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Maryland gubernatorial candidate, county exec dies at 60

May 10, 2018

FILE - In this Sept. 18, 2017, file photo, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announces he is joining the race for governor in Towson, Md. Kamenetz is running in a crowded Democratic primary. News outlets cite a release from Baltimore County police that says Kamenetz died early Thursday, May 10, 2018, following a cardiac arrest. (AP Photo/Brian Witte, File)

TOWSON, Md. (AP) — A palpable sense of unease filled Baltimore County’s executive offices Thursday, based partly on uncertainty about the future but mostly on the knowledge of what they just lost.

The populous county’s longtime political leader and a top Democratic candidate for Maryland governor, Kevin Kamenetz, died early Thursday after going into cardiac arrest. His sudden death shocked everyone in county government.

He was just 60, trim and so health conscious he would trot up stairs and routinely tease colleagues about eating donuts and other junk food.

“He was a yogurt, granola and salad kind of guy,” said Don Mohler, Kamenetz’s chief of staff.

Kamenetz was one of seven candidates vying for the Democratic nomination in the June primary to oppose Republican Gov. Larry Hogan this fall. He had chosen Montgomery County Councilmember Valerie Ervin as his running mate.

His death “has the potential to dramatically reshape the race” because many of his supporters may now look to other candidates who have been trying to gain support, said Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

Kamenetz woke up early Thursday, complaining to his wife, Jill, about chest pains. They drove to a volunteer fire station near his home in Owings Mills because he didn’t want to disturb his neighbors with an ambulance, according to Mohler.

“It doesn’t surprise me that he was thinking of his neighbors and others. He said: ‘Well, its two in the morning, let’s not wake them all up with sirens and lights,’” said Mohler, who joined Kamenetz’s wife at the local hospital where he was pronounced dead at 3:22 a.m.

Kamenetz apparently walked into the firehouse under his own power but his condition quickly deteriorated, Baltimore County Fire Department spokeswoman Elise Armacost said at a news conference. Rescuers performed chest compressions and used a defibrillator but he never regained consciousness.

Kamenetz was in “full cardiac arrest” when he arrived at St. Joseph Medical Center and was pronounced dead shortly afterward, chief medical officer Dr. Gail Cunningham said.

After beginning his public service career as a prosecutor in the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office, Kamenetz was elected in 1994 to the Baltimore County Council, where he served four terms. He was a former president of the Maryland Association of Counties and the Baltimore Metropolitan Council. He was first elected county executive in 2010 and re-elected in 2014.

A native of Baltimore County, he attended Johns Hopkins University and the University of Baltimore School of Law. He is survived by his wife and two teenage sons.

Political science professor Eberly described Kamenetz as one of the top three Democratic contenders in the race, along with Rushern Baker and Ben Jealous.

Condolences from political leaders began rolling in after the news broke Thursday morning.

“He was a dedicated public servant in Baltimore County for more than two decades, and we join with the citizens of Baltimore County and all Marylanders in mourning,” Gov. Hogan said in a statement. The governor ordered state flags to fly at half-staff.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh called Kamenetz a “friend and a supporter who always gave good advice” and championed the city. Baltimore County rings the mid-Atlantic city.

Kamenetz’s campaign touted his track record on education and the environment, highlighting a $1.3 billion investment in public education and the renovation or construction of 90 schools. On his campaign website, he also emphasized his fiscal policies, which he said resulted in no tax increases or government furloughs or layoffs during the Great Recession.

While Kamenetz led Baltimore County, the suburban county of 830,000 people underwent some growing pains. Swaths of the county made a transition from a traditional suburban area to a more congested one with some urban characteristics. Housing costs ticked up and the division between the county’s well-off residents and low-income families grew.

Eberly said Kamenentz took those challenges seriously and committed the county to expanding affordable housing options and acceptance of federal housing vouchers by landlords in an effort to expand opportunities.

“He did not shy away from controversial or politically unpopular issues if he believed that addressing them was the right thing to do,” Eberly said.

Orrester Shaw, Baltimore County’s special assistant for education, health and human services, said what impressed him most about Kamenetz was the opportunities he gave to African Americans to serve in local government.

“He gave us opportunities that were not afforded to us in the past. I think to him your color wasn’t any determining factor — it’s whether you could do the job,” Shaw said.

A funeral will be held Friday afternoon at a local synagogue.

Longtime county administrative officer Fred Homan will serve as acting executive until the council votes on a replacement to serve the remainder of the term.

Sean Naron, Kamenetz’s campaign spokesman, did not immediately reply to an email seeking comment about the campaign.

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Associated Press writer Sarah Rankin in Richmond, Virginia, contributed to this report.

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Follow McFadden on Twitter at https://twitter.com/dmcfadd

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