On a usual weekday morning, Kevin B. Kamenetz can be found in an office, wearing a suit, lifting nothing heavier than a cell phone as he presides over the affairs of Baltimore County government, a $1.6 billion behemoth, where, on any given day, 7,550 employees are doing the people’s work.
Last week, however, Kamenetz, the Baltimore County executive and a Democratic candidate for governor, along with his running mate, Valerie Ervin, found themselves in much different attire, doing much different work.
They were on their knees.
Not begging for campaign contributions — the archetypal view many voters have of politicians — but literally, on their hands and knees, scrubbing tubs and making beds at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center at National Harbor, alongside and under the direction of two women who do such physically demanding labor day in and day out.
“I can guarantee you today that Valerie and I have walked in these workers’ shoes,” Kamenetz said after their half-shift at the Gaylord. “It is hard work, and they deserve every benefit they get.”
Kamenetz was on site around 7 a.m., having met the woman who he would clean rooms with, outside her apartment around 6:30. There they boarded Prince George’s County’s “The Bus,” Route 13.
Kamenetz and Ervin entered the hotel through the employee entrance, on the far side of the resort’s more glamorous main entrance. They then headed to lower-level work rooms that guests never see to get the essentials of room-cleaning — work carts filled with fresh sheets and towels, brushes, mops, soap and room supplies.
Both wore black — Kamenetz a black short sleeve shirt with his name, title and the Baltimore County seal on the chest, with black pants, and Ervin sporting an all-purpose top and leggings.
Talking to reporters afterward, they described how the women they were paired with — Karen Allen and Donyale Whitaker — guided them through the rigors of cleaning a room and preparing it for the next guests.
“It was a lot harder physically than I thought it would be,” Kamenetz conceded.
“He did pretty good,” Allen said of her protege. “I could tell, after the third room, he was tired. But he kept on.”
Ervin said the day reminded her of her forebears.
“My grandmother and my aunts — my mother’s sisters — all worked as domestic workers in the ‘50s and ‘60s, with no union, no contract, no nothing,” he said. “They just worked hard, and it’s back-breaking work.”
The work brought a benefit for the county executive and his running mate, who by 1 p.m. were on a small grassy plot not far from the employees’ entrance, accepting the endorsement of the union that represents workers at the Gaylord.
Unite Here Local 25 head John A. Boardman, standing in front a few dozen workers holding a union banner, praised the Kamenetz-Ervin ticket for being willing to work alongside his members, and for the “vision they have for people in the state of Maryland — good wages, good benefits, good working conditions, development and equity for all.”
St. Mary’s College of Maryland political science professor Todd C. Eberly said he is not among those who would dismiss such “day-in-the-life” events as mere gimmickry.
“Get out there!” he admonished candidates for high office. “Empty trash cans. Make beds. Do laundry. Swing a hammer. And then ask yourself, what would it be like to do this every day, for 40 years, before you can retire?”
In the Democratic gubernatorial primary so far, former NAACP president Benjamin T. Jealous has racked up most of the union endorsements. State Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. received the endorsement of the Baltimore Washington Laborers’ District Council, an affiliate of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA), which represents more than 3,000 members in Maryland.
Boardman said he’s a longtime ally and personal friend of Ervin, a former Montgomery County councilwoman and longtime union activist – something that contributed to the 7,500-member union’s endorsement decision, which involved months of discussions.
Kamenetz “has run a large complex organization, Baltimore County, and been enormously successful at it,” Boardman said. “He can walk into the governorship on the first day and make a difference, and that’s what we are looking for.”
So why not endorse the other, more local, suburban county executive, Rushern L. Baker III, on whose watch the Gaylord Resort was built?
“Everybody wants our endorsement because we have a very active political membership and we have resources that we can throw into a race, and we like to think we make a difference,” he said.