BALTIMORE — In the week before his death on May 10, 60-year-old Baltimore County Executive and candidate for Maryland governor Kevin Kamenetz broke ground for a new elementary school, observed Fallen Heroes Day, announced a new residential drug-treatment facility and signed an executive order to mandate that only healthy foods be available in county-controlled vending machines.
The blur of events was a representative sampling of the signature issues Kamenetz promoted during his decades as a county council member and county executive: education, public safety, drug treatment, economic revitalization, senior welfare and healthy living.
At his funeral service on May 11, his wife, Jill, said Kamenetz was a loving and dedicated husband and father, who made sure to remember birthdays and anniversaries even when he was busy.
But Jill Kamenetz said this past year was a rough one for the county executive, serving his second term while running for statewide office. She said the couple rarely saw each other, that he wasn’t sleeping or eating well and was looking tired.
“Just last week, I said to him, ‘Kevin, this campaign is killing you,’” she said at the service at their home synagogue, Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. But he was determined, she said. “He was in this to win it. He was driven and he loved what he was doing.”
About 1,000 people attended the funeral service, including family, friends, colleagues and a host of city, county and state politicians from both sides of the aisle.
Like many others, U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) said he and his wife were shocked and heartbroken upon hearing the news, remembering Kamenetz “first and foremost” as a “family man.”
“This room is full of government officials, people who work in government. Democrats, Republicans, local, state and federal, all part of his other family, and on behalf of that other family, we lost a beloved member,” Cardin said at the service. “He lived his entire life in Baltimore County. He understood the county and its people. He was effective in dealing with the challenges of the past to chart a bright future for the people of Baltimore.”
Charles Klein, a friend from the Young Democrats club, said Kamenetz stuck to his beliefs.
“Once he made a decision, even when he knew it wasn’t popular, he would be convinced that he was right, and act immediately,” Klein recalled. “Some called this brash. But I called him brave.”
“His dedication to service will be missed by all of Maryland,” he added. “The results of hard decades of service will live on in Baltimore County and beyond in the state of Maryland.”
That sentiment was echoed by others, even those who didn’t always agree with Kamenetz’s politics and policies.
“For me, it’s personal, because he was my son’s roommate at Hopkins and I watched him grow up and develop into a really outstanding public servant and good father, good husband,” said former Baltimore City Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector. “He was determined to do what he thought was right. He didn’t focus on public opinion and he didn’t focus on the political side of an issue.”
Spector said didn’t always agree with him, “but always I trusted his integrity and his bright, good thinking ability. He was a bright star that went out too soon. I think every Jewish mother and every mother that’s lost a son identifies with this wonderful young man and family. I just hope that his good name will be a comfort to Jill and to the boys.”
Spector’s son, Bruce, was Kamenetz’s roommate at Johns Hopkins in the 1970s.
“I was a senior, he was a sophomore,” Bruce said. “He was exceedingly bright. He was very interested in understanding all sides of an argument. He was just very deep, he was very thoughtful and very outgoing. Very funny, and just a nice guy.”
After working as a prosecutor for the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office, Kamenetz was elected to a Baltimore County Council seat in 1994, serving four terms anf representing a diverse district
He then ran a successful campaign for county executive in 2010. As a young mustachioed county councilman, Kamenetz could often seem serious and at times gruff, but when elected county executive, he seemed to blossom and become more gregarious and content in his countywide role.
Kamenetz was in his second term and ramping up a campaign for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, hoping to take on Republican incumbent Larry Hogan, when he died. There were just 48 days to go until Maryland’s primary.
In a November 2017 interview with the Baltimore Jewish Times about the governor’s race, Kamenetz said his ambition to be governor was just an extension of all of his years in public service.
“I used to think that being assistant state’s attorney was the greatest job I’ve ever had, because I could achieve good things and help people,” said Kamenetz. “Now I say that the greatest job I have in politics is being county executive because I can achieve great things and help people. Now I want to be governor because I really want to achieve great things and help even more people.”
Susan C. Ingram is a reporter for the Baltimore Jewish Times.