After three days of recounting paper ballots, Johnny Olszewski Jr. was affirmed Saturday evening as the winner of the Democratic primary for Baltimore County executive.
Elections officials hand-counted 87,222 ballots and determined that the former state delegate won by 17 votes over the second-place finisher, state Sen. Jim Brochin. County Councilwoman Vicki Almond remained in third, and Carney resident Kevin Marron finished fourth.
As the results were announced at the Baltimore County Board of Elections in Hunt Valley, supporters and staffers for both campaigns were subdued.
Neither Olszewski nor Brochin was present for the recount.
A couple of hours later, Olszewski was greeted with cheers and chants of “Johnny O! Johnny O!” as he arrived, carrying his daughter Daria at his campaign headquarters in Dundalk.
“We are just getting started!” Olszewski told the crowd.
Olszewski promised to build a “diverse coalition” to win the general election.
“We’re going to work harder than any campaign has ever worked and we’re going to win in November,” Olszewski said. He was joined by a throng of orange-clad supporters, as well as his father, former County Councilman John Olszewski Sr. and County Executive Don Mohler. Mohler said he’s known Olszewski since he was the student member of the school board, and said the candidate “cares deeply about public service.”
Olszewski acknowledged being “a little nervous” about the three-day recount, but praised elections officials for their diligence.
Brochin congratulated Olszewski in a statement posted to his Facebook page on “a hard-fought campaign victory.”
Brochin’s statement said he wished Olszewski well and assured his supporters that their votes were not in vain.
“Even out of office, I will continue to fight against overdevelopment in our county, and make every effort as a private citizen to preserve and protect open space,” Brochin said.
The recount tally sets up a general election matchup between Olszewski, 35, and Republican nominee Al Redmer Jr., 62
It also guarantees that the next county executive will come from the eastern side of the county.
Olszewski was raised in and still lives in Dundalk. Redmer grew up in Perry Hall and now lives in Middle River.
This campaign represents Olszewski’s attempt at a political comeback after losing a state Senate campaign four years ago.
While he represented a conservative-leaning district when he was a delegate, he has touted his progressive ideas such as raising the minimum wage and ending housing discrimination.
The son of a now-retired county councilman, Olszewski got involved in government early, serving as the student member of the county school board when he was in high school and landing in the House of Delegates at age 23.
While his primary opponents battled over issues such as development and gun control, Olszewski tried to remain out of the fray. He apologized for a 2013 vote against Maryland’s law that bans many assault weapons, blunting some of the criticism he had started to receive on the issue.
He also advocated progressive positions such as increasing the minimum wage, enacting laws to combat housing discrimination and expanding free preschool and community college.
Redmer, meanwhile, is in his second stint as the state’s insurance commissioner.
During the campaign, he stressed his experience both in government and the private sector, often saying he has the most management experience of any of the candidates.
Redmer gained the support of establishment Republicans, including popular Gov. Larry Hogan and Del. Kathy Szeliga, one of the top-ranking Republicans in Annapolis.
Redmer handily defeated his primary opponent, Del. Pat McDonough of Middle River.
Redmer congratulated Olszewski on his victory and said he looks forward to forums and debates with him. Redmer said he was prepared to run against any of the Democrats.
“I happen to think that my background, experience and skill set uniquely qualifies me to be the guy to change Baltimore County and lead Baltimore County over the next four years and that message was going to be the same, no matter which of the Democratic candidates wins the nomination,” Redmer said.
The affirmation of Olszewski as the Democratic winner came 18 days after the primary election.
Elections officials spent three days counting absentee and provisional ballots, then another three days doing a recount of all ballots by hand.
At the end of Election Day, Olszewski had a 346-vote lead over Brochin. That narrowed to nine votes after absentee and provisional votes were counted and Olszewski was declared the winner.
Brochin requested the recount Tuesday after the election results were certified. Because the margin was so close — less than 0.1 percent — Brochin did not have to pay for the recount.
Baltimore County elections officials have not yet estimated the cost of the recount.
For the past three days, elections workers were set up at 18 tables in a warehouse at the county elections office in Hunt Valley. They worked in teams of three, with two officials reviewing batches of 50 ballots, separating them into piles for each candidate and announcing the totals. A third official tallied the results.
All the while, representatives from the Olszewski and Brochin campaigns observed the process. Attorneys for both campaigns were stationed at a table across from the county’s Board of Elections, arguing their case for or against counting certain ballots that were sent to the board members to make a final determination.
The winner of the general election will succeed Mohler, a Democrat who was appointed to the position in May after the death of County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. Kamenetz was completing his second and final term as county executive and was running for governor when he died from cardiac arrest May 10.