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Campaigning on menu for county councilmen

The Baltimore Sun

The events include a breakfast at Martin's West, a shrimp feast at the Hawks Pleasure Club in Essex and a $1,000-a-head VIP reception at the Holiday Inn in Timonium.

For members of the Baltimore County Council, the campaign to win re-election might have ended in November. But the next campaign -- perhaps for a higher office, say, county executive -- has begun.

Council Chairman Stephen G. Samuel Moxley launched the fundraising season this month with the breakfast at Martin's West, where the Catonsville Democrat estimates he raised as much as $25,000. Dundalk Democrat John A. Olszewski Sr. held a $500-a-head dinner last week at Sparrows Point Country Club. On the menu: scallops wrapped in bacon, fried shrimp, carved turkey, roast beef, lamb chops and an open bar. He estimates that he raised about $100,000 from the event.

The two councilmen, along with colleagues Vincent J. Gardina, Joseph Bartenfelder and Kevin B. Kamenetz, all say they are considering running for the county's highest post in 2010, when second-term County Executive James T. Smith Jr. will be forced to leave office because of term limits. All have planned fundraisers this spring.

Kamenetz will host a reception tonight at the Holiday Inn in Timonium.

Councilmen say it is never too early to start raising money for a campaign and that a prime time to do it is in the first three months of the year, when state legislators are in session in Annapolis.

"In a limited environment of fundraising, you've got to raise your funds when you can," said Moxley, who recently began his fourth term on the council. "It's a limited period, and folks have limited money, as well."

Council members know that a campaign for county executive would cost considerably more than running for County Council, especially in such a large and diverse county.

Smith, a Democrat, has set the standard: He had $1.28 million in his campaign account going into last year's general election, state elections records show.

"It takes four years to accumulate enough money to run for even a County Council office," said Towson-Perry Hall Democrat Gardina. "If you're going to run for county executive, it takes time to accumulate that. It's not like we have one fundraiser and bring in all the money we need for an election. We have to have multiple ones, and you can only have so many in a given year because we only have so many donors."

Gardina, a fifth-term councilman, said he is planning a May fundraiser at Martin's East.

Raising money now might be important for the councilmen because the panel has an unofficial policy of not raising funds during the county's Comprehensive Zoning Map Process, a once-every-four-years process in which council members consider requests to change the zoning of properties in their districts. The process begins in September and lasts about a year.

Five council members have sponsored a nonbinding resolution, scheduled for a Monday vote, affirming the policy of not accepting contributions during the process.

"It's certainly prudent for the council to reaffirm that we will not only avoid any conflict, we will avoid any appearance of a conflict," said Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Ruxton Democrat.

But Gardina, who along with Olszewski had not signed on as sponsors of the resolution as of yesterday, said he might not adhere to the policy this time around.

"As long as you don't send any requests for donations from people who have zoning issues filed before you, then who cares? It doesn't matter," Gardina said.

Randallstown Democrat Kenneth N. Oliver, who said it is too early to say whether he would consider running for county executive, said he raised about $25,000 at a $500-a-plate breakfast yesterday in Pikesville.

At least two council members, Kamenetz and Gardina, have planned to hold fundraisers outside their respective districts.

Kamenetz said he chose the hotel in Timonium because it can accommodate a big crowd, and he pointed out that only the interstate separates the building from his district.

"It's six lanes and a sound wall from my district," Kamenetz said.

As of Jan. 17, when the state elections board released its latest campaign finance data, Kamenetz had by far the biggest campaign account among his colleagues, with about $363,500 in the bank.

"I'm not concerned about that. You just lay out your plan and follow it," said Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat, who has planned an April 27 shrimp feast at Hawks Pleasure Club.


Sun reporter Laura Barnhardt contributed to this article.

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