It is all well and good that Baltimore County Executive (and gubernatorial candidate) Kevin Kamenetz thinks Amazon should open its second headquarters here in Baltimore City. It's easy for politicians to voice strong support for big projects that are a long way away from becoming reality. It's only when projects become real, when the rubber hits the road and shovels are about to go into the ground, that real leadership, not just an op-ed, is required to navigate the challenges.
When another project slated to transform the region came close to becoming reality, Mr. Kamenetz was nowhere to be found. I'm talking about the Red Line — the project that was supposed to make our transit system more integrated and more viable, and to show employers like Amazon we are serious about connecting people to jobs and about sustainable growth. We are less likely to make the cut with Amazon because we're not building the Red Line.
It was back in April 2013 that the Red Line needed the "broader vision" Mr. Kamenetz wrote about last week — one recognizing, as he said, the importance of a "strong and vibrant Baltimore City." That month I had just started as the city's assistant deputy mayor for operations, and I'll never forget my first important meeting, crammed into one of the misshapen conference rooms on the second floor of City Hall with the rest of the senior staff.
Two of then-Gov. Martin O'Malley's transit representatives had called the meeting. It was like a scene of good-cop, bad-cop, except there was no good cop. The General Assembly session had just ended. We were on the eve of getting federal approval for the Red Line. And these two politicos came to sound an 11-hour alarm: Even with the new revenues sources that had just been signed into law, the state didn't have enough money for the project, and the region — the city and the county — would have to pony up 10 percent of its cost.
This kicked off furious rounds of meetings to find $250 million needed to bring the multi-billion dollar project home, and with that, thousands of jobs. All along, staffers like me hoped for regional champions to emerge — beyond the standard set of advocates and reps from the alphabet soup of metro organizations. No one really believed Mr. Kamenetz would be that person, and he proved us right.
Our team had a private side-meeting with the county executive at a gathering of regional leaders at the Baltimore Metropolitan Council to ask that city and county work together on a funding commitment and to help the Kamenetz administration to come up with ways to meet their end of the deal. Our request was met with eye-rolling, hand-waving, and a barely lukewarm agreement.
Instead of articulating the Red Line's key role in a regional vision, Mr. Kamenetz balked at having anything to do with it, leading this paper to rightly criticize Mr. Kamenetz on his commitment to the project. Not just because he didn't want the county to contribute, but for a more fundamental absence of vision: "he clearly holds the view that only the portion of the Red Line that is physically located within Baltimore County should matter to Baltimore County residents."
The moment the Red Line was killed by a visionless, parochial Republican governor — whose only accomplishments have been to shorten the school year and to remove a couple highway tolls — a long list of gutless politicians suddenly discovered a passionate support for it that they never once spoke of when we needed it.
This year, Mr. Kamenetz editorialized in the Daily Record that "Gov. Hogan kissed more than decade of smart-growth planning goodbye, and then demonized the Red Line as a 'boondoggle.'" But this comes three years late and $3 billion short.
Mr. Kamenetz could have spoken up when it mattered, but he didn't. He could have articulated a broad regional vision that embraced city and county both, but he didn't. He could have shown major companies that that city and county both are pointed toward the future, together, not held back by ancient history and mutual suspicion. What we needed for the Red Line was what we need now to attract major employers like Amazon — leadership, not lip service.
Respectfully, nothing Mr. Kamenetz says he'll do in the future undoes what he didn't do in the past.
Dan Sparaco is an attorney in Baltimore and previously served as assistant deputy mayor for operations under Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and before that as an assistant solicitor in the City's Law Department. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.