Olszewski Beefs Up Team — and Shakes Up Annapolis

Baltimore County Executive John A. “Johnny O” Olszewski Jr. (D) at the Maryland Association of Counties summer conference last month. Photo by Danielle. E. Gaines.

By hiring two veteran state legislators to work for him Monday, Baltimore County Executive John A. “Johnny O” Olszewski Jr. (D) accomplished several things.

Most prominently – and most obviously – he filled out key positions in his administration and can now say he has a full team in place.

But just as significant, the looming departure of Dels. Eric Bromwell (D) and Stephen W. Lafferty (D) changes the makeup of a Baltimore County legislative delegation already under transition. It also affords new House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D) – herself a Baltimore Countian – an opportunity to fill a few more few vacancies in her leadership team. And it ends a reign of Bromwells serving in the Maryland General Assembly that dates back 40 years.

“These are all interesting developments,” observed Baltimore County Councilman David Marks (R).

Olszewski announced Lafferty and Bromwell’s hiring as part of a series of additions to his senior staff. Lafferty, who has worked as a planner in two different county governments in the past, will become Baltimore County’s chief sustainability officer, while Bromwell will become the county’s opioid strategy officer. Bromwell has led two legislative working groups on opioid addiction in the past few years.

Olszewski Monday also announced that Troy Williams, who served most recently as a consultant on diversity and inclusion to American University’s executive leadership programs, and as a financial adviser with Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, will become the county’s chief diversity officer. And he said that Romaine Williams, who has been working as an assistant county attorney, has taken on a new role as chief of employee and labor relations and will be the primary liaison to county employee unions. Olszewski also announced several additions to the county government’s Office of Community Engagement.

“Baltimore County is moving forward in big ways, and these individuals will play key roles in helping to carry out our vision,” Olszewski said in a statement.

All four top-level appointees will play important roles within Olszewski’s administration and will add to the narrative that the new executive, after eight months in office, is attempting to shake up county government after decades of continuity.

But the poaching of the two state lawmakers is grabbing most of the early attention.

For starters, their job titles carry great significance and signal some of Olszewski’s top priorities for his first term. Opioid addiction is an increasing crisis in suburbia, and Bromwell now becomes the face of the administration’s effort to find solutions. Meanwhile, developers have held great sway in Towson for decades; Lafferty’s title suggests Olszewski may try a new approach.

The lawmakers’ imminent departures will also create vacancies in the legislature – and on Jones’ leadership team.

Bromwell, who was first elected in 2002, has been vice chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee. Lafferty, who was elected in 2006, has been chairman of the environment subcommittee on the House Environment and Transportation Committee.

Assuming Jones keeps the bulk of the House leadership team she inherited from the late Michael E. Busch (D) when she became speaker in May, she won’t have too many plum positions to dole out. Before becoming speaker, Jones was speaker pro tem, the chairwoman of the Capital Budget subcommittee and the chairwoman of the Appropriations education subcommittee – posts she has yet to fill.

In a recent interview, Jones said she expected to fill out her leadership team “sometime in the fall.” On Monday, she issued a statement about Lafferty and Bromwell.

“Eric and Steve have been valuable members of the House of Delegates,” she said. “While I’m sad to lose them in the House, as a Baltimore County resident and 38-year retiree of county government, I know that they both bring an expertise that will be important additions to County Executive Olszewski’s team.”

Changing of the guard

Baltimore County’s legislative delegation varies dramatically when it comes to seniority and influence. Jones is now speaker; two of the four Senate committees are led by Baltimore Countians, Judicial Proceedings Chairman Robert A. Zirkin and Finance Chairwoman Delores G. Kelley. Baltimore County Sen. Katherine A. Klausmeier is the chamber’s president pro tem.

But the county’s 31-member delegation also has 11 Republicans, who have limited influence in a legislature dominated by Democrats – even though that group includes Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings and House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga. And it has one freshman in the Senate – Christopher R. West (R), who previously served in the House – and seven freshmen in the House (two with previous legislative experience).

The vacancies in Lafferty and Bromwell’s districts will bring two more newcomers. Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) will appoint their successors, following recommendations first from the Baltimore County Democratic Central Committee members from their districts, then from the full central committee.

As of Monday night, there did not appear to be an immediate frontrunner to replace Lafferty, who represents a liberal single-member subdistrict in Towson. One rumor suggested that Robbie Leonard, a former county Democratic chairman who narrowly lost a Senate race to West last year, would move to District 42A to seek appointment to Lafferty’s seat. Leonard told Maryland Matters he did not intend to move.

Bromwell’s 8th District, a working-class suburban area that includes Perry Hall, Parkville, Rosedale and White Marsh, is one of the most competitive in Maryland. In fact, it’s the only district in the state that continues to consistently send both Democrats and Republicans to Annapolis (the current split is three Democrats, one Republican).

“District 8 is the one district that gets it right,” Bromwell said in an interview. “We vote for people, not party.”

The likely choice to replace Bromwell is Carl Jackson, a university administrator, who finished 570 votes out of the money in the 2018 general election. Jackson would become the first African-American legislator from the district.

“He’s really earned it,” Bromwell said. “He worked his butt off in the election.”

Bromwell’s departure from the legislature will break a 40-year streak of his family representing District 8 in Annapolis. His father, Thomas L. Bromwell (D), was elected to the House in 1978 and to the Senate four years later. He served until 2002.

But the younger Bromwell is only 42; he could choose to revive his political career at some point in the future. He reported $25,411 in his campaign account as of mid-January. Klausmeier, who replaced Browmell’s father in the Senate in 2003, is 69 years old and may be serving her final term.

Asked whether this was the end of an era, Bromwell replied, “Well, maybe. It’s certainly the pause of an era.”

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