After waiting for election returns throughout the night, Baltimore County Councilman Kevin Kamenetz will declare victory this morning in his race for the Democratic nomination for county executive against fellow council member Joseph Bartenfelder.
Bartenfelder, 53, a Fullerton farmer and former member of the Maryland House of Delegates, conceded the race to Kamenetz around 9 a.m., saying he won the precincts he needed to win, but the low turnout cut too far into his total vote.
"We tried to get our message out, we kept our campaign focused and positive," he said. "We did the best we could, we had an army of people out there helping us."
Kamenetz campaign manager Peter Clerkin said this morning that with the county Board of Elections posting results for 218 of 231 precincts, Kamenetz feels confident that his 52 to 44 percent lead is solid. The 52-year-old lawyer from Owings Mills will hold a news conference at his campaign headquarters in Towson to declare victory over Bartenfelder in the toughest race for this office in more than 30 years. He will announce at 11 a.m.
Results came in very slowly Tuesday night, partly because some election judges left memory cards in voting machines, according to Jeff Stevens of the Baltimore County Board of Elections. By 1 a.m., with results from about half the precincints still out, both camps were winding down their election night gatherings and hoping for word by later in the morning.
Full results for the county are expected to be available by the end of the day.
Both camps were still giving upbeat reports late into the night to supporters who had been gathering for hours — snacking from the buffet tables, drinking, waiting for the word.
"We feel very confident based on what we've seen so far," Kamenetz told a gathering of about 200 supporters in a banquet room at the Pikesville Hilton. He stood on the low stage with his wife, Jill by his side.
"All the signs are positive," said Kamenetz, who like Bartenfelder has served on the council since 1994. "We're running better than expected in almost every part of the county."
Miles to the east, in Parkville, Bartenfelder supporters gathered at the Tall Cedars Hall were getting similar encouraging words from their campaign, but the candidate himself was being more cautious. Bartenfelder worked his way through the crowd talking with people before he addressed the crowd.
"It could be a long night," Bartenfelder, told supporters, shortly before they began to trickle out of the event. "It's a wait and see type of election."
Earlier in the evening, his campaign reported its own results that claimed Bartenfelder was in the lead.
It was clear enough that turnouts were low in precincts across the county, some estimates running as low as 15 percent or 20 percent. Baltimore County Board of Elections Director Katie A. Brown said she estimated 25 to 30 percent of voters would cast ballots.
The race between two veteran councilmen unfolded as a contrast of styles, with Kamenetz using more media and running a more aggressive campaign. It was expected to be tighter than any in 30 years, and the main drawing card for the county's 289,000 registered Democrats.
"That's probably the marquee race that's going to bring people out to vote," Councilman John Olszewski Sr. said before polls closed. Olszewski, from the east side, rattled a few political cages in his area this season when he came out early to endorse Kamenetz over Bartenfelder, from Olszewski's neighboring district.
A third candidate, Ronald E. Harvey, a retired county personnel manager, did little campaigning and did not make a large showing in early returns.
The winner of the race will face Republican Kenneth C. Holt of Kingsville, a former delegate and investment executive who ran unopposed for the nomination. Incumbent James T. Smith Jr., a Democrat, was barred by term limits from running for a third time.
Kamenetz spent the final day of the primary contest visiting polling places from the central part of the county to the west before heading over to the Pikesville Hilton after the polls closed.
Bartenfelder was stopping at polling places across the county. He voted in the morning at the Fullerton Fire Station, where election judges told him that to he had to remove his black campaign polo shirt with his name in yellow letters, in order to comply with the prohibition on electioneering in polling places.
John Gilliam, 69, said he voted for Bartenfelder at Edgemere Elementary School on the east side. A retired General Motors line worker from Edgemere, he said he'd made his decision "three minutes ago," and supported Bartenfelder because he was the more familiar name.
Voting at Summitt Park Elementary School near Greenspring Avenue, Ron Attman, 63, said he has been impressed by Kamenetz on the council. Attman lives in Kamenetz's district, in Greengate.
"It was an easy call," Attman said. "I think he has a very good record as far as the issues. His support of the neighborhoods, the school system has been very good."
The common wisdom among county political observers was that Kamenetz would need strong results from his home district and the neighboring, majority-black district to overcome what was expected to be weak support in east, north and southwest precincts. His edge was expected to be good turnout, as his strongholds happen to also be the top two council districts in voting.
Kamenetz raised about $1.4 million for the primary as compared with about $810,000 for Bartenfelder. He spent four times as much on advertising, but about a quarter as much as his rival on campaign materials such as signs, brochures and bumper stickers.
Kamenetz eventually won the support of three fellow Democratic council members — Olszewski of District 7, Vincent Gardina of District 5 and S.G. Samuel Moxley of District 1. Bartenfelder was endorsed by Kenneth N. Oliver of the District 4.
Bartenfelder won the battle for union support, getting endorsements from the Metropolitan Baltimore Council AFL-CIO, a organization of more than 180 locals, the Baltimore County Professional Firefighters Association and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #4. Kamenetz was backed by the Teachers Association of Baltimore County and the Laborers International Union of North America.
Kamenetz was also endorsed by the Greater Baltimore Sierra Club and won an award this year from the Valleys Planning Council recognizing his work in protecting open space and Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Kamenetz promoted his reputation as an earnest student of county policy who in his 16 years on the council introduced more legislation than almost any of his colleagues, including a bill to require security cameras in shopping mall parking lots. He argued during the campaign that his work as a legislator — and as the county's negotiator in several rounds of contract talks with cable television companies — demonstrated his qualifications to run the $2.56 billion operation that is county government.
Bartenfelder emphasized his 28 years of legislative experience in both the council and the General Assembly, while offering specific proposals to improve vocational education in local schools. He touted achievements during his years on the council, including helping to get computers for an elementary school, classrooms at a nature center near the waterfront and underground water tanks for fighting fires in the northern part of the county. Bartenfelder's district once included part of the rural north county.
The two men ran campaigns as dissimilar as their personal styles. Kamenetz was more aggressive, with news conferences and more advertising both touting his own accomplishments and attacking Bartenfelder for his campaign claims and his environmental record while he was a member of the Maryland House of Delegates.
Bartenfelder, known as the more genial personality, never hit back very hard in his advertising, or even when prompted in interviews, even though members of his campaign staff were urging him to do so. He said it wasn't his style and it wasn't the kind of campaign he wanted to run.
"Keep it positive," he said at the Fullerton Fire Station. "So you don't have to be ashamed to show your face any place" after the election. "Lead with a positive direction for the county."
Baltimore Sun reporter Yeganeh June Torbati contributed to this article