Kamenetz defeats Holt in Balto. Co. exec race

Democratic County Councilman Kevin Kamenetz defeated Republican rival Kenneth C. Holt in the Baltimore County executive race late Tuesday night, in an election that will also result in the most thorough overhaul of the County Council in years.

"Folks, it appears we won the election," a hoarse Kamenetz told a ballroom full of a couple hundred cheering supporters at the Pikesville Hilton around 11 p.m. He held a 7-percentage-point lead with nearly 100 percent of precincts reporting. Holt conceded around 1 a.m.

"I'm going to be your next county executive to make decisions not just to last four years, but to last for a generation," Kamenetz said.

Five of seven seats on the county's legislative body will change hands; four members departed, leaving open seats, and one incumbent was defeated in the primary. The new council will be sworn in Dec 6.

In other county races, State's Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger led challenger Steve Bailey in a rematch of their 2006 contest. In the race for clerk of the Circuit Court, Democrat Julie Ensor held a wide lead over Republican Richard J. Reinhardt II.

Kamenetz, 52, a four-term council veteran from Owings Mills, campaigned on a theme of experienced stewardship, pledging to sustain what he argued were wise fiscal management practices of term-limited County Executive James T. Smith Jr. that had served the county well through hard times without making it necessary to furlough or lay off employees.

Holt, 59, an investments executive and former state delegate from Kingsville, called for more spending cuts and tax cuts and for expanding the county's effort to bring in new jobs, as well as new "career-oriented" education programs. He had not conceded the race as of late Tuesday night.

He said in his concession speech that the campaign came "within a whisper of success."

"I think that it is a high responsibility requiring great trust by the people and great integrity on his part to serve the people honestly and truthfully," Holt said of Kamenetz.

Turnout was reported brisk across the county throughout the day, as the county Board of Elections predicted that turnout would be near 60 percent, including early and Election Day voting — about double the showing for the September primary, which fell just short of 31 percent, including early and Election Day voting.

County Council

Only two current council members out of seven — both Democrats — will remain, and Republicans appeared poised to hold onto one seat and add another. Two other Democrats looked to have won in their races for open seats, and another race was extremely close.

•In District 1, Democrat Tom Quirk, 42, a financial planner from Catonsville, appeared to have defeated Republican Steve Whisler, 42, of Catonsville in the contest for the seat that was left open by the retirement of S.G. Samuel Moxley.

♦Democrat Vicki Almond of Reisterstown looked to have beaten Republican Jonathan Herbst of Pikesville for the District 2 seat now held by Kamenetz.

•Republican Todd Huff of Lutherville appeared to have defeated Democrat Ben Sutley in the race to replace the Republican on the council, T. Bryan McIntire, who served four terms in District 3.

•Democrat Kenneth N. Oliver of the Randallstown-Woodlawn area in the northwestern District 4 fought off a write-in challenge from Julian Jones.

•Republican David Marks of Perry Hall defeated Democrat Mike Ertel of Towson.

•Neither candidate held a sure advantage in southeastern District 6, where Democrat Cathy A. Bevins of Middle River faced Republican Ryan Nawrocki, of Rosedale.

•John Olszewski Sr. was unopposed in District 7, covering the Dundalk area to the southeast.

State's attorney

In the state's attorney's race, candidates appeared to agree on most law enforcement issues, and most of the challenger's criticisms came on fiscal grounds.

Shellenberger, a first-term Democrat, had promoted his accomplishments, which include carrying out a policy to record inmates' phone calls and prosecuting the state's first fetal homicide case. He also played up his role in the county's record-low crime statistics. Bailey, his Republican opponent, agrees that for the most part Shellenberger has done a good job as state's attorney, and he wants to expand some of his initiatives.

But when it came to fiscal discipline, Bailey argued that Shellenberger could stand some improvement, arguing that he is paid too much and doesn't run his office efficiently.

The main attraction

The main attraction on the county ballot was the executive race, although much of the intensity in the contest faded after the hard-fought primary battle between Kamenetz and Joseph Bartenfelder, two 16-year veterans of the council.

Candidate forums featuring Kamenetz and Holt produced a few testy exchanges, as Kamenetz frequently mocked ideas proposed by Holt, a senior vice president at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. At one point, Kamenetz called Holt's idea for a Negro Leagues baseball museum near Randallstown a "field of dreams" and said his proposals for tax cuts and expanded economic development programs would give the county the highest property tax rate in the country. Holt showed his combative side as well from the start of the general election campaign, as he accused Kamenetz of conducting an "ugly" primary campaign that poorly served a county facing difficult economic straits.

Still, the tone and intensity of the campaign shifted considerably from the primary. Kamenetz no longer held weekly news conferences to announce new policy initiatives or highlight his achievements on the council.

Although most of Bartenfelder's labor and political endorsements eventually swung to Kamenetz after the primary, Bartenfelder never officially backed Kamenetz or Holt, although he seemed to be making his preference known nonetheless. Weeks ago, Bartenfelder invited Holt to attend an event he held to thank his supporters, and praised Holt to the crowd, although he insisted it was not an endorsement.

Ultimately, whatever support Holt picked up from Republicans, conservative Democrats and disaffected Bartenfelder supporters was not enough to overcome a better-known and far better-financed opponent. By October, Holt had raised about a dollar for every five raised by Kamenetz, who started the year with more than $700,000 in his campaign fund. He proceeded to raise about another million, and to spend about $1.5 million, more than $1 million of that on media, chiefly TV ads.

There were few pressing issues in the campaigns for executive and council seats. For the most part, Democratic candidates pledged to continue Smith's policies, which they argued were fiscally sound, and Republicans insisted that more could be done to cut spending and bring more jobs to the county.

Among the challengers, Holt was the most specific in his proposals, as he offered detailed plans for economic development, more "career-oriented" education and promoting tourism.

Quirk's opponent, Steve Whisler, a retired Navy officer, issued the harshest critique of county financial management, saying on his website that the county was heading for a "financial catastrophe" because of debt and overspending.

The longtime community activist continued the critique on Election Day as he stood outside Woodbridge Elementary School, saying that "Democrats just want to seem to cover it up, and they don't want to talk about it."

Later in the day at Woodbridge Elementary, Quirk said he was encouraged by what seemed a strong Democratic turnout in District 1, where the 2-to-1 ratio of Democrats to Republicans just about duplicates the county.

"It looks good," said Quirk, a certified financial planner and former vice president of the Greater Catonsville Chamber of Commerce. "I can feel passion from voters, and they're Democrats and they're coming out strong."

Bevins of District 6, whose campaign emphasized the knowledge of the county she gained in working in constituent services for years for Smith, said during the day that she was eager to resume working for county residents.

"I'm just looking forward to winning," said Bevins. "I'm looking forward to serving the constituents of Baltimore County again, just on a different level."

Despite the local government turnover, county affairs will likely be business as usual, said Laura Hussey, an assistant professor in political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Most of the Republican candidates weren't "firebrand, conservative types who are really looking to shake things up," she said.

"The general consensus is that people are satisfied with where Baltimore County is right now, although there is the sense that we can do better" in terms of tightening up finances, improving educational outcomes, economic development and environmental quality, Hussey said.

Challenges will rest on the state budget and any funding cuts, she said.