Remembering Kevin Kamenetz and Valerie Ervin’s Decision

I spend a lot of time (too much time) watching candidates and talking with them. Being from Montgomery County, I didn’t really know much about Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz before he entered the race.

Remembering Kevin Kamenetz

I had a chance to sit down and talk with him and watched him in debates and forums and he kinda grew on me. He wasn’t the best public speaker in the race but he had a long record of political involvement and experience that meant he could talk easily and in detail about many of the key issues facing Maryland.

Even more critically, he had grappled with many of them. As a result of this experience and representing a swing county, Kamenetz understood that people have a wide range of views and issues are often complicated but also how to make progress on them.

But until I read an article recapping his career in the Baltimore Sun, I didn’t know about Kevin Kamenetz’s work on affordable housing:

Housing was also a battleground in the changing county. Many fought against a program in the 1990s to allow poor city residents to move to the county. The NAACP and other groups filed a federal housing complaint against the county in 2011 alleging discriminatory policies.

It was resolved in 2016 with an agreement signed by Kamenetz that calls for the county to spend millions of dollars to support the construction of affordable housing in neighborhoods lacking it.

“I think it was his leadership that brought the administration to the plate,” [NAACP County Branch President] Fugett said. The settlement “may not be a popular decision,” Fugett said, but Kamenetz “always tried to do the right thing.”

Affordable housing is one of the most unbelievably difficult issues. Localities will go to the mat and beyond to fight the placement of low-income housing in their area. It’s a difficult issue and powerful efforts to force acceptance of affordable housing have usually failed in the face of strong opposition.

In short, there was no political hay to be made on this issue. Nevertheless, Kamenetz got it done, and he got it done in a very low key manner. One of the secrets of politics is that the best accomplishments are often the ones that go unnoticed precisely because they were done carefully in a way that minimized opposition and thus allowed progress to be made.

In an era that celebrates newness, often derides political experience and increasingly celebrates radical change, this sort of politics is underappreciated. Unlike sweeping promises that die on the rocks of reality, getting this done will make a meaningful difference in real people’s lives.

Valerie Ervin’s Decision

In the wake of Kevin Kamenetz’s untimely and sad passing, many of us learned for the first time that Maryland law allows the surviving running mate of a gubernatorial candidate to choose a new running mate and even to switch positions on the ballot. Consequently, Valerie Ervin can now run for governor or lieutenant governor and select a new running mate.

She has to make a decision quickly. Speculation has naturally ensued about what she will decide. While Donna Edwards, Ervin’s longtime friend, has encouraged her, I’ve heard other voices that are more critical of an Ervin bid.

I say it’s up to Valerie Ervin and we should respect her decision whatever it is. Kamanetz and Ervin made a good team and seemed to work well together from what I could see. Beyond that the law clearly gives Ervin the right to run, I see nothing wrong with her choosing to do so.

I imagine she would consult with the Kamenetz-Ervin team, especially with the Kamenetz family. Ervin has already indicated she plans to speak with Jill Kamenetz but I think everyone also understands that this suddenly widowed mother of two kids is coping with an enormous and shocking personal loss.

I don’t know what the law will say about access to the funds that Kamenetz raised for his campaign – they are not in a joint account. I also don’t know how it will impact the race if Ervin runs. The Washington Post quoted speculation that it might hurt Ben Jealous and Rich Madaleno, my preferred candidate. But honestly, who knows at this point in a very fluid election.

Regardless, I think it’s Ervin’s decision. We should respect it and move on with the campaign. Of course, she would rightly face the same scrutiny as any other candidate. And that’s how it should be in any healthy democratic competition. But, her decision to run shouldn’t be the issue.