Some of Maryland's most intense political contests of the year are unfolding in Baltimore County, where candidates are gathering cash to position themselves for county executive, the County Council and the state legislature.
County Councilman Kevin B. Kamenetz has a $1.1 million balance in his campaign account, up about $300,000 since late October, according to finance reports filed this week. While the Democrat who represents Pikesville, Ruxton and surrounding areas hasn't formally announced he's running for the open county executive position, he's continuing to raise the money his campaign treasurer has estimated will be needed for a contested primary against fellow Democratic Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder.
Bartenfelder, a former state delegate who represents an area that includes Bowleys Quarters and Putty Hill, reports $640,000 in the bank, up about $40,000 since the fall.
"This is going to be a seriously contested primary with a couple of heavy hitters from the council," said Donald F. Norris, chairman of the public policy department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
In 2002, the last time there was a race for an open executive seat, the finance picture at roughly this point in the election cycle was much different.
The eventual winner, Democrat James T. Smith Jr., had nearly $39,000 cash on hand. Republican Douglas B. Riley had $19,871.
Bartenfelder acknowledges he's running to succeed Smith, who is prevented by term limits from seeking re-election, and he said he feels he's "on target" to reach his fundraising goals.
Kamenetz was out of town and could not be reached. His campaign treasurer, Charles E. Klein, previously estimated that it could cost up to $1.5 million to mount a competitive executive run, and he hoped at that time to have about $1 million by this week's deadline.
Republican state Del. Patrick L. McDonough said he's still considering running for executive, having abandoned the gubernatorial contest. While he's way behind in fundraising, with about $7,000 in the bank, he said he's not worried about money.
In arguing his edge in name recognition, McDonough pointed to his position as a commentator on Fox45 TV and WCBM radio, and to a recent survey that showed his name recognition in the county at 44 percent. McDonough estimated he would need $400,000 to run a general election campaign. No other Republicans have emerged as possible contenders to succeed Smith.
For his part, Smith continues to accumulate money, and the Democrat's name usually comes up in conversations about the race for a state Senate seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Andrew P. Harris, who is running for Congress. Smith recently moved to Cockeysville to establish residency in the 7th District. Smith's campaign account shows a cash balance of nearly $1.1 million, including nearly $300,000 in contributions over the past year.
Smith spokesman Don Mohler said Friday that the executive is "not thinking about politics, he's thinking about governing." He said Smith would make his intentions public sometime after the General Assembly session ends in mid-April.
Former state Del. Alfred W. Redmer Jr., a Republican who has declared his intention to run for the District 7 Senate seat, said he figures it will cost between $200,000 and $250,000 to run in that predominantly Republican district, which includes parts of Baltimore and Harford counties.
Redmer, who was Maryland insurance commissioner under Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., reported nearly $17,000 in cash available in his recent report. Redmer did not seem troubled by Smith's formidable campaign fund.
"I don't believe you can spend a million on a state Senate race," he said. "You reach the point of diminishing returns."
Republican state Del. J.B. Jennings has filed candidacy papers for the Senate district and has about $13,000 in his campaign account.
The County Council is expected to be significantly recast after the election. Veteran east-side Councilman Vincent J. Gardina announced he was not running again, and the revelation that he will collect a $54,000 annual pension for life after serving five terms sparked an outcry that led to a recently adopted reform plan.
If Kamenetz and Bartenfelder each jump into the executive race as expected, it will mean at least three new council members.
The contests for those seats have only just begun.
Another battle could take place in the Catonsville-centered council district now represented by Stephen G. Samuel Moxley. Moxley is ahead in fundraising with $53,000 on hand, although he's not sure he's running again. Moxley was sentenced in September to two years of probation and community service for drunken driving. In 2005, he received probation before judgment for that offense.
The Democrat said he is considering his options, including a run for clerk of court.