Johnny Olszewski speaks to his supporers after he is elected to become the next Baltimore County executive. Olszewski defeated Republican Al Redmer Jr. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun video)

Everyone seems to have an opinion about Baltimore these days. Some offer scathing criticism; others provide an impassioned defense.

For what it’s worth, I see it this way: focusing on the city’s challenges without offering help or tangible solutions is counterproductive. Yes, Baltimore has its needs and flaws, as does every other major city in America. But those of us who share a love of Baltimore also know it has a deep history, a quirky nature, big-hearted residents and many positive building blocks.

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I believe that a transformation of Baltimore is on the horizon — if we go out there and claim it. And I want to be a part of it.

I feel personally connected to Baltimore, and I want it to thrive. When I travel outside of Maryland and someone asks me where I’m from, I typically don’t say “Dundalk,” where I live, or even “Baltimore County.” Instead, I simply say “Baltimore.”

Over the years, I have enjoyed city restaurants and nightlife, rooting for the Orioles and Ravens, watching theater performances and visiting fine art exhibits. I worked in city government following my departure from the Maryland House of Delegates. I played in a softball league organized in conjunction with the city’s recreation department. My wife and I go on dates in the city, and we take our 3-year old daughter to the zoo.

More critical than my personal feelings about the city, however, is the recognition that Baltimore County can only reach its fullest potential in partnership with a growing and vibrant Baltimore City. Positive transformation is good for Baltimore, but it is also in the best interests of the 835,000 people that call Baltimore County home and for whom I am directly responsible as county executive.

My economic development director reports that companies looking to locate here do not differentiate between the city and the county. Growing business in Baltimore — either city or county — requires a strong Baltimore brand. And it is not just my economic development team that reminds me why we want and need a strong city; my police chief and my transportation officials are among those who say so, too.

Baltimore city and county are inextricably tied. Our infrastructure is interconnected, from our roads and highways to our water and sewer systems. That’s why we must come to the table to find innovative solutions as our infrastructure ages, whether through revisiting a nearly 40-year old agreement on the region’s water distribution system or more effectively partnering and advocating for the plan that will allow double-stacking of rail cargo through the city’s Howard Street Tunnel. Working together, we can find ways to more efficiently and affordably deliver clean and safe drinking water, and we can unlock the incredible potential of our port-related regional economy.

A work truck backs into the northern end of the Howard Street Tunnel at Mount Royal Station.
A work truck backs into the northern end of the Howard Street Tunnel at Mount Royal Station. (Jerry Jackson / Baltimore Sun)

The safety and well-being of our communities also are interrelated, going beyond individual neighborhoods. So our police departments must work together and find more ways to tackle crime more proactively. This might mean data sharing and platforms that allow each police department the opportunity to create its own predictive policing models so that resources can be most effectively deployed. It could also be through shared advocacy at the state level for resources for additional patrol officers and much-needed down-stream investments, like additional dollars to build schools that are clean, modern and safe in both our jurisdictions.

Our opportunities for arts and recreation are shared, too. In fact, many of Baltimore City’s art and cultural institutions report that Baltimore County residents are often the largest percentage of their users. It’s one reason why we have remained committed to bolstering these organizations with direct and indirect support — assistance that has been vital to their ability to serve the residents I represent while also acting as anchors for the Baltimore communities in which they sit.

Similar needs and opportunities in other areas abound, but the point should be clear: The lines that divide us are just that — lines on a map. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

As Baltimore County executive, I will always be a champion for the success of Baltimore County and our residents. Helping to push for a stronger Baltimore is an important part of that fight.

John “Johnny O” Olszewski Jr., a Dundalk native, is the Baltimore County executive. Email: johnnyo@baltimorecountymd.gov, Twitter: @BaltCoExec.

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