Primary election: Kamenetz in Baltimore County

Our view: The choice in the Democratic primary for county executive comes down to a matter of knowledge and experience

September 09, 2010

The job of leading Baltimore County government is not unlike running a major corporation. The sprawling county employs 25,000 and has an annual budget of $2.5 billion that would rank it in among the 800 biggest companies in the U.S., as well as a tradition of tight-fistedness that would make most CEOs proud.

Given the challenge of governing so large and diverse a place, a county executive needs to have a deep understanding of the community and a demonstrated ability to get things done. By that standard, the Democratic choice for county executive is a relatively easy one to make.

Kevin Kamenetz earns our endorsement in the Democratic primary because during his 16 years on the county council, he has developed just those skills. From the budget and tax policy to issues of planning and zoning and economic development, the 52-year-old Owings Mills lawyer can generally be counted on to have a better handle on the intricacies of county government and the implications of policy proposals than his peers on the council.

He has also demonstrated an ability to build coalitions and push legislation of substance from recent council pension reform to a landmark law requiring major shopping centers and big-box stores to install security cameras.

If there is one knock against Mr. Kamenetz it has been that he can come across as arrogant and brash. But while that may have been true early in his council tenure, fatherhood and time seem to have softened his edges. The proof of his ability to work well with others lies in his leadership on the council — and in the endorsements he's received from three of his peers.

He is opposed by Ronald Harvey, a former county employee who has run a negligible campaign, and more noticeably by Joe Bartenfelder, a fellow four-term council member. Mr. Bartenfelder, 53, a farmer and former state delegate, has a straightforward, plain-spoken appeal. He is staking much of his campaign on the connections he built in Annapolis in an earlier career as a state delegate, and that would no doubt be helpful to Baltimore County. But given the profundity of the state's financial problems, old friendships won't be sufficient to, say, stop the legislature from passing teacher pension costs to local governments. The county would be better served by Mr. Kamenetz's depth of knowledge when it comes time to navigate the rough waters ahead.

If successful in the primary, Mr. Kamenetz would face former Delegate Kenneth C. Holt who is running unopposed in the Republican primary for county executive.

Baltimore County has sidestepped many of the recession-driven woes that have plagued other jurisdictions chiefly because it has limited government's rate of growth. Under current Executive James T. Smith Jr., the county has also embraced public employee pension reforms that others have not.

But while the county has earned high marks for fiscal prudence, it is not known for its innovation or ambition. That's something Mr. Kamenetz says he would like to change — while simultaneously tackling an anticipated reduction in teacher pension payments and other forms of state aid that may be coming as early as next year.

This spark of progressiveness is also something we'd like to see out of a county with so much untapped potential. The measure of the quality of life in Baltimore County is not merely in so many years of flat tax rates. Mr. Kamenetz has the skills and experience to achieve something more than a continuation of the status quo. That makes the Baltimore County native the ideal choice for this demanding job in so challenging a time.

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