Sun Editorial Page Editor Andy Green discusses the endorsement of John Olszewski for Baltimore County Executive. (The Baltimore Sun video)
During the last 24 years, Baltimore County has changed enormously. It has grown far more diverse racially and economically, and the suburban communities that were the center of growth and prosperity in the post-war decades have aged and in some cases decayed. The county no longer offers an automatic escape from urban problems. Yet the leadership of the county government through the last three executives’ administrations has stayed remarkably steady, to the point of stagnation. It’s past time for new leadership and a new vision for the county, and one way or another, voters are going to get it in this election. Both Republican Al Redmer Jr. and Democrat John A. Olszewski Jr. promise a fresh start, but which offers the best one? In our view, there is no contest. Mr. Olszewski is the right leader to usher in a new era for Baltimore County.
Once the youngest member of the House of Delegates, Mr. Olszewski now brings an ideal combination of maturity and fresh ideas to his run for county executive. His experience in the classroom as a teacher, in state government and in the private sector provide him with a strong appreciation of how the county government can improve residents’ lives, and fatherhood has led him to think deeply about what kind of community the county’s leaders should leave to the next generation.
During the Democratic primary — a contest he won with a positive message and relentless effort — Mr. Olszewski competed for the title of the most progressive candidate. But labeling him that way is inadequate. His is not a campaign pulled from a prepackaged set of policies and plans but rather one that reflects years of consideration of Baltimore County’s problems and opportunities.
First and foremost, he recognizes the disconnect between residents and a government that too often has appeared to consider their input a bother, as if they should simply be grateful that property and income tax rates haven’t risen in a generation and keep quiet about everything else. Mr. Olszewski has embraced openness and transparency as the crucial themes of his candidacy, and he promises to bring those values to Towson in ways large and small — for example pushing for the County Council to hold work sessions in the evening, posting more documents online, holding public input sessions on the budget before it’s drafted rather than afterward and adopting a system of public financing for campaigns so future candidates are beholden to the people, not developers and other special interests.
Mr. Olszewski recognizes the public schools as a key draw for the county historically, and one that appears now on shakier grounds. It’s a question of facilities — the massive school renovation and construction program begun under the late county executive Kevin Kamenetz was essential but insufficient — but also governance and equity. Public confidence in the system was shaken by the scandal that brought down former Superintendent Dallas Dance, and Mr. Olszewski understands the need for the county government to exercise a greater degree of oversight, whether through an independent inspector general or an expanded role for the county auditor. And as the gap between the highest performing county schools and the lowest widens, Mr. Olszewski sees the potential for greater investments in high quality early childhood education and better connections between high schools and career pathways. The county executive doesn’t run the schools, and he shouldn’t, but having one who is so deeply committed to education and willing to make the investments necessary to provide excellent opportunities for all students makes a real difference.
Growing up in Dundalk amid the decline and demise of the Sparrows Point steel mill, Mr. Olszewski has a keen appreciation for the struggles many county residents face in maintaining their quality of life. He focused heavily on job training when he was a state delegate, and he has good ideas for getting the private sector more involved in designing the county’s programs to meet the needs of a 21st century economy. He proposed the creation of a county Department of Transportation to address not only the increasing traffic but also the difficulty many residents face in commuting to areas where good jobs are plentiful. He supports increasing the minimum wage — preferably on a state-wide basis — and he understands the threat Baltimore County faces from the concentration of poverty in certain communities. Failing to address that is a recipe for decline.
Mr. Redmer is an appealing candidate, too. He has a wealth of government and private sector experience, and he is a moderate in the Larry Hogan mold. He worked well across the aisle when he was in the House of Delegates, and as insurance commissioner, he has been a positive force in the state’s efforts to protect the Affordable Care Act. But he is far behind Mr. Olszewski in presenting a specific vision for the county’s future. His answer to most any question is to say that we need to come up with a plan. And while Mr. Olszewski recognizes and embraces the interconnectedness of Baltimore City’s and Baltimore County’s fates, Mr. Redmer sometimes touches on the us vs. them rhetoric of the county’s past — for example, referring to a rise in “Baltimore City-style crime” in the county or answering a question about opportunities for regional cooperation by discussing the problem of rats crossing the city-county line when one side or the other seeks to eradicate them.