours after appearing at a forum of gubernatorial candidates.
His funeral Friday at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation drew most of the state's political leaders, including many with whom he frequently sparred, such as Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot.
“This room is full of government officials. Democrats, Republicans, local, state and federal,” Sen. Ben Cardin said. “We are all part of his other family. On behalf of that other family, we lost a beloved member in Kevin Kamenetz.”
Others spoke of how wrong it felt to be saying goodbye to Kamenetz. He was 60, had seemed in good health, and was running hard in the Democratic primary to challenge Hogan.
Campaign treasurer Charles Klein met Kamenetz in 1975 as a member of College Democrats. They were friends for more than four decades.
“I can’t come up with any reason God saw fit to take you down,” he said.
The ceremony was otherwise marked with jokes and laughter. Rabbi Andrew Busch told of how Kamenetz’s wife and sons once tricked him. Pumpkins he had planted in his Owings Mills garden weren’t growing well, so they bought some from a farm stand and placed them in the garden.
Before they could tell him the truth, Busch said, he had shared them on social media with pride.
Jill Kamenetz said her husband always took care of her, and never forgot a birthday or anniversary. But that didn’t mean his work in county government — four terms on the County Council and two terms as executive — didn’t distract him.
“One anniversary not long ago, I received a beautiful delivery of roses,” she said. “I opened the card and it says, ‘Happy anniversary! All my love, Sam Moxley” — a former county councilman.
She recalled meeting Kamenetz on a blind date.
“I hated how he was dressed, but I knew that I could change that,” she said.
She fell for him on the second date.
Friends and family described Kamenetz as a dedicated and humble politician — at least most of the time. His friend Rob Hoffman recalled when Kamenetz met a senator from North Dakota. He asked if the politician knew Baltimore County had a larger population than his entire state — and six other states, too.
Another time, he urged Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos to bring up a promising prospect from the minor leagues, and tried to help Angelos find contacts for Orioles executive Dan Duquette or manager Buck Showalter in his smartphone.
“He was extremely confident,” Hoffman said.
Jill Kamenetz said that if her husband could witness his own funeral, “He would say, ‘Wow, great turnout. …
“If he saw today’s Sunpapers, he would say, ‘Jill, I’m on the cover and above the fold.’ ”
Kamenetz’s teenage sons, Karson and Dylan, wore sunglasses throughout the service. Karson Kamenetz said he couldn’t shake the feeling that his father would soon walk in the room, “and apologize for always being late.”
“I owe every single aspect of my life to him,” he said. “I hope my dad knew how much he meant to me. I hope he died knowing he was my role model. I hope he died knowing that I loved him endlessly.”
Cardin was the only politician to speak. But the audience was filled with a bipartisan crowd of current and former senators, members of Congress, governors, county officials and state lawmakers — and Democrats who were running against Kamenetz in the June 26 primary.
Cardin praised Kamenetz’s commitment to ending housing discrimination, promoting the development of the former Sparrows Point steel mill into Tradepoint Atlantic, and revitalizing downtown Towson. After the Baltimore riots of 2015, Cardin said, Kamenetz encouraged his constituents in the county to support the city.
But he said Kamenetz's top priority was education.
“What a legacy he has left for future generations,” Cardin said.
Kamenetz’s pallbearers included current and former county officials and employees — Don Mohler, Vincent Gardina, Arnold Jablon — and developers Arthur Adler and Howard Brown.
Musicians from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra opened the service. Busch said the organization had reached out to the Kamenetz family to offer a string quartet, a gesture to honor Kamenetz’s “commitment to the region, the city and the county.”
Jill Kamenetz said she and her husband were celebrating “big birthdays” this year — he turned 60. They had planned to take a big trip after the primary election.
“He said to me, ‘This is it; not much longer,’” she said. “We decided to postpone our celebrations until after the election. Everything was, ‘after the election.’
“My advice to everyone is: Don’t postpone any celebration,” she said. “Just do it.”