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Jill Kamenetz: “If Kevin Were Here, He Would Say, ‘Wow, What a Great Turnout'”

If the circumstances were different, it would have been the Maryland political event of the year.

While reconciling the tragic, sudden death of Kevin B. Kamenetz with an all-star gathering of the state’s elected officials seems impossible – downright incongruous to most people — his widow assured mourners Friday that he would have loved it.

“If Kevin were here, he would say, ‘Wow, what a great turnout,’” Jill H. Kamenetz told a full house attending his funeral service at the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, on Park Heights Avenue at the City Line.

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“If he watched the beautiful tributes that were all over television last night about his life, he would say, ‘Look, Jill, I’m on every station – and it’s all positive,’” she said.

“If he saw today’s Sunpapers, he would say, ‘Jill, I’m on the cover – and above the fold.’”

Jill Kamenetz knew her audience, and they could not help but laugh. Hundred upon hundreds of elected officials, bureaucrats, family and friends had come to pay their final respects to a man who to many was the consummate political animal.

Kamenetz, the Baltimore County executive and a frontrunner in the crowded Democratic primary for governor, died early Thursday after a heart attack, within hours of finishing yet another candidates’ forum, this one in Bowie. He was 60.

What appeared to be most of Maryland’s elected officials – from the federal, state and local levels, Democrat and Republican, alike – attended the service.

And while Jill Kamenetz did draw a series of laughs from the crowd, she also described life in recent months with her candidate husband – the grind of the campaign trail and the toll it exacts. It was not an unfamiliar picture to anyone who had run a campaign and surely resonated with many in the audience.

“This last year was rough,” Jill Kamenetz said matter-of-factly. “We rarely saw each other. He was a little moody. He barely slept. He wasn’t eating well. He could never just sit, relax and take a breath. His mind was just always going.

“But,” she said, “he was in this to win it. He was driven, and he loved what he was doing.”

Nevertheless, she said, “He was looking tired to me, I thought. Just last week, I said to him, ‘Kevin, this campaign is killing you.’ He said to me, ‘We’re at the last stretch. This is it – not much longer — we have about 50 days left,” she said.

They had planned to rest up and take a trip “after the election,” she said. “We didn’t get to do that.”

Jill Kamenetz urged the mourners not to postpone any such plans.

The ceremony opened with a string quartet from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra playing Samuel Barber’s mournful “Adagio for Strings.”

Kamenetz’s coffin, draped with an American flag, was placed before the speaker’s rostrum, front and center at the synagogue.

His eldest son, Karson Kamenetz, was the first of six speakers, including his mother and Rabbi Andrew Busch, of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.

“It is impossible to describe the emotions associated with the death of a father,” said Karson, who wore a dark suit and darker glasses. “I owe every single aspect of my life to him.

“I hope my Dad knew how much he meant to me,” he said. “I hope he died knowing that he was my role model. I hope he died knowing that I loved him endlessly.”

His younger brother, Dylan Kamenetz, did not speak at the service. Kamenetz’s sons, both teenagers, attend the Gilman School, from which their father graduated in 1975.

U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D), spoke next, describing Kamenetz as “first and foremost, a family man,” but one who also had a public following, as well.

“This room is full of … people who work in government, Democrats, Republicans, local, state and federal, all part of his other family,” Cardin said. “On behalf of that other family, we lost a beloved member in Kevin Kamenetz.

“He genuinely cared about people,” he said.

Kamenetz’s running mate in the June 26 primary, former Montgomery County councilwoman Valerie L. Ervin, attended. She has until Thursday to make up her mind about withdrawing from the race, picking another gubernatorial candidate to run with, or take the top spot herself and select someone else as the ticket’s lieutenant governor candidate.

Among those Democrats also attending were Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. (D); former U.S. Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes (D) and Barbara A. Mikulski (D); U.S. Rep. C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger (D); Rep. John P. Sarbanes (D); Rep. Jamin B. “Jamie” Raskin (D); and Rep. Anthony G. Brown (D).

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. and Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, the Republican incumbents, sat in the front row, along with Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) and Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D).

Most of the other gubernatorial candidates and their running mates who were competing against Kamenetz and Ervin for the Democratic nomination were in attendance, scattered among the crowd: Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III and Elizabeth M. Embry; Benjamin T. Jealous and Susan W. Turnbull; State Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (Montgomery) and Luwanda W. Jenkins; James L. “Jim” Shea and Baltimore City Councilman Brandon M. Scott; Krishanti Vignarajah and Sharon Y. Blake; and Alec J. Ross.

Others in attendance included former U.S. Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D), running for Prince George’s County executive; Robert M. Bell, retired chief judge, Maryland Court of Appeals; Maryland House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel); Del. Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), speaker pro tem; state Sen. J.B. Jennings (R-Harford), Senate minority leader; Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh (D); Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman, R; Anne Arundel County Executive Steven R. Schuh (R); Harford County Executive Barry T. Glassman (R); former Baltimore County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen (D) and former Baltimore City Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector (D).

Among the pall bearers were: Donald I. Mohler III, Kamenetz’s former chief of staff; S.G. Samuel Moxley and Vincent J. Gardina, former Baltimore County councilmen; and Arthur H. Adler and Steven J. Sibel, two of the principals in Caves Valley Partners, a politically connected development firm that has done an enormous amount of work in Baltimore County.

Included among the “honorary pall bearers” were: Howard L. Perlow, a principal in a title company; Hanan Y. “Bean” Sibel and Dr. Leonard P. Berger, two well-known developers; former Baltimore County Executive Theodore G. “Ted” Venetoulis; Arnold E. Jablon, Baltimore County director of Permits, Approvals and Inspections; and Frederick J. Homan, Baltimore County administrative officer, now serving as acting county executive for Kamenetz.

A platoon of Baltimore County Police Department motorcycle escorts led the hearse and long procession that followed to the Baltimore Hebrew Cemetery in Reisterstown, where Kamenentz was interred.

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Jill Kamenetz: “If Kevin Were Here, He Would Say, ‘Wow, What a Great Turnout'”