Baltimore County politicians have long been known for running a suburban version of Tammany Hall, New York City’s legendary political machine.
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. proved once again that the machine is alive and well there.
His support of Pat Young and Shafiyq Hinton in the Democratic primary for vacant county council seats in Districts 1 and 6 is straight out of the playbook of Boss Tweed, who ran Tammany Hall in the mid-1800s.
I have no doubt that the primary goal of his support is to retain enough votes on the council to preserve the pay-to-play culture that has corrupted the Baltimore County government for decades by serving the interests of builders and developers. While corruption may be of the “gentle” variety, it is no less destructive than the criminal variety.
The culture of soft corruption leads to a development that overwhelms public facilities such as roads, stormwater management systems, sewers and schools.
Unreasonably low fees imposed on developers mean that the burden of funding the improvements to public facilities needed to accommodate new developments falls on the general taxpayer rather than those who benefit.
Play the kingmaker
There are places where it is considered bad form for a mayor or district leader to back one party’s candidate over another in a primary in order to win a vacant seat. Apparently Baltimore County isn’t one of them.
There are smart, perfectly capable Democratic voters in Districts 1 and 6. Why isn’t Olszewski willing to allow them to choose from a range of viable Democratic candidates to fill the seats of incumbents not running for re-election without trying to influence the outcome?
The answer is that there are strong candidates in both races who pose a threat that Olszewski is keen to eliminate.
Catonsville businessman and longtime community activist Paul Dongarra’s District 1 platform specifically targets “the corrupt pay-to-play system that enriches politicians and developers while ignoring the rest of us.”
In 2013, Dongarra gave state officials a tip about campaign finance violations by Steve Whalen, a prominent Catonsville developer. Whalen was fined $58,000 and placed on PBJ (probation before sentencing) for donating straw to outgoing council member Tom Quirk.
Needless to say, Olszewski would have preferred Dongarra not to rock the boat at Towson.
In District 6, Mike Ertel also has a long history of community activism focused on maintaining the quality of life in neighborhoods by protecting them from excessive and rash development.
As president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations (GTCCA), he shook feathers by challenging former borough chair Kevin Kamenetz’s “It’s Towson’s Time” vision that Towson should become an urban center “even better than Bethesda, yet better than silver spring.”
Olszewski doesn’t want Ertel on the county council where he could kill the goose that laid the golden egg for the builders, developers, and commercial brokers who make big bucks from Towson’s overdevelopment.
Threats to the status quo
In my opinion, Olszewski’s recommendations have nothing to do with Young’s and Hinton’s qualifications — and everything with the threat to the status quo posed by Dongarra, Ertel and Danielle Nicole Singley, who is also running against Young in the District 1 primary.
Young is completing his second term as a member of the Maryland House of Delegates. Hinton, a real estate agent, is a political newcomer. Suffice it to say that none of their campaign platforms involve ending the pay-to-play culture or reforming dysfunctional zoning and development permitting processes that are heavily geared toward builders and developers.
Hinton is black and Olszewski can claim to support him bringing more diversity to the council. If so, why don’t you support Singley in District 1?
Singley, who is also black, explains that the most pressing problem in the county is the apathy of residents who are frustrated by “unresponsive, disjointed leadership and government processes that are skewed to only favor the wealthy and political elite.” .
True as it is, it’s not music to the ears of the wealthy political elites who fund Olszewski’s campaigns. Cross Singley off the list of possible endorsements.
Does anyone think there is nothing in return for Olszewski’s endorsements and associated campaign contributions?
If they win, Young and Hinton will be politically committed to Olszewski, who in turn is keen to protect the interests of the special interests who contribute most to his campaign.
This is the grease that runs Baltimore County’s political machinery. She has done that for decades.
• David A Plymyer retired as Anne Arundel County Attorney after 31 years with the county law practice. He can be reached at [email protected] and Twitter @dplymyer.