Barring any surprises, the field is set for next year’s Baltimore County Executive’s race. Second District Democratic Councilwoman Vicki Almond formally entered the race last night, in what is expected to be a multi-million dollar battle for the Democratic nomination.
An Almond campaign official said they want to raise $1.2 million for the primary contest. The other two Democrats in the race, State Senator Jim Brochin and former Delegate Johnny Olszewski Junior, each plans to raise as much as $1 million.
Last night, Almond held a campaign kickoff fundraiser at Foundry Row in Owings Mills to help her get to that $1.2 million mark. A contribution of $40 to $2,500 got you in the door.
Olszewski took aim at Almond for holding her fundraiser at Foundry Row, which is home to dozens of restaurants, stores and offices on Reisterstown Road. Olszewski said Almond helped a developer friend make that happen, despite community opposition. But Almond countered the county needs well placed economic development because the increased tax base helps to pay the bills.
“Is Reisterstown Road not a good place for development?” Almond asked. “You know, it’s not like I put this in the middle of Greenspring Valley.”
The big dollars being thrown at Baltimore County politicians is shaping up to be a major issue in this race. All three Democratic candidates had hundreds of thousands of dollars in the bank when they last had to file campaign finance reports back in January, and they’ve been raising more money since then.
Brochin has made campaign finance reform the centerpiece of his campaign. He said the power developers have affects the quality of life in Baltimore County, threatening to turn it into wall-to-wall concrete. Brochin wants to ban developers with active projects from giving campaign money. Brochin said as County Executive he would try to convince County Council members to sign off on legislation that would do just that.
“That developer who is putting that plan in could not have given you or the County Executive a campaign contribution in the preceding three years.”
Olszewski has a different idea. He’s proposing Baltimore County turn to public financing for County Executive and Council elections. Olszewski pointed out Larry Hogan’s campaign for Governor in 2014 got public financing. Montgomery County has it as well.
“If our democracy isn’t stable and people don’t have confidence in the decisions of their government, I think all the other decisions we make are looked at in an unfavorable light and are questioned,” said Olszewski.
It would be funded by the county. Olszewski said a candidate would have to reach a certain level of small, local donations to qualify for public money. Olszewski said this would free up candidates from having to spend most of their time talking to rich donors.
“It’s a great example of what’s possible when we create the environment for lots of candidates to run,” said Olszewski.
Brochin criticized Olszewski’s plan. He said county residents should not have to pay to finance campaigns. Olszewski said Brochin’s approach misses the mark because there are more special interests in the county than just developers.
Almond said it’s unnecessary. She said anyone, from a developer to the guy down the street, can give to a campaign.
“It doesn’t mean that you are going to do everything they want you to do,” said Almond.
Almond has been on the council for 7 years. She said neither Brochin nor Olszewski can match her local government experience. Before she won election to the County Council, Almond worked for years as a volunteer in her community and in her children’s schools.
If she wins, Almond will be the first woman elected Baltimore County Executive.
There are two candidates on the Republican side: Delegate Pat McDonough and State Insurance Commissioner Al Redmer.
The primary is in June.