Dundalk Democrat Johnny Olszewski Jr. will be Baltimore County’s next county executive after handily defeating Republican Al Redmer Jr. in Tuesday’s election.
Olszewski, 36, continues Democratic leadership of the state’s third-largest county, a run of party dominance that dates to 1994.
Olszewski thanked his supporters for believing in him when others wrote him off.
“At first political insiders didn’t give us much of a chance,” he told a cheering crowd at a Towson hotel. “In fact, they wrote us off. But I believed in Baltimore County, and I believed in each of you, and in turn, you believed in me.”
Olszewski said his team ran “a people-powered campaign that speaks to what’s possible in Baltimore County.”
He was joined onstage by his wife, Marisa, and daughter, Daria, 3, as well as his father, former Councilman John Olszewski Sr., other relatives and elected officials.
Olszewski pledged to work toward a transparent and open government.
“We will take ideas no matter where they come from, because politics will never get in the way of what is important in Baltimore County,” he said.
Campaign volunteer Bella Owens said she’s been impressed with Olszewski since meeting him at a community event two years ago. "His energy is very different and positive," she said.
Olszewski’s general election victory was more decisive than his Democratic primary win in June. Then, he emerged the victor by just 17 votes over two other candidates after a recount.
In the race against Redmer, Olszewski pledged to expand free preschool and community college, work to build more affordable housing, modernize county government and advocate for an increased minimum wage in the state. He pitched education as his top priority, often reminding voters that he was a public school teacher for seven years and had the backing of the county teachers’ union.
His bid for executive was also a political comeback. Four years ago, the former state delegate lost a bid to win a seat in the state Senate.
Not long afterward, Olszewski formed a group he called A Better Baltimore County, which allowed him to unofficially campaign around the county. He became the first candidate to enter the county executive’s race nearly a year and a half ago.
Olszewski built a campaign team that knocked on doors “from Randallstown to Rocky Point,” as he often said. After the narrow primary victory, Olszewski expanded his staff and opened campaign offices around the county.
He picked up support from one of his vanquished rivals — County Councilwoman Vicki Almond, who finished third in the Democratic primary — and many of her supporters.
Olszewski had side-stepped questions about Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ben Jealous. While Olszewski and Jealous shared many policy positions — and Olszewski branded himself a progressive during the primary — Jealous had early missteps that gave some Democrats pause.
Asked about Jealous, Olszewski would give a general response that he supported all Democrats running in Maryland, without mentioning Jealous by name. The two did not campaign together.
Redmer, meanwhile, was vying to become the first Republican county executive in nearly a quarter-century, and only the third Republican to hold the office since Baltimore County adopted its current form of government in the 1950s. He ran with the strong support of Gov. Larry Hogan.
Speaking to a roomful of supporters at Columbus Gardens in Nottingham, Redmer, 62, thanked his supporters for helping him run a solid campaign.
“We did, in fact, run the most competitive election by a Republican in a generation,” Redmer said in his concession speech. “We need to congratulate Governor Hogan on a second term. I believe he is one of the best governors in the country.”
Redmer was given a standing ovation as he said it was an honor to be the Republican Party’s nominee.
“It’s an experience I’ll never forget,” he said.
Redmer said in an interview that he would like to stay on as the state insurance commissioner for Hogan.
“I love doing it every day,” he said. “Some days more than others.”
Redmer called Olszewski to offer his congratulations. “We had a nice little chat,” he said. “Even when we disagreed, we were never disagreeable.”
Olszewski said Redmer’s call was “gracious.”
Redmer had campaigned on a platform pledging solid leadership and a change in direction to county government. He said he would improve customer service at county agencies and end “cronyism” in government. He pledged to create long-term plans and multi-year budgets to set the county on the proper fiscal track. He touted his executive-level leadership in the private sector and as state insurance commissioner.
Redmer also played up his alliance with Hogan, not only as a political partner but as a personal friend. He frequently told voters that his relationship with the Republican governor would translate into more state support for the county’s priorities, such as funding for school construction projects.
Olszewski had a high-ranking friend of his own campaigning for him: County Executive Don Mohler, a Democrat who was appointed to the post in May after the death of County Executive Kevin Kamenetz.
At Hillcrest Elementary on Tuesday, Mohler stood in the rain urging voters to support “my friend Johnny O.”
Maria Randle, 28, cast her ballot for Olszewski at Berkshire Elementary School in Dundalk after being persuaded by a flyer that touted his promise to work to accomplish good ideas “no matter where the idea comes from.” Randle, who works as a medical assistant at Johns Hopkins Hospital, said she also had seen many of Olszewski’s television ads.
Jerome North, of Towson, voting at Stoneleigh Elementary School, cited the senior Olszewski in explaining his vote for the son. Asked why he liked “Johnny O,” North, an attorney, said: “Because of his father. Everyone loved his father.”
The results of the election won’t be official for a couple of weeks, as elections workers must count absentee and provisional ballots. The first round of absentee ballots is scheduled to be counted on Thursday, followed by counting provisional ballots on Nov. 14 and a final round of absentee ballots on Nov. 16
The turnaround from election to taking office is quick in Baltimore County: Olszewski and members of the County Council will be sworn into office on Dec. 3.
Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters Luke Broadwater, Cody Boteler, Hallie Miller, Lillian Reed and Libby Solomon contributed to this report.