“I think every child deserves access to a world class education,” says John Olszewski Jr., a statement that rings true with his past. Olszewski was an educator for seven years, a first-generation college student and recent recipient of a PhD in Public Policy from UMBC in December. Olszewski, also a former state delegate and a Baltimore County native, is running for Baltimore County executive.
Olszewski, better known as “Johnny O” through his campaign, grew up in Dundalk, Maryland. The closure of a steel mill in the area negatively affected his community, which first incited his desire to give back to those around him.
“That context of seeing people lose their jobs, their homes and their hope, is what pushed me to not only fight for fair wages and benefits, but for the people I represented and all Marylanders,” said Olszewski.
After earning bachelor’s degrees in political science and American studies from Goucher College, Olszewski furthered his education by earning his MA in political management at George Washington University, and eventually coming to UMBC and earning his PhD in Public Policy. His word of advice to students looking to be politically active is: “Don’t wait for someone to make the decisions for you, and don’t feel like you have to wait your turn. If you put the time and work in now, you can still be impactful as a college student.” He welcomes all students looking for a place to start to his campaign.
The first job Olszewski pursued after college was as a public educator for at Patapsco High School & Center for the Arts in Baltimore County. During his seven years as a teacher, he saw a need for growth in after school programs, an investment in school infrastructure to improve the learning environment of schools.
“I remember the children who came to school who had difficulty learning because they hadn’t had breakfast that day,” said Olszewski. Students along with educators were struggling because we didn’t have air conditioning, and there were sweltering heat conditions. It opened my eyes up to the tremendous needs of the community, but also the tremendous possibilities.”
Olszewski recognized during his time as an educator that in order for students to succeed, there must be a strong education from start to finish. He endorses universal pre-k for Baltimore County residents and tuition-free community college for students seeking job certifications. While he supports tuition-free college for all Baltimore County residents, emphasizing the importance of making college accessible to recent high school graduates, Olszewski acknowledges that this requires a longer process with multiple phases.
Elected as a state delegate at 23 years old representing the sixth district, and then elected for a second term after, Olszewski has been a familiar face in Maryland politics for nearly a decade. During his time as a state delegate, he was an original sponsor of the paid sick leave law, which passed in 2017. He also played an important role in bringing in over 1,000 Amazon jobs to the Port of Baltimore.
Olszewski believes in creating a government that is more accessible, transparent and open to the public. He was the only candidate for County Executive who called for transparency in how funds for campaigns are raised, and believes in rejecting big money in politics; an issue that plagues politicians from federal to local levels.
His campaign focuses on getting to the basics of what a community is built on, and on bettering the relationship between citizens and government, as well as connecting residents to jobs in the community. He said, “If we can do these things, that is the core of what I track progress for communities.”