John "Johnny O" Olszewski Jr.

John "Johnny O" Olszewski Jr.
  • Democrat
  • Age: 36
  • Residence: Dundalk

About John "Johnny O" Olszewski Jr.

Education

I am a proud product of the Baltimore County Public Schools, having attended a BCPS school for every year of my K-12 education. After graduating from Sparrows Point High School, I earned my BA from Goucher College (Political Science and American Studies double major, Phi Beta Kappa), MA from The George Washington University (Political Management, concentration in Political Leadership), and PhD from UMBC (Public Policy, concentration in Public Administration) this past December.

Background

I have a broad depth of professional experience that will serve me well as Baltimore County Executive. In addition to serving as a member of the Baltimore County School Board and a BCPS teacher, I served in the Maryland House of Delegates for nine years, representing southeastern Baltimore County. My time in the House included four years as Chairman of the Baltimore County House Delegation, and I am the youngest person ever elected to that position. I also served as a transportation official for Baltimore City, advocating for a better regional transportation system including the Red Line project. For the past three years, I have served as a software executive focused on leveraging big data analytics to help local and state governments make smarter decisions to better serve their citizens.

Questionnaire

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1
Kamenetz record
What do you consider the greatest accomplishments and failings of the Kamenetz administration?
Olszewski: Baltimore County, under the current administration, has started addressing the much-needed and long-overdue investment in our public school system. Adding air conditioning and hiring new support personnel are important first steps. As executive, I am committed to finishing the job. I have unveiled a bold education plan that calls for another $2 billion for school infrastructure, a 20% raise in teacher pay and hiring even more support personnel like school counselors, social workers and pupil personnel workers. The Kamenetz administration also took the necessary steps towards ending housing discrimination in the county in seeking to pass the HOME Act. As the only candidate who supports the change, I plan to keep up the fight and finally get it done. On the other hand, there have been more tepid steps taken and opportunities missed to make Baltimore County government more open, accessible and transparent. While I applaud the launch of the BaltCoGo app, something for which I’ve been pushing since launching my campaign, many additional reforms remain overdue. Chief among them is the creation of a small-dollar public financing program for local candidates that takes special interests out of our elections. Other needed changes include putting more county awarded projects and services, as well as budget details, online in an easily searchable way, holding multiple budget hearings throughout the county, and moving County Council work sessions to the evening. Finally, Baltimore County needs a performance management system – publicizing our goals and keeping our government accountable on its progress.
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2
Resources/Taxes
Does Baltimore County have adequate resources to meet its needs, particularly to renovate or replace aging schools? Do you support increasing the property tax or local income tax?
Olszewski: As a former member of the Baltimore County Board of Education, teacher and father, I understand firsthand the needs of our schools and am prepared to do whatever it takes to meet their needs. As I have traveled the county, touring our schools and speaking with our educational professionals, it has become clear to me that we have not dedicated the adequate resources to meet our remaining needs. We must make investing in school facilities a priority. Children continue to learn in schools with brown drinking water, and support personnel remain anywhere between two and ten times behind nationally recommended ratios. Just one example: it’s recommended that there be one social worker for every 250 students. In Baltimore County, each social worker is responsible for well over 1,000 students. Raising taxes should be our very last resort, but every option needs to be on the table, including development impact fees. As executive, I will focus on growing economic development, leveraging public private partnerships, and getting our spending priorities right. Since our school system has spent $300 million on computer technology and our county government provided a $43 million subsidy to developers, there are certainly opportunities to redirect current spending to meet many of our educational needs.
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3
Housing
Do you support Baltimore County's federal housing consent decree? In particular, do you support a prohibition on rental discrimination against those who use federal housing vouchers?
Olszewski: Discrimination in any form is wrong, and I have fought strongly against it during my time in the legislature, adding my voice as a deciding vote in the push for marriage equality and fighting for other equality measures. In the race for Baltimore County Executive, I am proud to be the only candidate to support ending housing discrimination by supporting the HOME Act. To make our county truly prosperous, we need to not only end discrimination, we must also work to deconcentrate poverty and create economic opportunity. I support the consent decree and will fully enforce it as county executive, but I’ll also go further,taking action to improve equity beyond housing. In addition to better housing practices, we will promote equity within our educational system, public sector workforce and job training and placement services, and transit. Everyone who calls Baltimore County home will be proud of the progress that we make together.
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4
School system
Does the county government exercise adequate oversight over the school system?
Olszewski: Under an Olszewski Administration, we will set the standard for transparency and accountability for county government and our school system. Given the incredible investments made by the county government in education – almost $1.7 billion in FY 2018 – the county government can and should exercise additional oversight over the school system, beginning with an independent and comprehensive audit of school system spending. As executive, I’ll undertake a comprehensive audit of county government to identify fraud, waste and abuse and will include the school system in this effort. I’ll work with school board leaders to ensure that contracts for both the county and school system seek to avoid “no bid” contracts as often as possible, making them the exception rather than the rule. As I create mechanisms to make more budgetary and award information available online, I’ll push the school system to follow our lead. Additionally, I will provide the resources to either add staff and expand the existing authority of the Baltimore County auditor’s office or create a new county inspector general’s office. With either approach, we would grant independent authority to investigate any indication of inappropriate activity within Baltimore County government or our school system. I’ll also establish a direct liaison between my office and the superintendent of schools and school board so that there is regular and ongoing dialogue on the issues impacting our system.
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5
Revitalization
What role can the county play in assisting in the preservation or revitalization of aging communities?
Olszewski: The success of our county will be dependent, in part, on our ability to revitalize our aging communities. As we run out of new spaces to develop, finding ways to creatively redevelop parts of the county will be essential. This includes creative ways to revitalize our historic main streets. The county plays a critical role in this work, though it can not preserve and revitalize our aging communities alone. Where we can act, we should. This begins with having a comprehensive and customized plan for every neighborhood in Baltimore County. All of these plans should emphasize innovation, entrepreneurship and creating a strong community culture. In certain areas of the county, such as Catonsville, Pikesville, Towson and Dundalk, we should create Arts and Entertainment districts to encourage success. In fact, I am pleased that the County Council has chosen to act on my campaign calls to finally create the first A&E district in southwest Baltimore County. We also need to work with our anchor institutions such as our universities, hospitals, and federal agencies. Both Towson University and UMBC have strong business incubator programs, but we aren’t fostering an environment for their start-up businesses to anchor in the neighboring communities. Another shortfall is the gap in service on the east side, where no such incubator exists. As executive, capitalizing on these opportunities will be a priority. Finally, quality schools and safe neighborhoods are the best tools we have to support and sustain all of our communities, whether brand new or aging.
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6
Police
How would you characterize the relationship between the Baltimore County police and the communities they serve? Are any reforms necessary?
Olszewski: Safety is paramount. Moreover, safety and law enforcement are personal for me: my youngest brother is an officer in the Essex precinct. After trending downward for years, crime is rising again in Baltimore County. While some types of crime continue to fall, violent crime and the opioid epidemic are on the rise, posing two unique challenges for law enforcement. Violent crime jumped nearly 15 percent from 2016 to 2017, with some precincts like Essex seeing as much as a 32 percent increase. The opioid epidemic is ravaging communities in Baltimore County, with opioid-related overdose deaths tripling from 93 in 2011 to 305 in 2016. We will move toward more intensive community policing and bring police athletic centers back as a focus of investment in our young people and collaboration between the community and law enforcement. We will also provide additional cultural and field training in cultural sensitivity and de-escalation so that officers are better equipped for the many circumstances they will face in the field. I’ll continue to improve the technology accessible to our officers and will put more officers on the street. An Olszewski Administration will provide our officers with the resources to be proactive and cultivate a police-community relationship built on trust, communication and collaboration.
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7
Zoning
Baltimore County was a pioneer in rural land preservation. Do its zoning policies and the Urban-Rural Demarcation Line continue to serve the county's needs?
Olszewski: The URDL has proven to be an effective tool for county planning, preserving the majority of county land. In fact, 90 percent of the county’s population resides on just one third of the county’s land – a testament to the URDL’s success. Despite this success, we have fallen short on ensuring enough open space on the line’s urban side. Development has grown too dense in parts of the county, resulting in limited open space and overcrowded schools. This demands attention, and I’ll work towards establishing zoning policies that prevent over-development and target smart re-development in the aging communities where it is most needed. Additionally, our revitalization and enterprise districts could stand to be bolstered. While the county’s east side enjoys a widespread enterprise zone, we underutilize the zoning tool on the west side. Similarly, we should make greater use of Arts and Entertainment districts, revitalization districts, and historic districts to create more opportunities for investment with specific community development goals.
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8
Baltimore City
Is Baltimore County's support for cultural institutions in Baltimore City too little, too much or just right?
Olszewski: Baltimore County is more vibrant and successful when we have strong artistic, cultural and athletic opportunities. While I applaud the support for cultural institutions of Baltimore City, we need to do more. An Olszewski Administration will invest more in the museums and performing arts venues that improve the quality of life and vibrancy of our entire region. That being said, Baltimore County is and should be much more than a bedroom community. We have a rich history here of our own, and we should also invest in cultural and artistic opportunities here. In addition to increasing funding for cultural institutions in Baltimore City, I will cultivate new opportunities to celebrate our history, culture and tradition in Baltimore County.
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9
Transit
Is Baltimore County adequately served by mass transit?
Olszewski: No. A strong transportation network can invigorate an entire region, creating jobs and connecting people to opportunity. The needs of Baltimore County residents are not being met with our transportation options. That is one reason why I was the first candidate for executive to have called for the creation of a stand-alone Department of Transportation for Baltimore County. In the years ahead, we must find ways to connect Baltimore County to the rest of the region more meaningfully. While the cancelling of the Red Line was a missed opportunity, we should consider more options for East-to-West transit and other ways to connect one side of the county with the other. We also need better transit options with communities like regional Circulators, which we can pilot in Towson. Baltimore County needs a big vision on transportation and a county executive who can provide that. Indeed, so much of what needs to be accomplished in Baltimore County by a new administration, while a matter of resources, is also in the first instance a matter of being committed to a bold vision for the county. I am the only candidate who is showing a commitment to tackling the county’s education, economic development, and government accountability issues by going beyond the status quo and and taking bold actions.
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