Democratic candidates Vicki Almond, Jim Brochin and Johnny Olszewski Jr. and Republicans Al Redmer Jr. and Pat McDonough have all expressed support of Israel and said they would pursue legislation blocking companies that support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel from doing business with Baltimore County government.
Last fall, Gov. Larry Hogan issued an executive order barring firms that support the BDS movement from doing business with state entities. Twenty-five states have now enacted anti-BDS legislation. As for the county executive candidates, they differ on whether they would unilaterally issue an executive order or work with the county council on legislation.
At a recent forum held at Beth El Congregation in Pikesville, Almond said her years on the council and working closely with the Baltimore Jewish Council and The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore showed her that partnerships are important.
“I would certainly be with Israel if there were anything that we were to do,” she said. “I don’t think it would be an executive order — it would be in conjunction with the county council because we have to really work together on these very important issues.”
As a state senator serving District 42, Brochin, who is Jewish, co-sponsored anti-BDS legislation. “We always have to have Israel’s back,” he said.
“I would work with the council to make sure we pass this, but if there’s any resistance from the council I have no problem with issuing an executive order,” he said. “Israel has a right to its own self-determination and we shouldn’t be living in world where other countries are talking about destroying it all the time and trying to economically boycott it.”
McDonough, calling himself “an aggressive supporter of Israel,” said that as a District 7 state delegate he had also voted for anti-BDS legislation in the General Assembly.
“Israel is our greatest ally and our best friend and I will stand up for Israel,” he said. “If it comes before me as county executive, I will try to work with the county council to pass it. If not, I will issue an executive order. That’s how strongly I feel about it.”
Olszewski, a former 6th District state delegate and schoolteacher, said that Baltimore-area leaders should “stand with Israel.”
“I think that we can also do a similar type executive order,” he said. “My preference would be working with the county council to have legislation passed. That is something we would do in collaboration with the stakeholders with the council.”
Republican candidate Al Redmer Jr., a former District 8 state delegate, has been endorsed by Gov. Hogan, who issued the state anti-BDS executive order.
“I support the position that the governor has taken,” Redmer said in an interview after the forum. “As county executive, I would initiate a proposal to the county council and seek their support so that we can work together and take a transparent and collaborative approach.”
Also on the ballot, Democrat Kevin Francis Marron of Parkville and Independent write-in candidate Tony Solesky of Towson did not attend the forum. Solesky will only appear on the general election ballot.
Faith plays an important role in the candidates’ private and public lives, and while Almond and McDonough stated their Catholic roots and Brochin his Jewish background, Olszewski, a Methodist, spoke of the interconnectivity of faiths and evoked Jesus as a role model.
“I’ve learned that all of our faith communities in Baltimore County — Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity — share many of the same core tenets. I am grounded in my faith and I am comforted in knowing that everything I do is about the lessons that my faith teaches me,” he said. “We share an Old Testament and we share concern and care for others. In my faith tradition, the thing that I always go back to is the empathy that Jesus had for the people. And that’s what I want to emulate as the county executive: someone who understands that people are persecuted still, that people do suffer addiction, people are marginalized.”
Family, community, service to others and speaking out on behalf of the oppressed are four values that Brochin said he learned growing up in a Jewish household. He cited support for same-sex marriage legislation as evidence of those Jewish values in action.
Almond grew up Catholic in a single-parent household in Catonsville, where she said she and her mother made up a “strong Catholic family, the two of us.”
“And that faith has been part of my life for all of my life,” she said. “Since I’ve been on the county council, I have enjoyed learning about other cultures and other religions and how important they are in other people’s lives. Going to church, going to synagogue on Saturday or Sunday, is where you really see people for who they are. My faith has taught me integrity and patience, kindness and respect for others, and I live by that rule every day.”
McDonough, who joked that the pope was on the line when his cell phone rang during the forum, said his faith has given him courage.
“I grew up in the Catholic faith. But I grew up in a wonderful neighborhood in East Baltimore, where former Gov. Marvin Mandel actually grew up, around Patterson Park. A very diverse neighborhood,” he said. “I could throw a baseball and hit Holy Rosary Church. I could throw that same baseball and hit the synagogue on the corner. It was a great experience to grow up … with different people of different faiths.”
Redmer said he lives an active religious life, including serving on his church council, but doesn’t allow religion to influence his political decisions.
“My faith has played a major role in my development of my character as a person, which naturally impacts every decision that I make,” he said. “While faith helped form the person that I have become, it does not play a formal role in my life as a public official, as I take many diverse religious views into account when making complex decisions that impact everyone.”
As for broader issues, while Almond, Olszewski and Redmer all said they would welcome enhanced partnerships with Baltimore City, Brochin said he would limit such partnerships to supporting cultural and arts institutions, recycling and transportation. McDonough said he would not support county/city partnerships and would “expect a check” from the city if county police needed to work in Baltimore.
Almond said that she has always been a staunch supporter of public education, but that she has worked with Jewish community leaders to build relationships with the county’s Jewish day schools on issues such as security and transportation.
“I am a strong advocate for public school education because I think it is our responsibility to teach every child,” she said. “I’m also willing, and I have worked with our Jewish partners to see how we can partner together to make our children safe and happy and well-educated.”
Likewise, Redmer said as a state legislator he was an early supporter of using state money to support non- public schools and would continue that support as country executive.
“I understand that these schools can oftentimes provide a much stronger education and environment for low- income students in areas with underperforming schools,” he said. “In addition, public safety will be a high priority. As such, I will work with institutions to seek grants from the Homeland Security Administration for schools and religious institutions.”
Brochin said public dollars need to go to public education. Olszewski, a former teacher and county school board member, agreed, saying he was opposed to BOAST (Building Opportunities for All Students and Teachers in Maryland Tax Credit) and BOOST (Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today), which fund low-income private school student scholarships.