Baltimore County elected its first African-American member of the County Council yesterday, but the tightest race last night involved Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, who narrowly defeated Del. James F. Ports Jr. for the seat representing the 5th District.
In the only close council race this year, Gardina beat Ports by less than 1,000 votes, according to unofficial results with all 37 precincts reporting.
The redrawn district includes part of Towson, Perry Hall and Chase.
"I'm very pleased, I'm very humbled, and most importantly I look forward to serving the people of the new 5th District," Gardina said.
As expected in the 4th District representing Woodlawn, Randallstown, Granite and part of Owings Mills, Kenneth N. Oliver, former chairman of the planning board, soundly defeated Republican Gail M. Thies.
With all 33 precincts reporting, Oliver had more than 25,000 votes to the slightly more than 6,000 collected by Thies.
Oliver could not be reached last night for comment.
In the 1st District, which includes Catonsville and Arbutus, Democratic Councilman Stephen G. Samuel Moxley defeated Republican Berchie Lee Manley, a community activist who served on the council from that district.
With all 27 precincts reporting, Moxley almost doubled the vote tally of his opponent with more than 21,000 votes, according to unofficial results.
Four uncontested seats
The remaining four council seats were uncontested.
That means council members Kevin Kamenetz, a Pikesville Democrat; T. Bryan McIntire, a north county Republican; Joseph Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat; and John A. Olszewski Sr., a Dundalk Democrat, will serve new four-year terms.
A year ago, Gardina's political fortunes received a major blow when five council members passed a redistricting plan that cut off most of the constituency he had represented for more than a decade and put him in the same district with incumbent Republican Wayne M. Skinner.
For a time, Gardina considered retirement from politics or a run for the Maryland Senate, but at the last minute, the three-term incumbent filed for his old council seat and easily defeated his primary opposition.
Meanwhile, Ports, who raised his political profile in a series of debates with County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger over the condemnation and revitalization plan known as Senate Bill 509, decided against runs for Congress, state Senate or county executive and challenged Skinner in the Republican primary, saying he wanted to serve in the office closest to the people.
Now, just two years after helping the SB 509 opponents overwhelmingly defeat the plan at the polls, Ports finds himself out of political office.
Ports, 43, an account executive with Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., attributed part of his defeat to negative campaigning by Gardina, but he also said he didn't perform as well in Towson as he had hoped.
'An uphill battle'
"Obviously, it was an uphill battle to begin with" because of the number of Democrats in the district, Ports said.
But Gardina said it was hard work that led to his victory. "I campaigned seven days a week for five months."
Gardina, 46, an environmental engineer, said he planned to revive the area's business district, cut down on crime, limit the impact of growth on schools and promote open space.
The 4th District is heavily Democratic, so when Oliver emerged from a six-candidate field in the primary, his general election victory was all but a foregone conclusion.
When Oliver is sworn in next month. he will face the task of representing communities where many residents feel their needs have been ignored by the county government.
In a series of community forums during the primary, residents expressed grave concerns about the pace and quality of development in the area, the low performance of students in local schools and the profusion of group homes in the community.
A year ago, some community activists, angered by a council redistricting process they said was completed behind closed doors, promised to repay the incumbents at the ballot box.
Sun staff writer Jennifer M. Sims contributed to this article.