Councilwoman Vicki Almond, just a few weeks shy of finishing her second term representing Baltimore County’s District 2, was busy last week doing what she’s done for decades: serving the community. Almond was volunteering at a fall donation drive for a nonprofit that assists students living in poverty.
And although her defeat in the June primary race for Baltimore County Executive didn’t come without its share of heartbreak, she said she’s excited about the people who will step into new roles representing the county and state, including her primary election rival Johnny Olszewski Jr. of Dundalk and the councilman replacing her, Izzy Patoka. Also, Del. Jon Cardin returns to the 11th District.
“I volunteered for Johnny Olszewski when I lost the primary,” Almond said. “In our conversations, I decided we had more in common than not. I was really glad he won. I think he’s got a good vision for Baltimore County.”
After beating opponent Al Redmer Jr. by more than 45,000 votes, Olszewski certainly seems to have a mandate from county voters. He will be working with a County Council chamber that is almost evenly split party-wise, with four Democrats and three Republicans.
But Olszewski, who served two terms in the Maryland General Assembly after a 2006 appointment, prides himself on working across party lines.
“My approach was to continue the way that I governed in the legislature, which was to work across the aisle on every issue and try to forge consensus,” he said. “We want to build consensus wherever we can and use compromise as a tool to do that. I look forward to working with all seven members of the Council, regardless of their party affiliation.”
Education was the No. 1 issue that Olszewski, 36, said he heard about on the campaign trail. He said it will be a focus of his administration, including making sure more than $200 million in state funds go toward county school construction.
“The other issue that really resonated with the electorate was accountable, transparent governing and having a reform agenda,” he said. “So, I would expect that a lot of those proposals will be put before the Council in one form or fashion early on following the swearing in and the start of our administration.”
Olszewski and Council members will be sworn in on Dec. 3, and they are already working on their transition plans. Olszewski announced his transition team Nov. 13, which includes Weinberg Foundation CEO Rachel Garbow Monroe. Almond said she is meeting with Patoka this week to start getting him up to speed.
“We’re going to show him the ropes and answer any questions and help him as much as we can,” she said. “I think it’s going to be a good transition.”
Patoka, of Pikesville, will be the only Jewish Council member. He beat his Republican opponent by a wide margin, capturing close to 72 percent of the votes to Michael Lee’s 28 percent.
Patoka said that in his interactions with constituents, they were most concerned about public safety, education and job creation.
“And another area that was really important to residents of the 2nd District was development and environmental concerns,” Patoka said. “Residents want creative development, they want exciting development and they don’t want over-development. And there’s a balance there that is achievable for land use that helps our economy, but also makes the 2nd District an attractive place to live and shop and raise a family.”
He, like Olszewski, is looking forward to working in the spirit of bipartisanship.
“I think at the local level, party affiliation doesn’t matter as much because you’re dealing with issues that are very local, that are constituent service-oriented, that are land use-oriented. And there are certainly budget and contractual functions for Council,” Patoka said. “I don’t think it really matters if you’re a Democrat or you’re a Republican if you’re able to be strong with constituent services, to be strong with review of budget, to be a good fiscal steward, to be able to review contracts and to understand land use and make solid land use decisions.”
Patoka, 61, will leave his job as director of community development at LifeBridge Health to devote himself full-time to his Council position.
“I’m going to give the residents of the 2nd District 110 percent,” he said.
He applauded Almond’s relationship with the Jewish community during her two terms representing District 2.
“Vicki was very supportive of the Jewish community and I hope to remain a strong advocate for our community as well,” he said.
Meanwhile, Jon Cardin of Owings Mills steps back into the 11th District state delegate seat he left in a bid for the attorney general’s office in 2013. He is thrilled by the strong support shown for Democrats locally and nationally in the midterm elections.
“I’m very excited about the checks and balances the Democrats nationally are going to put on the White House and on Congress,” he said. “And I am very excited about some of the victories in Maryland, Anne Arundel County and Howard County.” Anne Arundel and Howard counties flipped their county executive seats to Democrats from Republicans.
Cardin, 48, said he will return to Annapolis focusing on the priorities that were important to him during his three prior terms representing the 11th, including children and families, anti-bullying legislation, the environment and bicycle and pedestrian safety. But he won’t be focusing on partisanship.
“The elections are over and now it’s time to stop being partisan and start working,” he said. “There’s going to have to be some communication and some negotiation and I look forward to that. I’ve become less and less interested in partisan politics as I’ve gotten older and more and more interested in just coming to reasonable solutions.”
Almond said working across party lines and jurisdictional lines are both important to successfully running the county.
“Having those relationships with Annapolis is key in our education priorities and public safety priorities, and today those priorities are more important than ever,” she said.
Last week, as she packed up her County Council office, Almond said she’s not sure what she’ll do next, but she is sure she will stay involved with her community and issues important to the county, state and beyond.
“I have eight years of incredible experience that I’d love to share,” she said. “And I’m not going anywhere.”
Howard County’s new executive
Dr. Calvin Ball, 36, had already sat on the Howard County Council for 12 years when he was elected county executive on Nov. 6. He became the youngest chairman in the history of the Council in 2006, and he made history again as the county’s first African-American executive. Now that he’s preparing to oversee a county of nearly 300,000 people, Ball — who has worked as a firefighter, a community mediator and a professor — is ready to go.
“I’m ecstatic,” he told the JT.
Ball will replace Allan Kittleman, the Republican who held the seat since 2014. Established as Kittleman was, Ball was confident going into the race.
“We expected to win,” he said. “I felt very strongly that our community was looking for a leader to address numerous issues that many felt could be addressed better. I felt that the numbers and the energy were on my side, as far as those supporting my vision of inclusion and standing up for our values and expanding opportunity. And I knew that my team had worked incredibly hard for a long period of time.”
Education will remain a top priority for him, as it was during his campaign. School overcrowding and the ballooning classroom sizes that come with it are issues he plans to address, along with preparing the county for flood strategy and storm water remediation.
There’s also the budget, which Ball hopes to work closely with Kittleman on during the transition period (Ball takes office Dec. 3). What he wants to figure out, he says, is “how we align our budget with our values.”
Ball, who has degrees from Towson University, University of Baltimore and Morgan State University, has a long relationship with the Jewish Federation of Howard County.
“As a current Howard County councilman,” said executive director Ralph Grunewald, “Calvin is known to many of us and is a regular attendee at our events and programs, including our recent interfaith vigil in the wake of the tragic killings at the Tree of Life Synagogue, and our Israel at 70 Celebration last May.”
The reason for prioritizing such a relationship, said Ball, is to counter what he sees as divisive rhetoric from President Donald Trump. “I really tried to make sure that people know, from all walks of life, all of our sisters and brothers of every faith, that I am the county executive … for all.”
Two first-timers in the 41st
Democrat Samuel “Sandy” Rosenberg has been a member of the Maryland House of Delegates since 1983; he’s currently on his sixth governor and his fourth Speaker of the House. So it’s not surprising that, on Nov. 6, when he was re-elected to his position as a 41st District delegate, it was alongside two first-time politicians, Tony Bridges, 41, and Dalya Attar, 28.
“When four people work together,” said Rosenberg, referring to the new delegates and District 41 state Sen. Jill Carter, “they’re more effective than when they’re working individually.”
Rosenberg was familiar with Bridges due to the new delegate’s lengthy career in public service, which includes positions in the administrations of former Gov. Martin O’Malley and former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon. And though he’s only met Attar recently, Rosenberg coordinated with her and Bridges since the primaries, sending out joint mailers and strategizing on Election Day plans. With all three of them now in office for the next four years, the collaboration seems to have paid off.
“I’m excited to be able to start this good work,” said Attar.
Attar is an assistant state’s attorney in Baltimore City, and the impetus for her campaign came about two years ago, when she was working in the juvenile system.
“It was just horrific what I was seeing,” Attar said. “Children who are not getting what they need, our system that is not treating children properly, not rehabilitating children properly, and it’s just a never-ending cycle. We have crime that’s outrageous, but yet our schools are not giving kids what they need. So I just decided I’m not going to step back and be like, ‘Let everyone else fix the job, let everyone else fix the problem.’ I decided I wanted to be a part of a solution, and I want to do whatever I can to fix my district, the 41st District, and Baltimore City.”
Attar is also the first Orthodox woman elected to the Maryland legislature, and hopes to dispel people’s preconceived notions about the possibilities for Orthodox women. “I’m focused on doing the work,” she said.
Like her new colleagues, Attar is deeply focused on the educational system (she ran on a platform of universal pre-K). They are all eagerly awaiting further recommendations from the Kirwan Commission, a government committee convened to rethink Maryland’s educational funding.
For Rosenberg, it’s about two things: funding and accountability. “You can’t do one without the other,” he said. “It’s the most important issue we will take up over the term.” He also stressed the importance of continuing to fund private and parochial schools.
Bridges, who attended four different public schools in the district, echoed that sentiment. “Education is, first and foremost, making sure that we get some good recommendations out of the Kirwan Commission. And funding! Equitable funding, fair funding for Baltimore City public schools.”
Bridges is no stranger to local politics. The Frostburg State University and Towson University grad grew up in Park Heights, and is the former director of human services and operations for Park Heights Renaissance, a revitalization project in the area. He’s worked for the Maryland Transit Administration and in various community outreach positions. He’s eager to get started in his new role.
“I feel good,” Bridges said. “It feels good to finally have [the election] behind.”
Bridges said he never envisioned himself running for office, but now finds himself sharing a legislature with his childhood friend Antonio Hayes, a 40th District delegate since 2015, who also happens to be the godfather of his children.
All three of the delegates spoke about the importance of keeping the Preakness at Pimlico Race Course as there is talk of moving it to Laurel. “We are, I think it’s fair to say, as a team, in full agreement,” Rosenberg said. “The Preakness should stay at Pimlico, and Pimlico should be developed and transformed into an attraction 365 days a year for the northwest Baltimore community and the city and region at large.”
All in all, the delegates are ready to get started.
“With us,” Bridges said, “you get a fresh perspective and new ideas, folks who really want to make a change and a difference in Baltimore.”