Baltimore County Executive Kevin B. Kamenetz, long presumed to be a candidate for governor, made his entry into the crowded Democratic field official early Monday morning.
Kamenetz, a two-term Democrat, posted his announcement just after 6 a.m. on Facebook — about five hours before a scheduled rally in Towson.
“I am the best Democrat in the race to take on Larry Hogan and take back our state from the likes of Donald Trump, Paul Ryan and Jeff Sessions,” Kamenetz told a crowd gathered in front of the historic courthouse in Towson where he has served as an elected official for nearly 24 years.
The two-term Democratic county executive, took the fight directly to Hogan, criticizing the incumbent first-term Republican on a range of issues including his failure to stand up to Republican President Donald Trump, and on education.
“Donald Trump’s harmful policies and shameful rhetoric are actually damaging our country,” Kamenetz said. “We can’t afford to have a governor who needs to take a poll before taking a stand. A governor who hedges his bets. A governor who plays both sides of the fence. A governor who can’t articulate a long-term vision for this state. You see, results actually matter. A do nothing approach no matter how dressed up with clever slogans but empty policies won’t solve our challenges.”
Kamenetz criticized Hogan for education cuts — reductions in expected spending — and said he would be the education governor.
“Donald Trump and (U.S. Education Secretary) Betsy DeVos want to privatize public schools, we all know that” Kamenetz said. “But Larry Hogan, he’s doing the same thing except he calls them vouchers. You see, Larry Hogan has done something very dangerous. He has politicized our schools.”
“This is the same guy who dismisses teachers as union thugs,” Kamenetz said, referring to a 2016 Facebook post by Hogan in which the governor referred to officials of the Maryland State Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union, as “union thugs.”
Kamenetz also used his announcement to lay the foundation of his campaign, including addressing what will likely be campaign attacks against him, including his handling of school construction and renovation.
Hogan and Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot, a Democrat, have repeatedly chastised Kamenetz for the number of county schools’ classrooms that lack air conditioning and for his refusal to spend money to install temporary window units until all schools can be renovated with central air conditioning.
“In the seven years since he’s been county executive, I’ve watched him recognize problems and allocate funds for solutions,” said Cathi Forbes, a Towson resident and long-time school construction and education advocate. “He’s built or renovated more schools than the county did in the previous 30 years.”
Kamenetz billed himself as a moderate Democrat who is business friendly, focused on education, and leads a county that has not raised taxes in more than two decades.
He said he’s also known for telling sometimes uncomfortable truths, including telling former employees of Bethlehem Steel in Sparrows Point that steel jobs would not be coming back. Instead, the 3,100 acre site has become the home of Tradepoint Atlantic, which is expected to create as many as 10,000 permanent jobs by 2025.
“Anyone who knows me knows I am a tell-it-like-it-is guy and I don’t like to beat around the bush,” Kamenetz said.
‘Your job to listen’
That trait at times, however, has caused him some heartburn. During the 2013 groundbreaking of a school in Mays Chapel, Kamenetz found himself confronted and heckled by about a dozen people, mostly senior citizens, who lived adjacent to the park that would serve as the new school site.
As the elderly protesters attempted to talk over him with slogans including “save our park,” Kamenetz responded, including yelling at one man: “Sir, let me talk for a second, OK? It’s my job to talk and your job to listen.”
Kamenetz, who is term-limited in his current elected position, joins a crowded Democratic primary field for the June primary.
They included: Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker; Montgomery County state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr.; former NAACP President Ben Jealous; technology policy expert and senior fellow at Johns Hopkins University and former aide to Hillary Clinton aide Alec Ross; former Venable chair Jim Shea; former Michelle Obama aide Krishanti Vignarajah; and activist and educator Ralph Jaffe.
Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, wife of U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, has also said she is considering a bid but has neither filed nor created a campaign finance account.
Kamenetz is a lifelong Baltimore County resident and son of a pharmacist who operated a compounding pharmacy in Overlea. He graduated from Gilman, a boys-only private school his two sons now attend. He also received a bachelor’s degree from The Johns Hopkins University in 1979 and his law degree in 1982 from the University of Baltimore School of Law.
Kamenetz was first elected county executive in 2010 after spending the preceding 16 years on the Baltimore County Council, including four years as its chairman.
He spent most of the last year as president of the Maryland Association of Counties and traveled the state, vowing to visit the 23 other jurisdictions. Kamenetz resigned that position Monday before he announced his candidacy, according to a county spokesman.
Maryland Republican Party Chairman Dirk Haire criticized Kamenetz for being eligible for a pension option that would allow him to take pensions from two positions and also receive a lump sum payout.
“Kevin Kamenetz needs to explain whether or not he is going to partake in the double-dipping pension scheme he voted to create that stands to reward him with not one, but two taxpayer-funded pensions totaling well over six figures annually on top of a nearly $400,000 golden parachute payout,” Haire said in the statement.
Kamenetz has set aside his pension benefits from his time on the council while continuing to earn credits for a higher salary as county executive. He will later be eligible for a lump sum payout of the council benefits.
Three other members of his administration are eligible for similar benefits under a 2010 law.
Despite appearing like a candidate for the better part of a year, the official start of Kamenetz’s campaign was not without a few foot faults.
On Monday, hours before the announcement, Kamenetz’s campaign posted a message on Facebook announcing his intent to run for governor. But instead of Towson or another location in Baltimore County or in Maryland, the social media message said it was posted in Iowa. The location has since been removed from the post.
On Friday, the head of the county Office of Information and Technology sent an email to county employees on a county server encouraging county employees to attend a “special announcement” from Kamenetz.
By Sunday, Robert Stradling sent a second email informing employees that they would be required to take personal leave or attend on their lunch break should they decide to attend.
Don Mohler, a spokesman for Kamenetz, said the email was a mistake made by “an enthusiastic supporter” who didn’t understand such an email violates laws barring county and state government resources from being used by a campaign.
But Republicans were quick to respond including filing a Public Information Act request to determine if other employees had sent similar emails.
A statement from the Republican Governor’s Association criticized the possible violation and asked: “Will Maryland Democrats use every dirty trick in the book – even use of government time and resources for political purposes – to try to bring back their failed tax-and-spend policies?”
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