In Baltimore County, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1. But Alfred W. Redmer Jr., the Republican nominee for county executive, is hopeful that he can connect with voters of all parties and backgrounds, and follow the lead of his GOP ally, Gov. Larry Hogan.

Redmer serves as Maryland insurance commissioner in the Hogan administration and is a former state delegate, representing the 8th District. If elected, Redmer, 62, would become the first Republican Baltimore County executive since Roger B. Hayden, who served in that position from 1990-1994.

Meanwhile, his rival, Democratic candidate John A. Olszewski Jr., is a former classroom teacher, member of the House of Delegates (6th District) and software executive. Olszewski, 35, known around the county as “Johnny O,” espouses progressive policies.

Currently, the interim Baltimore County Executive is Donald I. Mohler, who is serving in that capacity due to the sudden death last May of Baltimore County Executive Kevin B. Kamenetz.

Jmore recently spoke with Olszewski and Redmer separately about their plans for Baltimore County.

Johnny Olszewski Jr.

Johnny Olszewski Jr., with his wife, Marisa, and their daughter, Daria (Provided photo)

Jmore: What qualifies you to be the county executive?

JO: I will bring a diversity of experience to the role of county executive, a high level of energy and a strong vision for the future. I have been a teacher in Baltimore County Schools and a school board member.  I have also been a member of the House of Delegates for nine years, including four years as chairman of the Baltimore County Delegation. For the past three years, I was a software executive with a product that leverages big data analytics to help government employees in Maryland make smarter decisions.

The most pressing problems in the county and how will you deal with them?

It’s a matter of keeping our priorities straight. Education is the cornerstone of the county, and one of our most pressing issues.  As a former county public school teacher, I know firsthand about classroom overcrowding, short staffing and underfunding.  We are also behind in supplying social services, including school counselors. We need investment in personnel as well as in infrastructure.  We have classrooms without drinking water, and we are still using trailers that were supposed to be temporary.

We also have public health challenges, very much including the opioid epidemic. These need a strong vision leading to tangible policies in partnership with the state.  We must hire enough personnel to create more treatment opportunities and to leverage data that identifies where the crime rings are located. As part of this response, our educational system needs to provide children with age-appropriate information before they get hooked.  We must also offer educational programs for adults who are struggling with opioids, including a variety of treatment options.

Your priorities for the use of current and future tax dollars?

People are the top priority.  Everyone must have equitable access to quality education.  I will invest in universal pre-K programs and make a community college education as debt-free for as many people as possible.

We also need to invest more in small businesses, with a particular a plan for every single Baltimore County community. In addition, taxpayers should know where their tax dollars are going, so we must increase our transparency efforts, move County Council sessions to evenings and post more county information online.

How should the county deal with problems of segregation and affordable housing?

Discrimination in any form is wrong.  I believe we have a moral and economic responsibility to end housing discrimination and improve affordable housing opportunities for everyone.  One of the many ways to do this is by passing the HOME Act [to outlaw discrimination against renters based on their sources of income].

I will strengthen housing oversight through collaboration with the community, developers and landlords, including partnerships with non-profits and community development corporations. I’ll also fight for a $15 minimum wage to lift families out of poverty and foster economic growth.

Best strategies to improve public safety?
We need a holistic approach.  While we expand community policing and crime prevention programs in cooperation with regional partners, we must also foster accountability and transparency. Beyond that, we need to invest more in our educational systems and job creation programs to create greater economic opportunities for everyone.

We must also have common sense gun legislation to keep our families safe.  I will take no money from the NRA [National Rifle Association].

Al Redmer

Al Redmer, shown here with his children and grandchildren at home (Provided photo)

Jmore: What qualifies you to be the county executive?

AR: I am a lifelong resident of Baltimore County with more than 45 years’ experience serving our community, as well as a wealth of executive experience in both the public and private sectors. I served as president of the Perry Hall Improvement Association for eight years, represented District 8 in the House of Delegates for 13 years and have been Maryland Insurance Commissioner under two governors.

I believe that my background in both the public and private sectors, as well as my experience and success in setting standards, creating a culture of accountability, and driving organizational results is exactly what we need in our next county executive.

The most pressing problems in the county and how will you deal with them?

 We will never truly reach our potential in Baltimore County until we get a handle two things: public safety and the multitude of issues in our school system. Recent data from county police showed that violent crime rose nearly 15 percent in our county from 2016-2017. Baltimore County is home to dedicated law enforcement officers, but they are not getting the resources and support they need. As County Executive, I will be a partner with the BCPD. We will hire more police to ensure that our communities are patrolled by an appropriate number of officers.

On the issue of education, parents and teachers constantly tell me it is nearly impossible to maintain any level of discipline in the classroom, resulting in rampant bullying and behavioral issues. BCPS graduates regularly have to take remedial courses in English and mathematics when they go on to higher education.

It’s clear that Baltimore County teachers and students are not receiving the support they deserve from county leadership. Until and unless we address these congruent issues, we can never hope to attract families and job creators to Baltimore County in order to have the kind of growth we need to move the county forward.

Your priorities for the use of current and future tax dollars?

For years, Baltimore County has failed to make appropriate investments in basic infrastructure, maintenance and technology. Our county desperately needs a long-term plan and multi-year budget to improve our financial outlook so we can provide the necessary services our residents expect.

 How should the county deal with problems of segregation and affordable housing?

Baltimore County is challenged with implementing an agreement to build 1,000 units of low-income Section 8 housing and providing $30 million in taxpayer incentives to accelerate building these units. I believe that the agreement is unfair and discriminatory. As county executive, I will challenge it in federal court.

Before building any new Section 8 units, the county must hold current tenants and landlords accountable to standards necessary to ensure healthy living environments and safe, clean neighborhoods. Under a Redmer administration, we will implement a holistic approach to improving economic opportunity that includes not only affordable housing but also economic development, education, transportation, and public health initiatives.

Best strategies to improve public safety?

We must get our arms around the rising crime issue before we can ever hope to have the progress we need. As county executive, I will be a strong partner with our law enforcement and public safety agencies. I will work to ensure that they have the support and resources they need to do their jobs well and keep our communities safe, including increased staffing, proper equipment and specialized training.

Peter Arnold is an Olney, Md.-based freelance writer.