Baltimore County executive candidates Al Redmer Jr. and Johnny Olszewski Jr. are in the midst of a packed schedule of public debates and forums. Their latest, on Thursday morning, was a debate before a crowd of real estate agents, developers and builders in Towson. Here are some highlights.
1. They have differing views on affordable housing.
Baltimore County is under an agreement with federal housing officials that requires the county to spend significant money to help developers build low-income housing. The agreement also requires the county to consider passing a law that would ban landlords from automatically turning away prospective tenants who have government housing assistance, such as the Housing Choice vouchers commonly known as “Section 8.”
Redmer, a Republican from Middle River, said he does not support the housing agreement or the legislation, known as the HOME Act.
“I will not introduce that legislation as county executive,” Redmer said. “As a matter of fact, we’ll take it a step further and go back to the federal government to renegotiate that decree. If not successful, we will challenge it.”
Redmer said he would prioritize making new development more affordable to builders and entice them to take on small-scale “infill” projects in older neighborhoods. “We need to have more affordable housing in Baltimore County, but to take Section 8 and spread it around to other areas is not necessarily the answer,” he said.
Olszewski, a Democrat from Dundalk, said he supports the housing agreement.
“I’m not going to fight it,” he said. “I refuse to waste taxpayer resources in a lawsuit.”
Olszewski said he will consult with stakeholders to make sure the HOME Act is “the right legislation for Baltimore County.” He wants to make sure that parts of the county that already have a high concentration of affordable housing and voucher holders are exempt from having more affordable housing. He also said there needs to be a “holistic approach” to helping low-income residents that includes not only housing, but schools and other services.
“We will never transition anyone up the economic ladder if they first don’t have access to affordable housing.”
2. They want to build new schools, but have different ideas for how to pay for it.
Both candidates have pledged to upgrade school facilities, including addressing problems at aging Lansdowne, Dulaney and Towson high schools.
Olszewski says he’ll work with state lawmakers and Democratic leaders in Annapolis to get more state funding. Redmer, meanwhile, says he’ll leverage his relationship with Republican Gov. Larry Hogan — who is running for re-election — to get budget support for schools.
Olszewski also said he’ll find efficiencies in county government, reduce “bloated” school system bureaucracy and reconsider a program that gives laptops to every student to free up money for school construction.
Redmer wants to explore having private companies build school buildings and then lease them to the county with an option to buy. That way, he said, schools could be built with less up-front money. “We can build more with less,” he said.
Olszewski criticized that idea as a plan to “privatize our schools.”
3. Neither candidate wants to raise taxes.
Baltimore County’s rates for property taxes and local income taxes have remained unchanged for more than 20 years. Both candidates said they’re not interested in raising taxes — even as the county has expensive needs for fixing schools, roads and other infrastructure.
“We are not coming out of the gate raising taxes for any reason at all,” Redmer said. He said he’d use a “business-like, methodical approach” to balancing the county’s budget.
Olszewski used the question about taxes to list the tax increases he voted against when he was a state delegate, including the gas, sales and alcohol tax. Redmer has been hitting Olszewski on his tax votes in a TV ad and a mailer this week.
But Olszewski didn’t completely close the door. “Taxes will be the last resort that we turn to in Baltimore County,” he said.
4. Both promised to work with Baltimore City.
Baltimore County encircles the city, and the candidates were asked about the two jurisdictions working together.
“We are all in this together,” Olszewski said.
Redmer got a chuckle when he said that one of the things the county and city can work on together is rat eradication. Both jurisdictions have rat programs, but they’re not coordinated.
5. Both touted their endorsements.
This campaign season, Redmer and Olszewski have been trying to outdo one another with their endorsements, sometimes scheduling announcements on the same day. Redmer never misses a chance to note his relationship with Hogan.
“I’m a Larry Hogan kind of Republican … If you like Larry Hogan, I’m your guy,” he said.
Redmer also mentioned the endorsement he picked up this week from an association of county public school administrators. He also has the backing of the county’s police, sheriffs and firefighters.
“Rather than just bore you with the list of 100 organizations and individuals that have endorsed me,” Olszewski countered, “I’ll just add one that came out today: Comptroller Peter Franchot endorsed us. He’s a guy known for reaching across the aisle, being bipartisan and getting things done.”
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Olszewski and Redmer are vying for a chance to succeed County Executive Don Mohler as the leader of the state’s third-largest jurisdiction. Mohler, a Democrat, was appointed to fill the remainder of the term of County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who died of cardiac arrest in May.