Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz touts how the county reflects the state of Maryland in terms of demographics and mixtures of urban, suburban and rural development.
The county — which has a population of 838,000, larger than at least four other states — ranks as the third-biggest jurisdiction in the state behind Montgomery and Prince George’s.
Kamenetz proclaimed the county “a statewide leader” that requires all 1,400 police officers to wear body cameras. He also pushed for a $1.3 billion plan to renovate or build 90 schools in the county.
He stressed he didn’t have to raise taxes to achieve those initiatives.
That’s why the 59-year-old executive, whose term expires this year, remains confident of not only winning the Democratic nomination in the June 26 primary, but also defeating Republican incumbent Larry Hogan.
Kamenetz has $2 million to spend, nearly three times the amount of Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, another Democratic candidate. A poll released this month by Gonzalez Research & Media Services shows Baker as the top choice in the primary by 10 points over Kamenetz.
Besides Baker, Kamenetz faces a crowded field in the primary: former NAACP President Ben Jealous; tech entrepreneur Alec Ross; state Sen. Richard Madaleno (D-Montgomery County); Krish Vignarajah, former policy director of former first lady Michelle Obama; Baltimore attorney Jim Shea; and Ralph Jaffe, an educator and activist of Baltimore County.
Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College in Towson, said Kamenetz remains in a good position with funding to manage a statewide campaign.
Although Kromer said Kamenetz does exude experience as an executive and challenging Hogan on school construction funding, it’s unclear how Kamenetz will pick up votes in the D.C. region during the primary election.
“It remains to be seen in the inroads to populous counties like Prince George’s and Montgomery counties,” Kromer said. “We don’t know how well he will do in those counties.”
During an interview Friday, Jan. 19, Kamenetz, a former prosecutor in Baltimore City, talked about education, mass transit and criminal justice reform:
I think Gov. Hogan is following the [U.S. Education Secretary] Betsy DeVos plan to privatizing public schools. It will result in a funding of two parallel, public school systems. One for the haves and one for the have-nots. I oppose taking money out of public school education and giving it to non-public school resources. Baltimore County has the 26th-largest school district in the country. It is majority-minority [with] 113,000 students. Our students come from 130 different counties and 5 percent of our students don’t speak a word of English. Forty-five percent of our children are eligible for free and reduced meals. Our schools all have Wi-Fi technology and iPad technology for every student. We are doing innovative things such as fourth-graders to take start taking Spanish so that they graduate fluently in a second language. Our graduation rate is increasing every year, exceeding the state average approaching 90 percent. There is no disparity in the graduation rates between Black and white students. For years … our public schools used to be number one in the country. According to the recent Kirwan [Commission] report, we’re now in the middle of the pack. We have to do several things statewide. First, we have to stop underfunding our schools. We shouldn’t have to worry if schools have adequate heat and adequate facilities. We have to catch our kids at age 4 with statewide pre-K and we have to begin with programs that offer free community college like we are examining in Baltimore County. We can provide scholarships for students who have graduated from high school and maintain a 2.5 GPA. With that commitment, we will fund the last dollar in under a Promise program after a consideration of other grants and scholarships that are received. This way, we are tracking that student who is most likely to succeed. That’s the best dollar investment.
First of all, we have to stop Gov. Hogan’s reliance on 20th century highways and instead build 21st century mass transit solutions. Our failure has been we haven’t adequately funded it to ensure proper maintenance and reliability. So I support dedicated funding and I will be leading the charge in the WMATA game plan to improve the system. I fully support [Metro General Manager] Paul Wiedefeld’s initiatives. [Hogan] canceled the Red Line in Baltimore. By doing so, he not only gave up $900 million of federal money, he then took the $900 million of state money that was devoted for mass transit solutions in the Baltimore region and dispersed it to rural road projects that have less traffic counts. He did this without any study or initiative and dismissed it as a boondoggle, stating that Baltimore is just a bus town. I think as a direct consequence, not only have we lost 10,000 job opportunities with the Red Line in Baltimore, we’ve lost the economic development potential that each stop would have provided. It hurts the Baltimore region because people don’t have adequate transportation to get to work. It’s unreasonable for someone to have to ride for an hour and a half each way, transferring two and three times to get to work on time. A direct consequence of his short-sided decision against mass transit is [how] Baltimore lost out on Amazon [HQ2] headquarters because we didn’t have mass transit. It’s clear that he doesn’t understand that the goal of mass transit is actually to ease traffic congestion by attracting the rider who has an option of whether or not they use their car when they’re stuck on the Beltway. Every world-class city has an integrated mass transit system. You have to make these long investments for the long-term health of our state.
Criminal Justice Reform
The first thing I did when I became county executive is a recognition that I wanted to increase the diversity of our police force. In order for the community to have confidence in the decisions that a police officer makes, it has to reflect the quality and diversity of the community that we serve. Since I became county executive in 2010, every police recruit class has averaged 40 percent non-White male. We’ve also promoted within the rank and file and our number two police officer is African American. I would like to examine the diversity of the state police ranks and make sure it fairly reflects the diversity of the state population. I’d also implement police-worn body cameras for our state troopers, as well. It improves the encounter of both citizen and police officer. It also promotes transparency in the decisions being made by police officers. We also pioneered a reform of the bail system here in Baltimore County several years ago. We recognized that judges in Baltimore County were setting bails for individuals charged with nuisance crimes in relatively low bails of $1,000. Yet, there were large numbers of individuals who couldn’t post $1,000. We worked with our judges to understand that. They recognized that bail shouldn’t be based on your income. It should be based on, ‘are you a threat to the community?’ If you are not a threat to the community, we would rather you be released in pre-trial diversion such as daily check-in, [or] wearing ankle bracelets. Other alternatives that don’t require the cost of incarceration to the county and allow these individuals to have opportunities to begin their process of rehabilitation. I am really glad the state in the past year has now started to address what we implemented three years ago. It is a proactive process where we involve stakeholders.