Baltimore County executive candidates from both parties make pitch at interfaith gathering

With promises of more transparent government, better-trained police and improved public schools, four of the leading candidates for Baltimore County executive made their pitch to voters at a forum Saturday in Woodlawn.

About 100 people gathered in Morning Star Baptist Church on the warm spring afternoon.

“This is a beautiful day to be sitting in here and listening to us,” joked insurance commissioner Al Redmer Jr. of Middle River, who is running for the Republican nomination for county executive.

His primary opponent, Del. Pat McDonough, did not attend the event, though organizers said he had been invited. The three leading Democrats, whose race began to heat up this week, also shared the stage: County Councilwoman Vicki Almond of Reisterstown, state Sen. Jim Brochin of Cockeysville and former Del. Johnny Olszewski Jr. of Dundalk.

Despite representing different parties, the four candidates found agreement on some issues. Each said they supported concepts such as having better training for police, putting more police officers in schools, improving diversity in the county’s work force and promoting small businesses in the county.

But they differed on other key issues.

Almond, who is in her second term on the County Council, offered support for a $15 minimum wage in Baltimore County.

Redmer said he would not support a $15 minimum in the county, while Olszewski and Brochin said they’d prefer a statewide $15 minimum wage rather than a county-only standard. Olszewski said that if the state does not institute a $15 minimum wage, he’d study whether it would be feasible to implement it in the Baltimore metro region, not just the county.

Brochin challenged Almond on why she supports an increased minimum wage, yet has not introduced a bill for it in her nearly eight years on the County Council.

“You can just put the bill in,” Brochin said.

“It’s not exactly how things work in the council,” Almond responded. “There’s seven of us.”

Almond said her fellow council members are not all in agreement on whether, or how, to increase the minimum wage.

Almond and Brochin also exchanged words over campaign contributions from developers. Brochin repeated a refrain he’s used previously in his campaign that he will end “pay-to-play” politics in the county — the term generally refers to the practice of developers making donations to candidates, in part to curry favor for projects.

“No one in the County Council is involved in pay-to-play," Almond responded. “I do take offense to that."

Almond and Brochin had sharper words for one another on campaign contributions earlier in the week. Almond called on Brochin to give the amount of money he’s received from gun groups — almost $13,000 — to a gun violence charity. Brochin shot back that Almond should make a donation to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation equal to the tens of thousands of dollars she’s received from developers and their lawyers.

The candidates also differed on the HOME Act, a proposal that would not allow landlords to discriminate against prospective tenants who have government housing vouchers. Last year the County Council defeated the HOME Act. Almond, who cast one of the votes against the bill, said it’s “a very emotional issue for many people.”

The bill will be reintroduced as part of an agreement between the county and the federal government over housing discrimination issues.

Olszewski said he supports it. “I am the only candidate running for Baltimore County executive who supports ending housing discrimination,” he said.

Brochin said he’s opposed to the HOME Act. Redmer didn’t answer the question directly, but said the county needs to take “a holistic approach” to housing issues.

Saturday’s forum was hosted by the Interfaith Coalition of Baltimore County, a group that touts its efforts to bring together Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh faith communities.

The candidates are vying to succeed Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who is barred from running again due to term limits. Kamenetz is now running in the crowded Democratic primary for governor.

The primary election day is June 26, with early voting beginning on June 14.

pwood@baltsun.com

twitter.com/pwoodreporter

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