Big Fish: Gubernatorial Candidate and Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz

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County Executive Kevin Kamenetz’s race for Maryland governor is fueled by his experience as a Baltimore County public servant and an open disdain for the state’s current leadership.

The Baltimore native has spent his entire professional life here, initially as a prosecutor in the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office after graduating from the University of Baltimore School of Law. In 1994, Kamenetz was elected to the Baltimore County Council, where he served four terms serving the second district before being elected Baltimore County’s 12th County Executive. The Democratic gubernatorial candidate, a graduate of Gilman School and Johns Hopkins University, is now in his second term as county executive. He and his wife Jill reside in Owings Mills, where they are raising their two teenage sons.

Recently, the county executive carved out some time from his busy schedule to discuss how his track record as a public servant, coupled with his dissatisfaction with Maryland’s current administration, drove him to enter the Maryland gubernatorial race.

Did you deliberate before making your decision to enter the race for Maryland’s next governor, or was it an easy decision for you?  

I’m not happy with Larry Hogan as governor. He seems more interested in investing in his own re-election than in sound policies for the next generation. I’ve had decades of experience that have afforded me the knowledge and experience to provide real results for the state. It’s an easy call. Marylanders deserve better.

In the crowded field of Democratic challengers, what sets you apart?

In Baltimore County, I’ve gotten real results. I’ve improved schools with record school construction–90 schools newly built or renovated—the most significant investment by any county executive in history. I cut our unemployment rate in half, improved safety, and protected the environment in innovative ways. All of this without ever raising tax rates. And, I stood up for the rights of our neighbors while Donald Trump has pursued a campaign of terror against immigrant communities.

What would you do to address violent crime, police and sentencing reform in Baltimore, in whatever capacity the governor’s office can?

Let me relate my own personal experience. I started as a prosecutor in Baltimore City. I took those skills and applied them to both the county council and to my role as county executive. I passed a first-of-its-kind law that mandates cameras in all shopping centers; that’s now a national standard. As county executive, I’ve worked hard to diversify the ranks of police and fire departments, and since I was elected in 2010, every police and fire department recruiting class has been 40 percent nonwhite, non-male.

Two years ago, I put together a task force to consider the implementation of police body cameras in Baltimore County. They said let’s wait. I overruled it. I said we’re moving ahead now. Within 14 months, we provided body cameras for more than 1,400 police on the street. It’s a great tool to improve any encounter between police and citizens and to provide an added level of transparency. I also have implemented cameras on the use of tasers. When a Baltimore County police officer sees the need to use a taser, a camera records everything.

We have implemented field-based reporting in Baltimore County. There’s no more written paperwork. All officers fill out records on laptops in their cars. All records are now electronically stored. We’ve hired police officers well, trained them well, led them well, and given them the resources they need to do a better job. As a result, crime is at a historic low in Baltimore County.

How would you expand Maryland’s reliance on renewable energy?

A lot of people may not know that Baltimore County is actually a leader in statewide protection standards. We have 200 miles of waterfront, 2,000 miles of streams and tributaries. Two-thirds of the county is zoned rural and is on well and septic. Seventy percent of our population lives on 30 percent of the land. As a result, we have been great stewards of the environment. We take environmental protection seriously. We have careful restrictive zoning that buffers the three reservoirs that serve the public’s water system. We are about to complete a $1.6 billion rebuilding of the sewer system, to avoid raw sewage discharge. We are placing solar panels on closed landfills and county rooftops to generate 21 megawatts of power that will reduce our carbon footprint and save the county $20 million over the next five years. We are the only jurisdiction in the state to own a recycling center, where we generate $1.5 million that goes back to the county. We have spent over $25 million to avoid the erosion of stream beds, planting trees and using street sweepers to prevent harmful runoff—all concepts that can be applied statewide. We are doing our part to promote wind energy business; we’re negotiating with U.S. wind, an energy company that would assemble wind turbines in Sparrows Point.

The state and the Baltimore City Health Department have waged an ongoing battle with opioid addiction. What would you do to assist?

We have to educate people that this is a tragedy. People are losing brothers sisters, sons and daughters. We have to start treating the problem as a disease and not a crime. We have to provide assistance, not castigate, blame or scorn. We need to continue saving lives with the use of naloxone. I have equipped police, firefighters and first responders with doses. This is the band-aid and not the cure. The cure is to provide funding for adequate treatment on demand. The state is dropping the ball by not pursuing this remedy with full rigor. I would increase police efforts to stop the importation of these drugs into Maryland. By contrast, Hogan seems to think that throwing money at the issue is going to solve it.

How would you address Maryland’s ever-increasing traffic congestion?

You’ve got a governor who believes in twentieth-century highways as opposed to 21st-century transit solutions. He is the self-proclaimed ‘King of the Highway’ and I’m a transit guy. Governor Hogan has no appreciation of the value of mass transit. His transportation secretary has literally dismissed Baltimore as “just a bus town.” So Governor Hogan, without any analysis or opportunity for public opinion, pulls the plug on the red line [proposed east–west light rail], turning down $900 million in federal funding, and takes hundreds of millions of state money and disperses it for rural road projects. His plan B was color-coded buses and we’re still stuck in traffic. What Governor Hogan fails to understand is that we don’t just need to improve transit for existing riders; we need to attract the choice rider who’s stuck in traffic and has the option to use mass transit if it’s available. That’s how you attract a huge company like Amazon.

If you become governor, how will you reach out to folks in Maryland’s rural outposts who vote primarily Republican?

I can only tell you I am running in a Democratic primary right now. I’m focused on reaching Democratic primary voters. In Baltimore County, because of my record of accomplishment and fiscal discipline, I know I have strong supporters who happen to be Republicans. I just finished my term as MAACO [Maryland Association of Counties] president, have traveled to every county, and I have a good sense of understanding the needs of every county. Those needs aren’t Republican- or Democratic-based; they’re county-based.

Governor Hogan has generally avoided criticizing or praising the Trump administration. Would you approach the job differently? Why or why not?

Trump’s shameful rhetoric and harmful policies are damaging the country, and Larry Hogan is letting him get away with it by remaining silent. In many ways, he’s his silent partner. When Trump began his reign of terror against the immigrant community, it scared a lot of people. When the Maryland General Assembly wanted to pass “reasonable protections,” Governor Hogan said it was “absurd.” I signed an executive order saying that no county resident can be discriminated against based on immigration status.

If you had to run on a single-issue platform, what would it be?

I’m the guy who’s going to roll up his sleeves, tell it like it is, and deliver real results for our state. I’m going to be that fierce advocate we need for education, the education governor that Maryland schools need. Marylanders have always prided ourselves on our public schools. We were number one in the nation. Now we’re number five. We have the eighth worse disparity in academic results in the country. President Trump and DeVos want to privatize education. Governor Hogan is doing the same thing with vouchers. I don’t believe you can have two educational systems: one for the haves, one for the have-nots. He does.

In Baltimore County, we’re doing great things in the classroom. We’re building and renovating. We’re giving every child a computer tablet and finding that students are more engaged, teachers have the instant ability to determine the progress of each child after every lesson. In 45 schools, we’ve instituted the Passport Program, which immerses students in Spanish beginning in fourth grade, so they graduate from high school fluent in a second language. We started the Early College program at Woodlawn High School where 90 students entered in ninth grade and in four years they will have a high school diploma and an associate’s degree, tuition free. Graduation rates have increased, approaching 90 percent and exceeding the state average.

Who do you think has been Maryland’s most effective governor, and how would you emulate him?

I have had the opportunity to know every governor since Marvin Mandel, and I have always tracked their successes so I can learn from their failures. Marvin Mandel was a great organizer, and even greater at re-organizing state government to make it more efficient. William Donald Schaefer was a guy who would do it now. Parris Glendening was the progenitor of smart growth. Harry Hughes brought a sense of calm and integrity during a turbulent time. Martin O’Malley brought us a social conscience. I am a student of history. I’ve always viewed today’s politics as tomorrow’s history.

If you don’t get the nomination, who are you backing to run against Governor Hogan?

I expect to get the nomination. But if not, I will certainly support the Democratic nominee.

What’s your favorite spot in Baltimore?

Camden Yards. I am a great Orioles fan. My then 13-year-old son caught a foul ball this summer at the Yard.

Elizabeth Heubeck

Elizabeth Heubeck is a Baltimore Fishbowl contributor and local freelance writer.

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