Olszewski ekes out 9-vote win in Baltimore County Democratic primary for county executive

John Olszewski Jr. celebrates a narrow victory Friday night in the Democratic primary for Baltimore County Executive primary for Baltimore County Executive at Towson courthouse. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun video)

Election officials declared former Del. Johnny Olszewski Jr. the winner of the Democratic nomination for Baltimore County executive — by a mere nine votes — after a count of absentee and provisional ballots Friday. But the margin is almost certain to trigger a recount.

The room was quiet as the final election results were announced Friday night at the county elections office in Hunt Valley, where supporters of Olszewski and his rivals, state Sen. Jim Brochin and County Councilwoman Vicki Almond, had waited anxiously.


“We are so humbled ... by today’s results,” Olszewski said at a late-night news conference outside the county government’s Historic Courthouse in Towson. “To everyone who helped get us get to this point, thank you for believing in us.”

Olszewski said the tight margin of victory shows that every vote counts.

Andrew Bailey, attorney for the county elections board, said Maryland elections officials have already begun to review the count, given how close the results were. The candidates have the option to petition for a recount. Bailey said the state board would hold a webinar Monday to give the campaigns more information about the recount process.

Given that the margin between the top two candidates — Olszewski and Brochin — is less than 0.1 percent, a candidate petitioning for a recount would not pay the cost, according to the state’s election laws.

Brochin’s campaign manager and attorneys quickly cleared out of the elections office after the results were announced. They said they would need to confer with Brochin about whether to ask for a recount.

Maryland does not have automatic recounts.

The winner will face Republican Al Redmer Jr., the state insurance commissioner and ally of Gov. Larry Hogan, in November’s general election. Redmer easily defeated state Del. Pat McDonough in the GOP primary.

In a Facebook post Friday night, Redmer said: “I would like to congratulate Johnny O on his apparent nomination this evening.”

He said he looked forward to “civil and spirited discussion of issues as we each present our visions for Baltimore County to our fellow citizens.”

The result came after a hard-fought campaign among the three leading candidates and a ballot-counting process that lasted for more than a week.

At the end of election day, Olszewski had a 346-vote lead over Brochin. That dwindled to 42 votes after the first round of absentee ballots last week, and then to seven votes Friday afternoon after a second round of absentee ballots. The final margin after all votes were counted was nine votes.

Almond finished third, less than 1,000 votes behind Olszewski.

Kevin Francis Marron, who said he spent just $150 on his campaign for business cards, finished a distant fourth. Marron was the only candidate present at the elections office when the results were announced.

Olszewski positioned himself as a progressive candidate who would focus on adding universal pre-kindergarten, giving raises to teachers, advocating for an increased minimum wage and making government more transparent.


Despite having some more conservative votes on his record as a state delegate, Olszewski avoided heavy criticism from the other candidates. He was mainly challenged for not voting for a 2013 law that bans many assault weapons in Maryland, and responded that he now feels the vote was a mistake.

Brochin, meanwhile, focused his campaign squarely on a promise to end overdevelopment in the suburban county. He said he would end what he called a “pay-to-play” culture where developers gain influence by making campaign donations. But he also found himself defending his record on gun control, including taking campaign donations in the past from the National Rifle Association — even though guns are not regulated at the county level.

Most of those attacks came from Almond’s supporters. A campaign slate headed by former county executive Jim Smith, sent several campaign mailers to voters that attacked Brochin’s record on gun control.

Almond’s official campaign, meanwhile, focused on her experience rising from PTA parent to community leader and county councilwoman. Almond often said that she knows county government well enough to understand how to improve it.

The next county executive will succeed Don Mohler, who was appointed to the job in May following the death of Kevin Kamenetz.