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Olszewski takes a pass in endorsing candidate in state’s attorney’s race

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Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger and his opponent Robbie Leonard.

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski is steering clear of endorsing a candidate for the Democratic nomination in the contentious county state’s attorney’s race.

The primary contest for the county’s top prosecutor pits the moderate and progressive wings of the Democratic party against each other.

Endorsing either incumbent Scott Shellenberger or his progressive opponent Robbie Leonoard could backfire politically on Olszewski. That’s because he could risk angering a large bloc of voters in a future contest.

The county executive has not shied away from making other endorsements, including for governor, state comptroller and county council.

When asked who he likes in the state’s attorney’s race, Olszewski demurred.

“I look forward to working with our state’s attorney, whoever that is because we want to make sure that Baltimore County remains a safe place to live, work and raise a family,” Olszewski said.

Olszewski said he thought it was important for him to weigh in on county council races because he works closely with that body.

When it comes to the state’s attorney’s race, Olszewski said, “The relationship is just different.”

Shellenberger has been in office for 16 years. Republicans and Democrats alike have praised his running of the office. He has the support of several members of the county council, former county executives as well as the Fraternal Order of Police.

Leonard is supported by groups like Progressive Maryland and the Working Families Party. He is calling for change in how the state’s attorney’s office is run, including making it more fair and transparent.

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John Lee
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Robbie Leonard is running for state's attorneys office.

Community College of Baltimore County political science professor John Dedie said if Olszewski endorsed Shellenberger, he would risk angering the progressive members in his party, which could hurt him politically.

“Especially if you’re thinking of running for a higher office in four years or beyond that,” Dedie said.

Olszewski seriously considered running for governor this year, but instead opted to seek a second four year term as county executive.

Dedie said a Leonard endorsement would have its risks for Olszewski as well.

“There’s a lot of concern that maybe as a prosecutor Robbie Leonard might be a little too liberal,” Dedie said. “If you endorse Leonard and things start to get a little chaotic, people are going to remember well you endorsed that person and it didn’t work out well.”

When asked about Olszewski’s non-endorsement in the race, Leonard said people don’t have faith in Shellenberger, “and that includes our county executive.”

Brad Kroner, Olszewski’s campaign manager, said in a statement, “I don’t think other candidates should seek to speak on behalf of the county executive.”

Shellenberger, when asked about Olszewski staying out of the state’s attorney’s race, pointed to the endorsements he has from other elected officials.

“All of those folks do endorse me, so I think that speaks volumes about what they believe the quality of my work has been,” Shellenberger said.

As they pitched their closing arguments to the voters, Shellenberger criticized Leonard’s lack of experience.

“I don’t think this is a time where somebody should learn on the job,” Shellenberger said.

Leonard is an attorney in private practice. He also has worked as a public defender.

Leonard has hammered Shellenberger for his record on handling sexual assault cases.

Shellenberger and other members of his office face a federal lawsuit over whether they violated a woman’s constitutional right when she tried to press charges, according to the Baltimore Sun.

“I’m running against an incumbent with a record and people have been learning about that record throughout this campaign and there’s a lot of enthusiasm for change,” Leonard said.

“He’s constantly attacking me but really not laying out what plans he has to do things differently with the office,” Shellenberger said.

The winner of the Democratic nomination will face the victor in the Republican primary, either James Haynes or Deborah Hill. Both are attorneys.

More than 125,400 individuals cast ballots during early voting which ended Thursday in Maryland. That includes 18,800 voters in Baltimore County. Voters now have the choice of using mail-in ballots or going to the polls on Tuesday.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County.
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