Taking a long, deep breath, Jill Kamenetz stood on the bimah of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation’s sanctuary May 11 and looked out at the more than 1,000 attendees of the funeral service for her husband, Baltimore County Executive Kevin B. Kamenetz.
“If Kevin were here today, he would say, ‘Wow, what a turnout!‘” she said, to laughter. “If he saw the tributes on TV yesterday and today, he’d say, ‘Look, Jill, I’m on all of the stations — and it’s all positive!’ And if he saw The Sun, he would say, “Can you believe I’m on the front page — and above the fold?!'”
Kamenetz, a leading Democratic gubernatorial candidate in the 2018 race, died on May 10 of cardiac arrest. He was 60.
A statement issued by Baltimore County Police, said that Kamenetz was at his Owings Mills home asleep when he woke up around 2 a.m. complaining of not feeling well. He was taken to the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center, where doctors pronounced him dead at 3:22 a.m.
Earlier in the evening, Kamenetz participated in a candidates’ forum at Bowie State University.
Gov. Larry Hogan asked that Maryland flags be flown at half-staff in honor of Kamenetz. Besides the governor, other political leaders in attendance at the funeral included Kamenetz’s running mate, former Montgomery County Councilwoman Valerie Ervin, Del. Shelly L. Hettleman (D-11th) and Israel C. “Izzy” Patoka, a candidate for Baltimore County Council for the 2nd District.
In her eulogy, Jill Kamenetz described her husband as a warm, compassionate man, a committed public servant and a devoted husband and father.
“Kevin wasn’t known to be warm and fuzzy, but he was with me,” she said. “He never forgot a birthday, anniversary or holiday. As busy as he was, Kevin always took complete care of me. He wasn’t great about speaking his feelings, but he was great at doing.”
The past year of campaigning was difficult for the family, she admitted, noting that her husband was away from home a lot and was consumed with the election.
“He was in it to win it,” Jill Kamenetz said. “I said, ‘Kevin, this campaign is killing you.’ But he said, ‘We’re in the last stretch.’ … Kevin loved what he did, and he was a very ethical, moral and honest person.
“This should not be happening,” she said, looking tearfully at the nearby American flag-draped casket. “Today I have to say goodbye to my rock of 19 years. But we’re going to be OK. I’m so proud of you, Kevin, and I was always so proud to be your wife.”
In his eulogy, Kamenetz’s eldest teenage son, Karson, said he felt as if his father would burst into the room at any given moment and “apologize for being late. My dad had an inspiring impact on me and others. I owe every aspect of my life to him. I only hope that he died knowing I loved him and that he was my role model.”
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) said he recently had a breakfast meeting with Kamenetz that the county executive had requested.
“Kevin really enjoyed one-on-one meetings and developing trust,” Cardin said. “He wanted to talk to me about the campaign. But the first thing he talked about was his family. He loved going to Ocean City and and challenging his sons at body-surfing. He was so proud of their athletic and academic achievements. Kevin was first and foremost a family man. …
“But this room is part of his other family,” Cardin said, noting the number of government workers and political dignitaries in the sanctuary. “We’ve lost a beloved member of Kevin’s other family. Kevin genuinely care about people. He gave his time, talent and leadership to repair our community, for future generations.”
Cardin cited Kamenetz’s role in the economic revitalization of Towson and the redevelopment of Sparrows Point into Tradepoint Atlantic as two of the county executive’s greatest achievements, as well as his work on improving education in the county.
“What a legacy he’s left for future generations,” he said. “And he brought the county and city together, recognizing them as one community. Kevin was a natural leader and always good to his word.”
A Lochearn native and lifelong Baltimore County resident and BHC member, Kamenetz served more than 24 years in elected office, including four terms as a Baltimore County councilman and two as county executive. He was also president of the Maryland Association of Counties.
The son of Irvin and Miriam Kamenetz, he attended the Gilman School and Johns Hopkins University. He earned his law degree from the University of Baltimore School of Law in 1982.
Last September, when announcing his gubernatorial candidacy, Kamenetz said, “I am the best Democrat in this race to take on Larry Hogan and take back the state from the likes of [President] Donald Trump and [U.S. Attorney General] Jeff Sessions.”
In a statement, Marc B. Terrill, president of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, called Kamenetz’s death “incredibly shocking, tragic and so profoundly sad. He had accomplished so much as a family man, community builder, politician and leader. Kevin Kamenetz’s legacy will be felt for many years, but the tragedy of this loss is incalculable.”
At the funeral, following a performance of “Adagio for Strings” by a Baltimore Symphony Orchestra string quartet, BHC’s Rabbi Andrew Busch spoke of Kamenetz’s impact on the community and state.
“It isn’t right that we gather here today,” he said. “It doesn’t feel right or real to be here to deal with something that’s very real. But we’re here to mourn and celebrate Kevin Kamenetz. It’s upon the rest of us to care for and support Kevin’s family as we mourn and celebrate him. … So long as we live, he lives because he is part of us. And we remember him.”
Charles Klein, a close friend of Kamenetz’s since meeting in 1975 through the Young Democrats college group, told amusing stories about the county executive, including one about a Jewish singles weekend they enjoyed at Virginia Beach. “Kevin was like the brother I never had,” he said.
Klein said he believed Kamenetz developed his love for civic activism while working at his father’s pharmacy in Overlea as a youngster, as well as by serving as a volunteer campaign driver for the late Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
“I’m convinced that’s where he learned his management style as a County Councilman,” Klein said. “Kevin was extremely bright, just like any great lawyer, and his service and dedication will be missed by all of Maryland. … Kevin, I can’t really say goodbye to you. Your decades of service will live on forever.”
In a recent interview with Jmore, Kamenetz said he wanted his legacy to be creating jobs and improving schools.
“My goal is to make decisions that will not only allow our children to share in the lifestyle that we may have received, but to make Maryland even better for the next generation.”
Fred Homan, Baltimore County’s chief administrative officer, will serve as acting county executive until the Baltimore County Council votes on a replacement to serve until the fall, the remainder of Kamenetz’s term.
In his final remarks at the funeral, Rabbi Busch praised Kamenetz as “someone who worked so hard for equality and fairness for the people of this county and land. … Let us remember Kevin Kamenetz and his efforts. He cherished working with others to build the future. He touched lives in this community and beyond. Let us remember him for his passion and intelligence, his easy smile and his abiding love.”
Kamenetz is survived by his wife, Jill Kamenetz (nee Hoffberger); their two teenage sons, Karson and Dylan; his sisters, Sylvia Scherr and Sonna (Michael) Kalis; his brothers, Rodger Kamenetz (Moira Crone), and Gregory (Doris) Kamenetz; and his parents-in-law, Gail Margolis and Dr. Allen Judman. Also survived by nieces and nephews.
Mourning will be at the family home on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday with evening services at 7 p.m. Contributions in Kamenetz’s memory may be sent to the American Cancer Society, 405 Williams Ct., Suite 120, Baltimore, Md. 21220 or the Baltimore Humane Society, 1601 Nicodemus Rd., Reisterstown, Md. 21136.
What Md. Politicians and Others Are Saying About Kevin Kamenetz — Maryland politicians and national leaders share their thoughts on Kamenetz’s passing.
- Jmore Catches Up with Baltimore Co. Executive Kevin Kamenetz — In a Sept. 27, 2017, exclusive with Jmore, Kevin Kamenetz discusses his intention to replace Gov. Larry Hogan.
- Kamenetz Looks Beyond his Baltimore County Base — Michael Olesker writes about Kamenetz’s official announcement about running for governor.