TOWSON, Md. (AP) — Kevin Kamenetz, a top Democratic candidate for Maryland governor and a fixture in Baltimore County politics for over two decades, was just 60, trim and so health conscious he would trot up stairs and routinely tease colleagues about eating doughnuts and other junk food.
“He was a yogurt, granola and salad kind of guy,” said Don Mohler, Kamenetz’s chief of staff.
So his sudden death Thursday after going into cardiac arrest shocked everyone in Maryland’s political circles and sent a palpable sense of unease through Baltimore County’s executive offices, based partly on uncertainty about the future but mostly on the knowledge of what they just lost.
A funeral for Kamenetz will be held Friday afternoon at a local synagogue, the procession expected to cause temporary closures on major roadways. His burial will follow the service.
Kamenetz, the populous county’s longtime political leader, was one of seven candidates vying for the Democratic nomination in the June primary to oppose Republican Gov. Larry Hogan this fall. One of three frontrunners in the Democratic pack, he had chosen Montgomery County Councilmember Valerie Ervin as his running mate and built a war chest of roughly $2 million.
His death “has the potential to dramatically reshape the race” because many of his supporters may now look to four other candidates who have been polling in the single digits, said Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
Eberly described Kamenetz as one of the top three Democratic contenders in the race, along with Rushern Baker and Ben Jealous.
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.
Kamenetz called 911 himself and 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.
Condolences from political leaders and rivals rolled in Thursday.
“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.
A gubernatorial candidate’s forum set for Thursday night was recast as a fond tribute to Kamenetz’s political achievements and his memorable, tough-minded personality.
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.
“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,” Shaw said.
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.
Associated Press writer Sarah Rankin in Richmond, Virginia, contributed to this report.
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