Potential rivals begin new terms on council

Four are considering run for executive in 2010

December 02, 2006|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,Sun Reporter

All seven members of the Baltimore County Council will be sworn in Monday for another four years in office. The faces are the same, and the councilmen say they will maintain the panel's consensus-driven style.

But more than half of them are now potential rivals.

Term limits will force newly re-elected County Executive James T. Smith Jr. to step aside in four years. And four councilmen have their eyes on his job.

"Of course it changes the dynamics," former Baltimore County Executive Donald P. Hutchinson said. "For all the guys that have been on this council for a long time, this is their one and only chance coming up."

Democrats Joseph Bartenfelder, Kevin B. Kamenetz, Stephen G. Samuel Moxley and John A. Olszewski Sr. all say they are considering a run for county executive. The first three have served on the council since 1994; Olszewski has served since 1998.

The council has been largely the same for the past decade, with its only new member in eight years coming when redistricting created a majority black district that has been represented by Kenneth N. Oliver since 2002.

The panel has a reputation for operating in a collegial style. The members are loath to squabble in public or sponsor legislation that would draw opposition. Lightning-quick meetings with unanimous votes are the norm.

Will that style change?

"I have confidence in the relationship that we all have with each other that we're going to focus on what's good for the county," said Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Ruxton Democrat. "I don't see that any member would want to jeopardize the benefit to the county."

Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat, said he has spoken with his council colleagues about the importance of maintaining civility.

Council members, who are elected in individual districts, rarely meddle in other districts under an unwritten policy of "councilmanic courtesy."

But a candidate for executive would have to appeal to voters countywide. And that could lead to councilmen championing regional issues, said former Councilman Douglas B. Riley.

"You absolutely have to increase your profile," said Riley, a Republican who lost to Smith in 2002. "You do that by traveling around the county and getting known in other districts."

Riley recalls then-Councilman C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger ratcheting up his criticism of the county school superintendent during his 1994 campaign.

"He found an issue that struck a chord, and he would discuss it on the campaign trail," Riley said. "It's not as though he was introducing bills of censure."

Melvin G. Mintz ran against Ruppersberger in the Democratic primary for executive that year, when both served on the council. Ruppersberger, now a congressman, won the primary and the general election.

"The thing that I did learn, certainly, is that the No. 1 objective is come up with ideas of how you wish to see the county move forward," said Mintz, who represented Pikesville on the council. "My suspicion is education [will be an issue] - somebody has to come up with a plan to make sure education of Baltimore County improves. Secondly, traffic congestion is just on everyone's mind. Both of those issues speak to collaboration on a regional basis."

Mintz said that his relations with Ruppersberger remained cordial on the council during the campaign.

Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, who is entering an unprecedented fifth term on the council, said he has not given thought to running for executive. But he said the council members should take a "much more cautious approach to any issues that might create controversy."

"The voters aren't looking for somebody who's grandstanding on an issue," said Gardina, a Towson-Perry Hall Democrat.

Moxley said he recently spoke with Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat, about his political plans, and that they agreed that running against one another might not be a smart move.

"We both realize that, because we would draw from the same type of individuals. He and I must have further discussions before decisions would be made," Moxley said.

Bartenfelder had given thought to running in 2002 but ultimately decided against the idea. He said he is strongly considering a run for executive.

Bartenfelder said that if he were to run, he would not change his style.

Olszewski, a Dundalk Democrat entering his third term, said he will probably form an exploratory committee soon to look at a possible run for executive.

"I know my colleagues well enough that if more than one of us at the end of the day decides to run for that office, we'll be able to separate our work on the council and running for the office of county executive," Olszewski said. "At least I hope we would."

josh.mitchell@baltsun.com

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