Kamenetz, Bartenfelder spar over accuracy of campaign ads

Baltimore Co. executive hopefuls each say the other's campaign materials are misleading

September 01, 2010|By Arthur Hirsch, The Baltimore Sun

Two Democratic primary candidates for Baltimore County executive sharpened their attacks Tuesday as Kevin Kamenetz and Joseph Bartenfelder each accused the other of misrepresenting his record on the County Council, where the two have served together for 16 years.

Kamenetz, the District 2 councilman, made a show of challenging his opponent's veracity during a news conference at his campaign headquarters in Towson, gathering three other council members and the president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County and displaying a poster-sized copy of a piece of Bartenfelder campaign literature. The direct mailing claims that Bartenfelder, the District 6 councilman, "secured record state funding for school construction and improvements" and that he voted against a pay raise and "extending pension benefits for council members."

Bartenfelder later criticized a Kamenetz TV spot that claims Kamenetz "installed" air conditioning in a middle school, though the cooling system has not been put in place yet.

The day's events amplified the negative tone of the campaign with two weeks to go before the primary on Sept. 14. Last week, Kamenetz aired a TV spot condemning Bartenfelder's environmental record when he was a member of the Maryland House of Delegates, and Bartenfelder responded with a commercial of his own claiming that his opponent was making false accusations.

Kamenetz and Bartenfelder are the chief candidates in the race for the Democratic nomination. Former county employee Ronald E. Harvey is also running. The lone Republican in the race is investment executive and former state delegate Kenneth C. Holt.

Kamenetz saying he wanted the campaign to be about "straight talk and smart ideas," handed out a statement saying that it was "legally impossible to do what Joe claims. The County Council has nothing to do with securing state funding for school construction and improvements."

The statement credits County Executive James T. Smith Jr. and members of the county's state delegation for winning more than $52 million in school renovation and construction money in 2007. The assertion is supported with a quote from a letter Smith sent to constituents in 2007 in which he applauds lawmakers for securing the money.

TABCO President Cheryl Bost said Bartenfelder was making "really outrageous … false claims about state funding he did not secure."

Bartenfelder said in an interview later that he played a role in getting the money as one of the representatives of the county who attended state Board of Public Works meetings over the course of several years to press for school construction money. Sometimes he testified at the meetings, Bartenfelder said, but not always.

"You're part of a group that did secure record funding," said Bartenfelder. "You can stake a claim to that with some validity."

Asked about Kamenetz's claim that it would be "legally impossible" for a council member to play the role he claims, Bartenfelder referred to a Kamenetz TV advertisement, in which a member of the Ridgely Middle School PTA gives Kamenetz credit for spearheading the effort to have air conditioning installed at the school. At one point in the spot, the words "Installed Air Conditioning" appear on the screen.

"Legally, it's not possible for a councilman to get air conditioning installed in a middle school when in fact the air conditioning is not installed," Bartenfelder said.

While the money for the air conditioning has been approved, the bidding process is still going on and the work itself is not expected to be completed for months.

Kamenetz has also aired an advertisement featuring retired Baltimore County police officer Rainier Harvey, in which Harvey praises Kamenetz as tough on crime, saying, "I know, I've worked with him."

Asked yesterday when he worked with Harvey, Kamenetz told the news conference, "He served on the police when I was on the council."

According to police records, though, Harvey left the force after six years in January 1994, 11 months before Kamenetz joined the council. Kamenetz later characterized his previous comment as a misstatement, adding that he and Harvey worked together after Harvey left the force.

In the ad for Kamenetz, Harvey says he "put more police in our neighborhoods." Kamenetz said that refers to his work with the administration of former executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger to establish police patrols in business districts and the Community Action Team approach, which deploys officers to focus on urgent crime problems as they emerge.

Police Chief Jim Johnson was taking no position on Kamenetz's claims either way, but he said the 82 officers for those efforts were hired with a $6.15 million federal grant, a cost since taken over by the county.

Kamenetz campaign manager Peter Clerkin said, "We're not asserting [Kamenetz] is responsible for getting that grant. … He helped put more police in the neighborhoods."

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