Is Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. Eyeing A Run For U.S. Senate?


Credit: Baltimore County Government.

BALTIMORE COUNTY - Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. is rumored to be exploring the possibility of running for the U.S. Senate seat held by Ben Cardin. While Olszewski has not officially announced his candidacy, political observers are buzzing with speculation about his potential bid for the seat.

Cardin announced his intentions to retire earlier this month, opening a pandora's box of speculation about who will seek the seat. On Tuesday morning, Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks (D) released a video to announce her campaign for U.S. Senate. Rep. David Trone (D-6th) and Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando (D) announced their intentions to run last week.

In an interview with WYPR following his reelection in 2022, Olszewski would not rule out the possibility of cutting his second four-year term short to run for another office.

"I'm committed to doing this job, and so I am grateful for the opportunity and looking forward to all that's ahead of us," Olszewski said. WYPR reporters pressed the young Democrat, asking him to provide a yes or no answer. "It's my intention to serve out my term," was his response.

Olszewski's political aspirations were evident from an early age. After graduating from Sparrows Point High School in 2000, he immersed himself in civic engagement, serving as the student representative to the county school board during his teenage years.

After attending Goucher College, where he obtained a bachelor's degree in political science and American studies, Olszewski began his career as a teacher at Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts. It was during this time that he entered politics, winning his first election in 2006 as a member of the House of Delegates.

In 2014, Olszewski faced a significant setback when he lost a race for state senate. He was defeated by Republican newcomer Johnny Ray Salling, leaving Olszewski without a political position at the young age of 32. Questions arose about whether Olszewski had been swept up in the GOP's "red wave" or if his votes had alienated the increasingly conservative voters in his blue-collar district.

The executive's progressive policy positions have stirred controversy throughout his political career. He introduced police reform legislation that banned chokeholds, prevented officers with records of misconduct from joining the police department, and mandated additional training on implicit bias and de-escalation.

In 2018 during his first term as county executive, Olszewski faced an $81-million budget shortfall, leading him to raise county taxes for the first time in nearly three decades. He also implemented a new tax on residents' cell phone service. These measures brought the budget back under control but did not make Olszewski particularly popular at the time.

"You don't solve every problem you have with just a tax increase," Parkton resident Scott Macdonald, an unaffiliated voter, told the Baltimore Sun in 2019. "Why is this the answer?"

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic presented an urgent need for immediate action. The Olszewski administration's county's vaccination rollout received commendation, particularly for establishing a mass vaccination site in collaboration with the state at the fairgrounds.

County-wide mask mandates, COVID-related closures, and occupancy limits were significantly less popular, occasionally leading to protests.

Olszewski has also faced criticism from the left. After voting against Maryland's assault weapon ban, he publicly acknowledged that his vote was intended to align with his conservative district's sentiments and described it as "a misstep."

Additionally, he started his first term embroiled in a high-profile wrongful death lawsuit. The lawsuit originated from the tragic police shooting of 23-year-old Korryn Gaines in 2016. This protracted legal battle underscored the complexities and sensitivity of addressing such cases, particularly in a manner acceptable to conservatives and progressives.

Olszewski's tacit support for a youth curfew at the White Marsh Mall has also drawn condemnation from left-leaning Baltimore County residents. The proposed curfew generated controversy and raised questions about potential profiling and infringement on civil liberties.

School overcrowding has remained a persistent concern throughout Olszewski's tenure, drawing attention to the need for effective strategies to manage growing student populations. Additionally, the county has grappled with issues of poverty and homelessness, which may be less visible but no less pressing.

In 2022, Olszewski considered running for governor but ultimately decided to seek a second term as county executive. He won reelection in a landslide, securing 64% of the vote and further solidifying his position as a prominent figure in local politics.

In a 2022 interview with Baltimore Magazine, Olszewski defended his decision not to run for governor but alluded to the potential for him to seek a higher office.

"Sometimes, the best way to get your next job is to do the one you have as well as you can," Olszewski said.

Sophia Silbergeld, a political consultant with the public relations firm Adeo Advocacy, told WYPR that a senate run would make sense for the Dundalk Democrat.

"He's young; he's term-limited. He would be by far the toughest candidate, the strongest candidate in that race right away, especially given his margins in the most recent election and his name recognition," Silbergeld said.

It remains to be seen whether Olszewski will ultimately throw his hat in the ring for the U.S. Senate seat. For now, political enthusiasts await his decision while acknowledging his potential as a strong contender in the upcoming race.

I'm interested (1)
I disagree with this
This is unverified