Joseph Bartenfelder says he will bring 28 years of experience in government, the business acumen he has honed as a farmer and a sense of responsibility to the job of steering Baltimore County through its current fiscal challenges.
The fourth-term county councilman is planning to announce his candidacy for county executive today at Towson University. He will face fellow councilman Kevin Kamenetz in a Democratic primary in September.
"I am carrying on this obligation I feel on behalf of the citizens," Bartenfelder, 53, said Thursday.
The successor to County Executive James T. Smith Jr. can expect to face continuing revenue problems. The county just closed a $150 million budget shortfall for the current fiscal year by tapping into a surplus fund, deferring several capital projects, and negotiating salary and pension concessions from employees.
"We don't have the dollars we had eight years ago, but we will still run the county efficiently and effectively and deal with all the major issues," said Bartenfelder, who has represented the 6th Council District in Eastern Baltimore County since 1994. Before joining the council, he served 12 years in the House of Delegates.
"We will continue working to attract and retain businesses and create jobs," he said. "We already have one of the top school systems in the nation and will continue to improve on that success. I guarantee county workers will see a lot of me, and I will listen to what citizens have to say to me."
Bartenfelder runs a family farm in Fullerton; he also has worked as a high school teacher. His announcement this evening at Towson takes him back to his alma mater, where he says his interest in politics took root.
"It is important to reach out to college students, who are an important part of our future and an important part of our government," he said. "If they want an opportunity to be involved in government, I will make sure they have it."
Bartenfelder's political career began in 1978, after he took the traditional college graduation trip to Ocean City. Inspired by the campaign signs he saw along U.S. 50, he stopped in Annapolis on the way home and filed to run for delegate.
One of 17 candidates for three seats, he ran his first campaign on a shoestring; his mother organized his first fundraiser in a refurbished barn. He came in fourth in that first race, as he remembers it, losing a seat by 30 votes, but he was only encouraged.
"I met a lot of good people in that election and vowed to continue," he said. "All these years in office have made me a better public official and a more complete person."
He won a House seat four years later and has not lost a political contest since.
"My commitment is the same today as it was when I started in politics," he said. "I don't mind hard work or working hard, and I will do that every day for the citizens of Baltimore County."
As a legislator, he said, he has "absorbed the positives" from working with five county executives. "I will incorporate that and the stamp of my own personality into the job."
He plans a festive atmosphere at his announcement, with a speech that that will likely include a jab or two at Kamenetz, who announced his candidacy last week after what he described as a yearlong listening tour.
"My listening tour began 28 years ago," Bartenfelder said. "I heard the messages clearly and carried them out in whatever offices I have held."
A large calendar fills one wall at the Bartenfelder headquarters. He has marked July 16 as "the last day for Kamenetz to withdraw" and Sept. 14 for his own " Election Day victory."
Kamenetz said Thursday that he looks forward to the campaign and the opportunity "to exchange ideas on my vision to create jobs, hold the line on taxes and to keep schools strong and neighborhoods safe."
He has outraised Bartenfelder in campaign contributions by a ratio of nearly 2-to-1.
"He will have more money, but we will have enough to run an effective campaign," Bartenfelder said. "Sept. 14 is an election day, not an auction."