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Kamenetz calls for party unity, awaits Bartenfelder's support

Hours after winning a bruising primary for the Democratic nomination for Baltimore County executive, Councilman Kevin Kamenetz made a pitch for party unity, but did not immediately get the support of his fellow council member and primary opponent, Joseph Bartenfelder.

Kamenetz is facing Republican Kenneth C. Holt, 59, of Kingsville, a senior vice president at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, who ran unopposed for his party's nomination. The former state delegate fired the first shots of the general election contest yesterday, saying he thought Kamenetz ran an "ugly campaign … based on attack ads, false statements, a lot of information that was not honest."

Some Bartenfelder supporters expressed their willingness to begin discussions with Kamenetz, noting that Democrats needed to pull together. Holt will be on what they see as a strong Republican ticket, featuring former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who is challenging Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley. Ehrlich was raised in Arbutus and represented Baltimore County in Congress.

Surrounded by supporters at his campaign headquarters in Towson Wednesday morning, Kamenetz, 52, a lawyer from Owings Mills, said, "I invite Joe to join with me. … He's a good man and a dedicated public servant. I think he has much to give to our county."

After a wait for results that lasted through election night into Wednesday, he said Bartenfelder, a 53-year-old Fullerton farmer, had called and left a message of congratulations, but made no commitment to endorse Kamenetz. The two men have worked cordially together since both took their seats on the council in 1994.

"We just traded messages," said Kamenetz. "We'll have a sit-down and talk. … I'm confident I share Joe's vision" for the county's future.

"We did the best we can. We had an army of people out there helping us," Bartenfelder said in a brief interview. He added that he thought the poor turnout in his stronghold on the east side, where election returns show he won soundly, contributed to his defeat to Kamenetz, 52 to 44 percent. The election day and early voting turnout was nearly 28 percent, in line with election officials' expectations.

Bartenfelder headed out in a truck from his home on Ridge Road to his farm near Easton on the Eastern Shore about 10 a.m. and could not be reached later in the day.

His campaign manager, W. Michael Seganish, said he spoke with Bartenfelder in the afternoon, and they talked about the question of his role in the general election.

"There's not been an endorsement yet, I can guarantee that," said Seganish. "Whether there will be remains to be seen. He's thinking about it. It's just too early. It was a very difficult defeat, really."

Seganish said Bartenfelder and his supporters were "going to have to sit down and see what Kevin has to say. It was a really nasty campaign."

He mentioned advertisements that portrayed Bartenfelder as indifferent to protecting the Chesapeake Bay — even from an oil spill such as the BP Gulf of Mexico disaster — and one mailer showing a ramshackle waterfront house to illustrate a claim that Bartenfelder accepted campaign contributions from an irresponsible landlord. Seganish also mentioned a web site created by Kamenetz supporters that implied Bartenfelder once showed racial insensitivity toward Sen. Delores G. Kelley.

Seganish said the campaign had materials they could have used in advertisements attacking Kamenetz, but Bartenfelder resisted using them. In response to a question about that on election morning, Bartenfelder said he wanted to "keep it positive," so that when it's over, "you don't have to be ashamed to show your face anyplace."

In his news conference, Kamenetz acknowledged only that there was the perception of a "bitter campaign," but he said, "I have great confidence in our Democratic party. We have the makings of a great coalition."

Some of Bartenfelder's ardent supporters say they're open to talking with Kamenetz about working together to defeat Holt, who would be only the third Republican county executive since the position was created as part of charter revision in the late 1950s.

"The campaign went a little more bitter and negative than I would have liked," said Michael Day, president of the Baltimore County Professional Firefighters Association, which endorsed Bartenfelder early without interviewing Kamenetz. Still, he said, "we're always willing to sit down and talk to anybody."

Day said he had left a congratulatory message on Kamenetz's phone this morning, but for the moment would hold off on further gestures.

"We're letting a little bit of dust settle," said Day.

Timothy Holland, president of the Battle Grove Democratic Club in Dundalk, which endorsed Bartenfelder despite split allegiances in the membership ranks, said, "We can come together, I don't think that's going to be an issue at all."

As Baltimore County is expected to be a key battleground in the rematch between O'Malley and Ehrlich, Holland said Democrats have to work together.

"We need to make sure we get the votes out," said Holland.

Kamenetz said after the news conference that he was not concerned about the potential of Ehrlich's candidacy to bring out Republican and conservative Democratic voters who might vote for Holt. While Ehrlich has done well in Baltimore County — he won the county overwhelmingly in 2002 and by a slim margin in 2006 — Kamenetz said "he has not always helped other people with his own coattails."

Board of Election figures show that Kamenetz got the margins he needed in areas that many political observers in the county identified as crucial. The west sider won only a handful of precincts east of Interstate 83, but he polled about 30 percent in the Dundalk area, where he had support from Councilman John Olszewski Sr., and about the same in the area around Towson and Perry Hall, where he was endorsed by Councilman Vincent Gardina.

At home in District 2, which includes Pikesville, Ruxton and Owings Mills, Kamenetz swamped Bartenfelder. He also beat Bartenfelder handily in the predominantly African-American district that includes Randallstown and Woodlawn. Vote totals in those precincts were generally higher than in areas on the east side where Bartenfelder won his biggest margins.

Kamenetz said he was starting the general election campaign this week, attending the African American Cultural Festival in Towson over the weekend, and an O'Malley fundraiser.

"I'm not going to rest until after the general election," he said.

arthur.hirsch@baltsun.com

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