On Tuesday, Democratic voters in Baltimore County will decide on their nominee to be the next Baltimore County Executive. Even though there are two worthy candidates opposing Vicki Almond, the stakes are far too high to take any chances on the outcome of the election by voting for Johnny Olszewski, Jr.
At this point, only Jim Brochin can stop Vicki Almond from becoming the next County Executive and continuing what the Baltimore Sun described as “politics as usual” in the county. Unfortunately, a vote for Johnny O falls into the trap set for Baltimore County voters by the rich, powerful men who benefit from the pay-to-play culture in the county and who have selected Ms. Almond as the heir-apparent to the late Kevin Kamenetz as the titular head of the pro-developer, Democratic machine.
A poll done by the University of Baltimore and the Sun several weeks ago showed Mr. Brochin ahead of Ms. Almond, with 30% of the vote to her 22%, with Mr. Olszewski trailing well behind at 14%. I am sure that Mr. Olszewski’s campaign knows that he can’t close that deficit quickly enough to win the primary election, no matter what happens. It is down to Brochin vs. Almond.
Release of the poll showing Mr. Brochin in the lead unleashed one of the ugliest episodes in the history of Baltimore County politics, and that is saying something. I addressed the sudden torrent of attack ads against Mr. Brochin financed by Ms. Almond’s wealthy and influential backers in a prior post, and it was further chronicled by Mark Reutter in a must-read story in the Baltimore Brew.
The goal of the oligarchy consisting of developers and their lawyers (and orchestrated by former County Executive Jim Smith) that has run Baltimore County for decades was to cut into Mr. Brochin’s lead over Ms. Almond by tearing down Mr. Brochin with misrepresentations and outright lies. Attack ads are much more effective if only a single candidate is targeted, and Ms. Almond’s supporters knew that Mr. Olszewski was too far behind to threaten their candidate.
A vote shifted from Mr. Brochin to Ms. Almond is a bonus for the developers and their lawyers. A vote shifted from Mr. Brochin to Mr. Olszewski serves this cynical strategy just as well. Don’t fall for the trap.
It is harder for someone without 31 years of experience inside a county government, as I have, to understand the impact of the pay-to-play culture on Baltimore County. The effect is insidious and goes far beyond the obvious consequences like the $43 million bailout of the Towson Row developers.
The domination of these special interests affects fundamental decisions on land use and environmental policy, and even decisions such as which schools to replace; in a developer-dominated county you can be sure that resources will go to where the development opportunities are greatest, not necessarily to where resources are most needed. It should not surprise anyone that in a county controlled by the rich and powerful, the rich tend to get richer and the poor poorer.
The control exercised by builders and developers has shaped the county’s revenue policies by placing the burden of building the infrastructure necessary to support new development on ordinary taxpayers rather than on the builders and developers. The lack of a development excise tax or impact fee in the county over the past two decades is the single greatest reason that Baltimore County faces a financial crisis in the coming years, a crisis admitted by its own Spending Affordability Committee. It also is a reason that there has been insufficient money to maintain the county’s schools and roads, because general operating funds have been diverted to pay the costs of supporting massive new developments such as Towson Row.
I admire Johnny O’s support of affordable housing in the county and his willingness to study the need for a development excise tax or impact fee. Those are visionary ideas that must be discussed. But neither of those ideas are going to be realized if Ms. Almond wins and the pay-to-play culture in Baltimore County continues.
As things have panned out in this election, only Jim Brochin can pry Baltimore County out of the hands of the Baltimore County oligarchs. I believe that Baltimore County Democrats should consider that fact when they vote on Tuesday.
It goes against my grain to suggest that voters should vote for anyone other than the candidate that they consider most qualified. But this a fight for the heart and soul of Baltimore County, which is a point with which I believe Johnny O would agree. In my opinion, citizens cannot afford to lose the fight by voting for a candidate who in all probability cannot win the election.