Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. will forgo a run for governor to seek another term leading Maryland’s third-largest county.
The Dundalk Democrat announced Thursday that he will run for a second four-year term during next year’s election. He is the only candidate to publicly declare a candidacy for county executive so far.
“We’re excited about what we’ve done, but we know there is much work still ahead,” Olszewski said in a video released Thursday morning. “That work requires a sustained focus on what’s in front of us.”
Beyond the coronavirus pandemic that has been the focus of the second half of his term, Olszewski has pushed for a number of policies to change the way the county handles policing, energy and the environment, and housing.
He enacted police reform measures in an executive order last summer, and in 2019 succeeded in getting County Council approval of anti-discriminatory housing legislation that prohibits landlords from rejecting renters solely based on their source of income before the General Assembly passed a similar law statewide in 2020.
Olszewski championed public campaign financing, a proposal voters approved through a ballot referendum last year.
In his first year in office, Olszewski raised the county’s income tax for the first time in almost 30 years to cover an $81 million budget shortfall. This year the former Baltimore County Public Schools teacher has touted a proposal that would increase school funding by $40 million more than the state-mandated minimum as the county’s largest hike in school funding.
He’s also established the county’s first Office of the Inspector General and created the position of chief sustainability officer, setting a goal to power county government with 100% renewable energy by 2026.
“We have invested record funding in our schools, we’ve made our government more open, accessible and transparent than ever before, and we’re leaning into the values of diversity, equity, inclusion and sustainability and embedding them in all of our decision-making,” he said.
County council chair Julian Jones and councilman Izzy Patoka, both Democrats, had signaled they were considering a bid for the county’s highest seat. On Thursday, both said they supported Olszewski’s run, and said they would run for reelection in their own districts.
The Baltimore County Republican Central Committee’s chairwoman did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Olszewski had been floated as a possible candidate for governor in 2022 and took a serious look at the race. As recently as a month ago, he mused on Twitter that he was “thoughtfully, prayerfully, and deliberately considering” his options.
“I think it speaks to a love that Johnny has for this county, and the affection,” that he wants to retain his seat, former county executive Don Mohler said.
“Knowing now that he will not only have two more years, but most likely 6 more years, to continue [his] vision,” Mohler said he expects “county residents feel pretty good about that.”
At 38 years old, Olszewski “has a ton of political runway in front of him,” said Mileah Kromer, an associate professor of political science and director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College.
“By the time 2030 comes up, he’s not even 50 yet,” she said. “He has time, I think, to make these decisions.”
If reelected, Kromer said Olszewski has “an opportunity to really cement a legacy” outside “the shadow of the pandemic.”
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is term-limited from running again, leading to a wide-open race to succeed him. Democrats, burned by losing to Hogan twice, see opportunity.
Maryland has 2.26 million registered Democrats, compared to just over 1 million registered Republicans, with the remaining 865,000 voters registering without a party or with third parties.
Olszewski is among about a dozen Democrats who’ve considered a gubernatorial run at one point or another. So far, a handful of challengers have announced plans to run, including Comptroller Peter Franchot, former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III and Jon Baron, an executive with the Arnold Ventures philanthropic organization. Two Obama administration alumni also are running: Montgomery County resident Ashwani Jain and former U.S. Education Secretary John B. King.
Other Democrats mulling a run include former U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez, author Wes Moore, U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown (who lost to Hogan in 2014) and U.S. Rep. David Trone.
Current Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks — who like Olszewski is in her first term — has said she’s focused on her county for now.
Republicans so far have two declared candidates to succeed Hogan: state Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz and Robin Ficker, an anti-tax advocate who has repeatedly lost election to a number of offices. Michael Steele, a former lieutenant governor who is now a political analyst on TV, has said he’s considering getting into the Republican primary.
When he was elected county executive in 2018, Olszewski first eked out a 17-vote victory in a Democratic primary that had three competitive candidates. The campaign marked a political comeback after Olszewski, a former state delegate, lost a state Senate campaign in 2014.
Olszewski’s campaign coffers totaled $1.6 million in a January campaign finance report. Among potential gubernatorial candidates at the time, he was outmatched only by Franchot, who had raised $2.2 million.
As of Thursday morning, neither Olszewski nor any other candidate had filed with the Maryland Board of Elections seeking election to the county executive office. Prospective candidates have until Feb. 23 to do so.
Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.