Baltimore County’s next county executive, Democrat Johnny Olszewski, will take office in one month, which means he has to put together a transition team quickly, starting the morning after the election.
“We’re going to have to assemble a plan to build a diverse team that reflects the strength of our county and welcome and solicit even more feedback about what people want to see for their neighborhoods,” he said Tuesday night.
The current County Executive, Don Mohler, also a Democrat, said the transition will be a seamless one.
“I told him the other day, ‘You’re going to blink and that month goes by,” said Mohler, a long-time county political hand who has been through these transitions with former County Executives Jim Smith and the late Kevin Kamenetz. “It’ll be here and gone. So that’s why we’re going to work real hard over the next month."
Olszewski, who lost a race for state Senate four years ago, defeated his Republican opponent, Al Redmer, Tuesday by more than 14 points.
He told supporters gathered at the Sheraton in Towson that political insiders didn’t give him much of a chance when he launched his campaign for county executive.
“In fact, they wrote us off,” he recalled. “But I believed in the people of Baltimore County.”
Olszewski ran as a progressive and made a lot of promises, like spending up to $ 2 billion on new and renovated schools, and giving teachers a 20 percent pay raise.
In his victory speech, Olszewski seemed to acknowledge the difficulty of keeping some of those promises.
“We will not accomplish everything overnight, and we might not even accomplish them the next four years,” he warned. “But know that if we don’t set a bold vision for the future today, we’ll never get there.”
Democratic County Councilman Tom Quirk, who himself handily won re-election, said Olszewski has some tough challenges ahead.
“Our debt is pretty high. We have a lot of promises out there with schools,” he cautioned. “And so the bottom line is if Baltimore County residents want things we have to pay for them. We no longer can kick the can down the road.”
Quirk said he ran into a lot of people as he worked the polls on Tuesday who said they would be voting Republican for governor, backing Larry Hogan, but also supporting Olszewski. The results back that up. Hogan won the county handily but his coattails were not enough for Redmer.
Republican councilman David Marks, who easily won reelection, says Redmer ran a spirited race but had a tough road trying to win county wide, when registered Democrats outnumber Republicans more than two to one.
“I think where Johnny O did very well was in organization,” Marks explained. “He had really good staffing at the polls. And ultimately I think that helped to carry the day.”
Redmer, in his concession speech, congratulated Olszewski for a hard-fought victory.
“Johnny is an incredibly intelligent and articulate young man,” he said. “He’s going to have a long future in Baltimore County and the state of Maryland.”
Indeed, Goucher College Political Science professor Mileah Kromer says with this win, Olszewski, who is 36, becomes the future of the Democratic Party in the state.
“He has been able to both speak the language of progressives, but also be able to appeal to moderate Democratic voters,” she explained. “He is not a one trick pony.”
When he takes over, Olszewski will be working with a County Council controlled by Democrats.
Republicans had hoped to knock off Democrat Cathy Bevins in the Sixth District, which would have given them a majority, but Bevins held on, winning her third term.