Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced his running mate Thursday in his campaign to become Maryland’s next governor.
Kamenetz begins his sprint in a crowded Democratic field when members of his own party are challenging Kamenetz over how he’s handling the county’s finances.
A Goucher poll released this week shows education is the number one issue among likely Democratic voters in the gubernatorial primary. Kamenetz believes that works for him. He touts the county’s $1.3 billion program to build or renovate 90 schools.
“It’s the largest single school construction program in the history of Baltimore County,” Kamenetz said. “And of course we’ve done all of that without raising the tax rate.”
But last week, six of the seven members of the Baltimore County Council, including four fellow Democrats, called time out on Kamenetz’s plan to build a new Dulaney High School. They said they would cut from his budget planning money for Dulaney because it would put the county in a difficult fiscal situation. New high schools can cost upwards of $140 million.
The council’s spending affordability committee released a report that warned in a few years the interest the county is paying on its debt will exceed the county’s own guidelines. Also that the county’s surplus is shrinking, which puts its AAA bond rating in danger. Committee Chairman Tom Quirk said the county needs to figure out what problems need to be fixed first.
“And we’re not going to do it by writing blank checks because quite frankly, our county credit card is fairly tapped out,” Quirk said.
Quirk had been supporting Kamenetz’s run for governor. Now he says he’s undecided and wants to hear more on how Kamenetz plans to fix the county’s fiscal issues.
Kamenetz’s decision to build a new Dulaney High angered people in Lansdowne. They showed up at this week’s school board meeting, demanding a new high school rather than a planned renovation, Dayana Bergman’s son will attend Lansdowne High next year.
Bergman said, “You start looking at the whole county. It’s very large. It’s growing very rapidly. And we don’t have a proper plan to address all the needs in a balanced approach. And that’s what we need.”
Kamenetz said his administration is taking care of all parts of the county.
“I know everyone would like to have a brand new Cadillac,” Kamenetz said. “But sometimes we can only afford a Chevy. But they’re both great cars and they’ll both get us where we need to go.”
Goucher Poll director Mileah Kromer said Kamenetz needs to do well in Baltimore County to win the primary. His opponents know that. Now with the primary just four months away, Kromer said the candidates will start going after each other, and they may try to use the issue of school construction and finances against Kamenetz.
“This is something that his Democratic challengers are taking note of and this most likely will be part of the conversation in a few months,” Kromer said.
County Council Chairman Julian Jones, a Democrat, said Kamenetz has a good record to run on, from streamlining government, to keeping taxes low, to updating the schools.
“No one can question that that is tremendous and no one else has done it,” Jones said.
Also, Jones likes Kamenetz’s pick for a running mate. Valerie Ervin is a former Montgomery County Council member, and if elected would be Maryland’s first African-American woman Lieutenant Governor. Ervin believes she’s giving the ticket a bump in the D.C. suburbs.
“In Prince Georges County, a lot of my friends and their friends are texting and tweeting,” Ervin said.
And it’s in Prince Georges where you’ll find the current leader in the Democratic gubernatorial race according to the Goucher Poll, County Executive Rushern Baker. He had the support of 19 percent of those surveyed. Kamenetz was second with 12 percent. Nearly 50 percent of those asked had not decided on a candidate to support.