Baltimore County executive candidates Redmer, Olszewski face off in lone TV debate

Baltimore County executive candidates Johnny Olszewski Jr. and Al Redmer Jr. met Wednesday afternoon in the only televised debate in the campaign, touching on familiar themes of taxes, public safety, affordable housing and government transparency — but also fielding a question about the approach they’d take to fight sex trafficking.

Olszewski, a Demcorat, and Redmer, a Republican, have faced off numerous times previously in debates and forums around the county. The television debate was recorded at WBFF in Baltimore, and will air at 7 p.m. Saturday on MyTV (channel 24) and again at 4 p.m. Oct. 20 on MyTV. It is also posted online at foxbaltimore.com.

Here are some highlights:

The candidates agree on a lot.

Despite coming from different parties, Redmer and Olszewski answered similarly on several questions. Both said they’d hire more police officers, improve customer service at county agencies, boost local businesses and run the government in a transparent manner.

They faced some new questions.

The debate was moderated by Mark Hyman, a commentator for Sinclair Broadcast Group, the conservative media firm that owns WBFF. While he asked some expected questions on issues such as traffic, taxes and housing, he also had some novel questions — such as the query on how the candidates would fight sex trafficking.

Olszewski said he would make sure police have resources to investigate trafficking, share data with other jurisdictions and work with the state to make sure trafficking laws are strong enough.

Redmer echoed Olszewski’s answer, saying, “These are horrific crimes and we do need strong laws, but we need the tools to fight these and the tools to enforce the laws.”

Redmer chastised Olszewski for supporting so-called “sanctuary status” on immigration in the county, which Redmer claimed would prevent the county from working with federal agencies.

Hyman also asked the candidates how they would ensure that children are safe walking or riding to school and what their thoughts are on police use of lethal force — two questions that had not come up in previous debates.

Both said they would make sure police had proper training to avoid lethal conflicts and would work to keep children safe at school in a variety of ways.

Each candidate got in a few digs.

As Redmer talked about transparency in government, Olszewski challenged him to lead by example.

“For several weeks now, there have been calls for him to release his time sheets and his calendars,” Olszewski said of Redmer, who works for the state as Maryland Insurance Commissioner. “He’s running for executive while he’s also collecting nearly $200,000 a year of your hard-earned taxpayer dollars. If you believe you want to be a leader who leads by example, you should be willing to show people where you are.”

Redmer responded that he makes “nowhere near $200,000” and uses annual leave to campaign.

He said there have been multiple requests for the information “and we have released the information to everyone that has asked.” (The Maryland Insurance Administration has not provided documents requested last month by The Baltimore Sun.)

At another point, as Olszewski said he fought against many tax and fee increases when he was in the House of Delegates, Redmer responded: “My opponent, while he may have sought some tax reductions, did vote for many tax, corporate tax and fee increases.”

They touted endorsements.

Both Olszewski and Redmer wasted no opportunity to promote endorsements they’ve received. Olszewski mentioned his endorsement from the county’s teachers’ union multiple times, while Redmer touted his endorsement from Maryland Business for Responsive Government.

In responding to a question about 911 staffing, Redmer noted that he’s been endorsed by public safety unions for police officers and firefighters — although 911 employees are represented by the Baltimore County Federation of Public Employees, which has not yet announced an endorsement.

Evaluating the moderator.

At the start of the debate, Hyman promised: “There will be no trick or gotcha questions, no showboating by the moderator.” In his second-to-last question, he asked both candidates to evaluate whether he’d been fair.

Hyman quoted a column from Baltimore Sun media critic David Zurawik, who said Attorney General Brian Frosh “would have to have a hole in his head” to agree to a debate hosted by a Sinclair station given the company’s connections to conservative and Republican figures.

“Here’s your chance, gentlemen: Have I, at any time, been anything other than fair or impartial?” Hyman asked. “And may I state, for the record, I am not a constituent. You will not lose a vote if you bash me.

“Gentlemen, have I been fair?”

Hyman gave the candidates 10 seconds to answer. Both said he had been fair.

pwood@baltsun.com

twitter.com/pwoodreporter

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