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As primary election nears, Baltimore County executive candidates go on attack

The Democratic candidates for Baltimore County executive have ratcheted up their attacks — airing negative radio ads, delivering harsh mailers to homes and feigning support they haven’t secured from well-known elected officials.

U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and state Sen. Bobby Zirkin are featured on mailers promoting Democratic candidate Vicki Almond. Zirkin said he didn’t agree to being included on the mailer and isn’t endorsing anyone in the county executive’s race.

And Ruppersberger didn’t authorize the use of his picture on any candidate’s mailers, according to his spokeswoman Jaime Lennon. Ruppersberger, too, isn’t endorsing any of the candidates.

The mailers were sent by the Baltimore County Victory Slate, a campaign account controlled by former county executive Jim Smith, an Almond ally and top aide to Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh.

One of the mailers attacks rival candidate Jim Brochin for his record on gun control votes in his current position as a state senator. The mailer, which county residents began receiving this week, shows a man in a suit raising one hand to take an oath, while the other hand is behind his back with fingers crossed. The mailer proclaims: “Jim Brochin is not a Real Democrat.”

Some versions of the mailer print Zirkin’s name next to Almond’s, which Zirkin says he did not authorize.

Zirkin said he’s not endorsing in the county executive race, but told the three leading candidates that they could use his name in positive mailers in support of his re-election effort against Sheldon Laskin in the June 26 Democratic primary. Early voting began Thursday and continues through next Thursday.

He said he advised all three candidates to keep their messages positive.

“In Baltimore County, we should talk about education, parks and recreation, expanding the tax base, protecting the environment and public safety,” Zirkin said. “Those are issues that people want to hear about.”

Ruppersberger’s photo and a quote from him were included on a mailer that the Baltimore County Victory Slate sent on Almond’s behalf that touts the county councilwoman’s “lifetime of leadership.”

“Congressman Ruppersberger has a rapport with all three of the primary candidates and respects each of them,” Lennon said in a statement. “He wanted to honor his commitment to stay neutral in the Democratic primary.”

After seeing his picture included on the mailer, Ruppersberger reached out to the rival campaigns of Brochin and Johnny Olszewski Jr. and offered to let them use his name and picture on mailers, so long as the congressman approved the final product.

Olszewski worked with Ruppersberger to produce a digital ad that promotes how they helped lay the groundwork for redevelopment of the Sparrows Point steel mill site, according to Olszewski’s campaign. At the time, Olszewski was a delegate in the General Assembly.

Almond’s campaign said they weren’t involved with approving the mailers, because they were sent out by Smith’s slate. Smith couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.

But Almond’s campaign manager, Mandee Heinl, defended the campaign’s efforts to draw attention to Brochin’s record on guns, including having taken campaign donations from the National Rifle Association in the past.

“We’re putting a comparison out there on Vicki’s votes and his NRA votes,” Heinl said.

Brochin said the NRA made a poor investment by donating to him because he voted for an assault weapons ban and other bills that gun-rights activists opposed.

And Brochin is attacking Almond, too, with a new radio ad. It’s narrated by a woman who says she is a teacher who voted for Almond, but is disappointed in Almond’s decisions to allow certain development projects to move forward.

“Vicki Almond sold out our kids and she sold out our schools,” the narrator says. “Now Vicki’s selling off our open space. All so she could get the developers to bankroll her campaign for county executive.”

Brochin defended the ad, saying he had to respond to Almond’s negative campaign tactics.

“Up until she started attacking me, we’ve run a clean campaign,” Brochin said. “But I’m not going to let her debase my campaign and lie about my record without a response.”

Olszewski has largely stayed out of the fray, but a group of his supporters called a news conference on Thursday to criticize Brochin, whom they called “G.O.P. Jim.”

One of them, Sen. Delores Kelley, sits on the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee with Brochin. She said that from her perspective, “almost 90 percent of the time” he votes “on the wrong side.”

Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam offered a similar assessment of Brochin.

“He has voted 90 percent or even more with the Republicans. Not only does he vote for them, but he gets up and argues their votes on the floor,” Nathan-Pulliam said. “So when I saw the commercial that said ‘true Democrat,’ that bothered me.”

Brochin said he stands by his record and his claim that he’s a true Democrat. He noted his high ratings from abortion-rights and environmental groups.

“I’m the front-runner, so what would you expect?” he said.

A recent poll of registered likely voters for The Baltimore Sun and the University of Baltimore found that Brochin is leading with 30 percent, followed by Almond with 22 percent and Olszewski with 14 percent.

Olszewski’s campaign manager, Tucker Cavanagh, said his team didn’t know anything about the “G.O.P. Jim event.” The Olszewski campaign released a new TV commercial this week that highlights his campaign promises, such as universal pre-kindergarten and campaign finance reform.

Cavanagh said the campaign was planning to stick with a positive message in the campaign’s final days.

pwood@baltsun.com

twitter.com/pwoodreporter

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