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Olszewski Builds A Big Political War Chest

John Lee

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski raised nearly $1 million in political contributions in 2019, his first year in office. That is five times what his predecessor, Kevin Kamenetz, raised during the first year of his first term in 2011.

According to a finance report summary filed last week with the Maryland State Board of Elections, Olszewski raised more than $977,000. After expenses, he has more than $914,000.

In looking over Olszewski’s financial report, political strategist Sophia Silbergeld said one reason he raised so much money is that a lot of people who contribute to campaigns did not support Olszewski in the 2018 race.

“He wasn’t just the underdog,” Silbergeld said. “He was the under underdog. He raised the third most in that 2018 primary behind Councilwoman Vicki Almond and State Senator Jim Brochin.”

So donors who backed the wrong horse in 2018 shelled out money to Olszewski last year to kiss and make up.

Silbergeld, who is a member of the WYPR board of directors, has raised a lot of money for Maryland Democrats. They include Martin O’Malley, Kevin Kamenetz and Olszewski as well. Silbergeld worked for 10 years at Martin-Lauer Associates, a consulting firm that fundraises for Democrats. She left in 2016 and no longer raises money for Olszewski. She is the director of strategic partnerships at Adeo Advocacy, a public affairs firm in the city.

A large chunk of Olszewski’s kiss and make up money, according to Silbergeld, came from the real estate field, such as developers and people in construction. Olszewski’s campaign raised more than $200,000 in contributions from individuals and companies.

“In Baltimore County, the county executive has a lot of control over real estate development and zoning and everything that goes into land use,” Silbergeld said. “So you saw a lot of people having to make up for their support of someone who did not win.”

But that $200,000 only accounts for about one fifth of what Olszewski raised last year. Silbergeld said Olszewski has a diverse list of donors, including small business owners, unions and individuals. And she said it shows Olszewski is a disciplined fundraiser, spending hours calling people and asking for support.

“You know it’s certainly one of the things that we do,” Olszewski said.

Olszewski had more than 1,100 individual contributions last year

“We’ve had a wide range of people who have supported our efforts and I think that supports the kind of collaborative approach we take that everyone has a seat at the table,” Olszewski said.

But Mileah Kromer, a political science professor at Goucher College, said there’s more to it than that.

“What it suggests is there are a lot of individuals, particularly among that donor class, and those are the folks who pay the most attention the furthest out, there’s a lot of interest to see perhaps the county executive throw his hat into the ring in the 2022 gubernatorial race,”Kromer said.

When asked about the governor’s race, Olszewski gave a non-committal answer.

“No, I’m focused on being the best county executive in this state, in this country,” Olszewski said.” I want to deliver for the people of Baltimore County.”

Olszewski also would not commit to running for a second term as county executive in 2022.

Whether it be a race for governor or county executive, John Dedie, a political science professor at the Community College of Baltimore County, said that kind of cash tells would-be competitors to think twice.

“All of that money would scare off a possible Republican from running for county executive,” Dedie said. “And it may scare off other Democrats who are thinking of running for governor knowing ‘this guy’s got a million in the bank in his first year.’”

State Comptroller Peter Franchot has that kind of money too, and he has committed to running for the Democratic nomination for governor. Olszewski raised more money than Franchot last year, but the comptroller has more cash on hand.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2