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Olszewski's Upcoming 2022 Decision Means Uncertainty for Baltimore County

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski
Baltimore County
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski

Will Johnny Olszewski run for reelection for Baltimore county executive next year or will he instead go after a bigger political prize, governor of Maryland? It is the political question in the county as Olszewski mulls his future.

His decision likely will have a cascading effect on the county’s government for years to come.

If Olszewski, a Democrat, runs for governor, that likely will entice at least two members of the county council, Chairman Julian Jones and Izzy Patoka, both Democrats, to run for the open seat.

“There’s a good chance you’re going to see me on the ballot as a candidate for county executive,” Patoka said.

With Democratic Councilman Tom Quirk retiring next year, there could be at least three open seats on the seven-member council.

Former County Executive Don Mohler, a Democrat, said that would be unusual.

“The county has a reputation for just not turning over council members,” Mohler said.

Community College of Baltimore County political science professor John Dedie said with the current stability, there has been no major conflict or corruption.

Dedie said, “If you have three new members of council combined with a new county executive, that could be a steep learning curve for the voters of Baltimore County.”

On the other hand, Dedie said county residents would benefit from Olszewski running the state.

“For county voters, this could be very advantageous because they’re going to have a big seat at the table if Johnny Olszewski is elected governor,” Dedie said.

If Olszewski decides to run for reelection rather than for governor, Jones said he will try to keep his seat on the council.

“Yes, absolutely I will run for reelection,” Jones said.

Patoka said he will too, so a significant turnover on the council becomes more unlikely. Republican Councilmen Wade Kach and Todd Crandell have said they plan to run for reelection. Republican Councilman David Marks said he is considering running again. Democratic Councilwoman Cathy Bevins did not return a request for comment.

Last month the council defeated establishing term limits. Proponents said turnover would bring fresh blood and new ideas to the council and argued the power of incumbency makes that difficult.

Both Patoka and Jones have sizeable campaign war chests. The latest finance reports show Jones has more than $240,000 on hand and Patoka has more than $420,000.

The possibility of an open county executive seat could attract other Democrats to enter the race. For instance, former school board member Nick Stewart said he would consider it.

It also could crack open the door for Republicans, according to Marks.

“If it’s an open seat, it probably becomes slightly better for Republicans, particularly since you’re going to have, prospectively, a very bloody clash on the Democratic side,” Marks said.

No matter what Olszewski does, it would be challenging for any Republican to get elected county executive.

The last time a Republican did that was more than 30 years ago when Roger Hayden held the office from 1990 to 1994.

Registered Democrats in the county outnumber Republicans more than two to one. Marks said he probably won’t run. Republican State Senator Chris West, whose district stretches from Towson to the Pennsylvania line, said he’ll think about it, but only if Olszewski runs for governor.

West said, “If he decides to stay put, I have no interest in running against him because I think he’s been a pretty good county executive under the circumstances.”

Not to mention Olszewski has more than $1.6 million in his campaign coffers. And that doesn’t include a virtual fundraiser he had earlier this month. The charge for being part of that zoom call was between $50 and $6,000. Colleen Martin-Lauer, a consultant for the Olszewski campaign, said that event raised around $250,000.

Former County Executive Mohler said he believes Olszewski has a lock on reelection if he wants it.

“He will then have a full eight years to put his stamp on the county,” Mohler said.

Olszewski said he is weighing his options, including talking to friends, supporters and his family.

“Obviously, campaigns are a big sacrifice and require your family to be part of it,” Olszewski said.

He said he also wants to make sure the county budget he proposed last week is adopted by the county council. A budget vote is scheduled for May 27, but Olszewski is not ruling out an announcement before then.

“Once we have an announcement or decision to share, we will absolutely be in touch,” Olszewski said.

The last Baltimore County Executive to become governor was Spiro Agnew in 1967.

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