Jim Brochin has spent 16 years representing Baltimore County in the Maryland Senate, but he says he’s increasingly frustrated that he can’t fix problems he sees in his own backyard: housing developments sprawling across open space, overcrowded schools, developers with too much political influence.
“It’s a culture, and somebody has to say, ‘No. It’s enough,’” Brochin says. “There was only so much I could do as a state senator.”
So the 54-year-old Cockeysville resident is asking voters to give him a new job: Baltimore County executive.
Brochin is running against County Councilwoman Vicki Almond and former state delegate Johnny Olszewski Jr. for the Democratic nomination for county executive. Republicans Del. Pat McDonough and insurance commissioner Al Redmer Jr. are vying for their party’s nomination. Both party primaries are June 26.
Brochin is centering much of his campaign on his concerns about land use and development in the growing suburban county.
In the Senate, he says, “I voted for maximum open space, maximum ag preservation and kept my word to my constituents that I would protect every piece of open space that’s left.
“As county executive, you can do a heck of a lot more.”
Brochin has pledged to diminish the influence of developers in county decision-making. “The developers have been getting preferential treatment for way too long and it ends with my administration,” he says.
He says he’ll work with developers to focus on areas needing redevelopment, such as Dundalk on the east side and Liberty Road on the west side, but also will focus on preserving undeveloped areas.
“People move to Baltimore County for quality of life. We are degrading quality of life in the county on behalf of developers,” Brochin says. His plan to slow development involves limiting the power of County Council members, who make key rezoning decisions and can allow flexibility from zoning requirements.
“Wouldn’t it be a good idea if there was a check on the council person’s power?” Brochin asks.
Brochin wants to give the county Planning Board — made up of citizens appointed jointly by the council and the executive — authority to override council zoning decisions if it sees fit. Brochin said he’d stack his appointments to the board with environmentalists and community leaders.
The anti-development message is pointed squarely at one of his opponents, Almond, who has served two terms on the County Council and has made several zoning decisions that have been controversial. The Reisterstown resident brushes off Brochin’s criticism, saying that collaboration between developers, community members and officials helps lead to better projects.
Brochin also is challenging claims of another candidate, Olszewski, a Dundalk resident who says he’s the most progressive candidate in the race. Brochin’s campaign points to Olszewski’s 2013 vote in the House of Delegates against an assault weapons ban, among other positions.
Brochin touts his own high rankings from groups that advance progressive causes, such as the Maryland League of Conservation Voters (92 percent lifetime score) and NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland (B grade and an endorsement).
While curbing development is a cornerstone of his campaign, Brochin has advocated other ideas. He wants to copy Anne Arundel County’s Safe Stations program, in which any county resident seeking addiction treatment can walk into a police or fire station and be connected with a counselor who can help.
He wants to hire more police officers to increase community patrols, and hire more teachers and counselors for public schools.
To pay for it, Brochin would spend more of the county’s surplus, stop giving grants to corporations and scale back the school system’s technology program that gives a laptop or tablet to every student.
He also wants a pilot program for the homeless called “housing first.” Essentially, those who are homeless could be placed in apartments, with the rent paid by the county, so they can have stability while working with counselors on addiction, medical needs and job training.
As he talks of issues and ideas, there’s a note of incredulity in Brochin’s voice — as if he can’t believe some people don’t see the same problems he sees.
“My message is the people’s message,” he says.
On recent humid Saturday afternoon, Brochin sweated through his polo shirt while making his pitch to voters in Owings Mills.
Steve Meizlish beamed when the candidate knocked on his door. He’s heard Brochin during his frequent guest appearances on WBAL radio over the years, and likes that the senator seems to be an independent thinker.
Brochin got his start in politics in his 20s. A Pikesville High School graduate, he obtained a bachelor’s degree at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro before returning to Maryland.
He received a master’s in government and politics at the University of Maryland College Park, and while there spent a year as a legislative analyst for Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.
Later, Brochin taught political science at the Community College of Baltimore County. In 1994 he was the campaign manager for American Joe Miedusiewski, a former state lawmaker who made an unsuccessful run in the Democratic primary for governor.
Miedusiewski, now a lobbyist, said Brochin showed hustle and dedication, working every day straight for 10 months.
“You can’t tell Jim that there’s something he cannot do. He’s very, very tenacious,” Miedusiewski said.
Brochin first won a seat in the state Senate in 2002. He never gained a coveted leadership position on a Senate committee, but was often a swing vote on the Judicial Proceedings Committee that handles criminal justice and legal issues. He was also chairman of Baltimore County’s Senate delegation, a job that involves pulling together group decisions on local issues.
Brochin sponsored legislation giving prosecutors more tools to go after serial rapists, and also pushed for an elected county school board.
State Attorney General Brian Frosh, who chaired the Judicial Proceedings Committee for years, has endorsed Brochin. He says while the two haven’t always agreed, he appreciated that Brochin would listen carefully to testimony in committee before making decisions.
“I think he’s a man of principle,” Frosh said.
That’s an important quality, says Brochin, particularly when it comes to advocating for constituents as county executive.
“You want somebody to have your back when you need them. That’s how you test out a politician,” Brochin says.
Experience: Four-term state senator. Insurance broker.