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Olszewski Still Could Play A Role In The Governor's Race Despite Running For Reelection

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

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski announced Thursday he will run for a second four-year term. His decision to run for reelection next year rather than for governor affects both county politics and the gubernatorial race.

For months, Olszewski had been mulling over entering what is expected to be a competitive race for the Democratic nomination for governor. His decision to stay out means he has a key endorsement to give someone in that race, according to Goucher College political science professor Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College.

“It makes his endorsement, I think, really, really important,” Kromer said. “There is not a Baltimore County candidate right now. And that’s obviously in this gubernatorial election a really important battleground county to win if you’d like to be governor.”

In a video released Thursday announcing his reelection bid, Olszewski touted accomplishments of his administration such as making government more transparent and dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. But he said there is much more work still ahead.

“We’re also moving on with that work at a time that is unique and is probably a once in a generation opportunity to not just recover from COVID-19 to where we were, but to aspire to where we should have always been,” Olszewski said. “That work requires a sustained focus on what’s in front of us.”

Former Baltimore County Executive Don Mohler, a Democrat, said he believes part of Olszewski’s thinking was serving eight years instead of four would give him the chance to be a transformative leader.

“If you leave after one term, it’s a little more difficult to make sure that that change is institutionalized,” Mohler said.

Mohler was the late Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz’s chief of staff when Kamenetz ran for governor in 2018.

“It is not easy to run all around the state and campaign for governor and share your vision with people from Cumberland to the Eastern Shore and at the same time focus on governing,” Mohler said.

Olszewski goes into his reelection with more than $1.6 million in his campaign coffers. Registered Democrats in the county outnumber Republicans more than two to one.

Republican County Councilman David Marks said Olszewski will be very formidable, and he knows of no one in his party who is seriously looking at the race. But Marks points out that in 2014, a Republican candidate with little money was able to get nearly 44% of the vote against Kamenetz when he was running for a second term.

Marks said, “I also think you need to look at the political context next year. Is it a Republican year?”

Marks said he believes Olszewski is trying to compile a message for reelection. That includes proposing a budget filled with projects people will like, such as new schools and improved roads. But Marks said there are issues that could work against Olszewski in his reelection bid, such as concern about crime and that people are seeing their tax bills increase.

“And you can explain that it’s the state assessments that are driving this, but many people still look at their tax bill and they’re upset,” Marks said.

Olszewski raised taxes his first year in office to help deal with a budget shortfall he inherited. He did not increase the tax rate last year and there is not a tax hike in this year’s proposed budget.

Olszewski’s decision affects next year’s county council races. Democratic Councilman Izzy Patoka said he would run for county executive if Olszewski ran for governor. Now that Olszewski is running for reelection, Patoka said he instead will run for reelection to the council.

“I am not disappointed,” Patoka said. “I’m actually excited about Johnny O and his second term as county executive.”

Council Chairman Julian Jones, also a Democrat, was considering running for county executive if Olszewski was not running again, but now will run for reelection as well.

“I think the county executive has done a great job and I look forward to supporting him in his reelection bid,” Jones said.

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