In their final debate, the candidates for Baltimore County Executive differed over affordable housing, Pre-Kindergarten, and how to treat people who live in the country illegally.
The final forum between Republican Al Redmer and Democrat Johnny Olszewski came two weeks before election day.
The debate aired on Monday’s Midday program on WYPR and the candidates staked out clear differences in education. Olszewski said he is committed to offering voluntary Pre-K.
“The research on the benefits of Pre-K is clear,” Olszewski said.
In fact, if financially faced to choose between Pre-K and 12th grade, Olszewski would choose the former. Olszewski, a former high school teacher, said some would-be 12th graders could be elsewhere.
“Oftentimes, seniors in high school are already on work release, or they are taking electives they don’t necessarily need or they are already in community college,” Olszewski said.
Currently, Maryland high school students are required to stay in school until they are 18.
Redmer said he supports an expansion of Pre-K. But it’s just one of many unmet needs in the county.
“So it’s a high priority but I can’t tell you it’s the highest priority and we can do it in one fell swoop because I don’t think we can,” Redmer said.
Because the county’s finances are pretty tight, Redmer said the county should at least consider renting school buildings from developers with an option to buy. Olszewski called that a terrible idea.
The two of them disagreed over affordable housing. Redmer opposes a 2016 agreement with the Department of Housing and Urban Development that requires more private affordable housing in the county and that it be spread around. Redmer said he would try to renegotiate the terms of the agreement.
“And if not we will look at going to federal court to challenge it,” Redmer said.
The agreement also requires the county executive to submit legislation to the County Council that would prohibit landlords from turning down federal housing vouchers, also known as Section 8. Redmer said if elected county executive he would defy that part of the agreement.
“I don’t believe that we should be requiring landlords to do business with the federal government if in fact they don’t want to,” Redmer said.
Olszewski said letting landlords reject people with housing vouchers is discriminatory.
“I think discrimination in any form is wrong,” Olszewski said. “These are the same arguments we had when people said we are going to discriminate based on race or gender or religion.”
Olszewski says there is not enough affordable housing in the county for people like new teachers and firefighters.
The two candidates disagree over how to deal with people who are living in the country without legal permission. Olszewski fully backs an executive order signed last year by former Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. It prohibits the county jail and police from holding someone beyond their court-ordered release date even if federal authorities want to talk to them about their immigration status. Olszewski said local police should be focusing instead on keeping the county safe, rather than being an extension of a federal agency.
“I don’t think our local dollars should be spent doing that,” Olszewski said.
Redmer disagreed, saying the county police department should be able to work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or any other federal agency.
“It makes no sense to me that the county police department would not be able to coordinate with another law enforcement agency,” Redmer said.
With their final debate behind them, each candidate now needs to try to seal the deal with voters. Early voting begins Thursday.