OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — Kevin Kamenetz, a Democratic candidate for governor of Maryland and longtime leader in local politics, died early Thursday at age 60.
Kamenetz, Baltimore County's two-term executive, died following a cardiac arrest, according to a news release from Baltimore County authorities.
Kamenetz was at home in Owings Mills when he awoke around 2 a.m., complaining of feeling ill, the news release said. He was hospitalized at St. Joseph Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 3:22 a.m.
"This morning everyone is just shocked," said Elise Armacost, a Baltimore County Fire Department spokeswoman who said she had known Kamenetz for nearly 25 years. "It is a sudden, unexpected death," she said.
The news release said additional details would be provided at a briefing later Thursday morning.
After beginning his public service career as a prosecutor in the Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office, Kamenetz was elected in 1994 to the Baltimore County Council, where he served four terms. He was a former president of the Maryland Association of Counties and the Baltimore Metropolitan Council.
He was first elected county executive in 2010 and re-elected in 2014.
A native of Baltimore County, he attended Johns Hopkins University and the University of Baltimore School of Law. He is survived by his wife, Jill Kamenetz, and two teenage sons.
Kamenetz was one of seven candidates vying for the Democratic nomination to oppose Republican Gov. Larry Hogan this fall. The Democratic primary is scheduled for June 26. He had chosen Montgomery County Councilmember Valerie Ervin as his running mate.
Sean Naron, Kamenetz's campaign spokesman, said Kamenetz had been at a candidate forum Wednesday night where he did "a great job" and was in good spirits.
Naron echoed Armacost, saying he and others were shocked.
Condolences from political leaders began rolling in after the news broke Thursday morning.
"He was a dedicated public servant in Baltimore County for more than two decades, and we join with the citizens of Baltimore County and all Marylanders in mourning," Gov. Hogan said in a statement. The governor ordered state flags to fly at half-staff.
Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh called Kamenetz a "friend and a supporter who always gave good advice" and championed the city.
Another Democratic candidate for governor, Ben Jealous, released a statement that commended Kamenetz for helping "to move Maryland forward." In a tweet, he remarked on how the dictates of alphabetical seating meant the two candidates were often placed next to one another at forums, and remembered Kamenetz's "grace and good humor."
Kamenetz's campaign touted his track record on education and the environment, highlighting a $1.3 billion investment in public education and the renovation or construction of 90 schools. His campaign website says the adoption of innovative education policies helped raise the public school graduation rate to nearly 90 percent, while eliminating the graduation gap between black and white students. He described himself as an environmental advocate who spearheaded initiatives to safeguard the Chesapeake Bay and reduce the county's carbon footprint.
His campaign website positioned him as a contrast to President Donald Trump, whom he criticized for attacks on immigrant communities. He also emphasized his fiscal policies, which he said resulted in no tax increases or government furloughs or layoffs during the Great Recession.
In a recent interview with The Baltimore Sun , Kamenetz described himself as impatient but said public service demands urgency.
"I have always been the person who will look you in the eye and tell you the truth. I think that's what we need from our elected officials," he told the newspaper.
It's yet unclear how Kamenetz's sudden passing will affect the calculus of the primary race and general election. As for Baltimore County, administrative officer Fred Homan will serve as acting county executive until the council votes on a replacement to serve the remainder of his term. The seat is also up for grabs this fall.