Republicans in Eastern Baltimore County are lining up for next month’s primary election as the party takes aim at unseating a two-term Democratic councilwoman in the fall.
Five candidates are competing in the June 26 GOP primary for the District 6 County Council seat held by Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, who is running for a third term. The Republican field is the biggest group of hopefuls in any council race in the county.
The winner will face Bevins in the November general election. The councilwoman, elected in 2010 and re-elected in 2014 with 57 percent of the vote, faces no challengers in the Democratic primary.
She is one of four Democrats on the seven-member council — Republicans hold the three other seats — and knows why the GOP is taking aim.
“They think they can flip my seat to have a 4-3 majority on the council,” Bevins said.
The district includes the communities of Rosedale, White Marsh, Middle River and Parkville.
Nearby District 7, which includes Dundalk and surrounding areas, is represented by first-term Republican Todd Crandell, the first GOP councilman to hold the seat. And just to the west, Perry Hall and Towson are represented by two-term Republican David Marks.
Bevins’ district is home to more than twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans. But the district voted overwhelmingly for Republican Larry Hogan in 2014, and by a narrower margin for Donald J. Trump in 2016.
The GOP hopes those results, and the governor’s popularity, will translate into a win at the local level.
“People have seen what Governor Hogan has done,” said Al Mendelsohn, chairman of the county Republican party. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm to change Baltimore County.”
The state Republican party is also targeting the area. In state legislative District 8, which overlaps with Bevins’ council district, Republican state Del. Christian Miele — endorsed by Hogan — is challenging longtime Democratic state Sen. Kathy Klausmeier.
The GOP candidates vying for the chance to challenge Bevins say residents are dissatisfied with development and crowded schools.
“You get a general sense that many in the community feel that their concerns, their priorities, are not being listened to by the current councilwoman,” said Ryan Nawrocki, a 34-year-old Middle River man seeking a rematch against Bevins. He lost to her in 2010 by about 500 votes.
Nawrocki owns a marketing and public relations firm. He worked for the Maryland Aviation Administration under Gov. Robert Ehrlich and the Maryland Transit Administration under Hogan. Endorsed by Ehrlich, Rep. Andy Harris and former County Executive Roger Hayden, he’s focused his campaign on issues including education and crime.
Rossville resident Deb Sullivan, 59, said she decided to run for the GOP nomination because she was “fed up with the direction the county’s going.” Her supporters include state Insurance Commissioner Al Redmer Jr., who is running for county executive, and several state lawmakers.
“There’s a lot of overdevelopment, where the developers’ interests have been put above the citizens’ interests,” said Sullivan, a longtime schools activist.
Sullivan, who owns a towing and recovery business with her husband, says county infrastructure has not kept pace with development. Residents are paying the price with crumbling roads and water mains, she said.
Of the Republicans, Nawrocki and Sullivan opened the year with the most cash on hand, according to campaign finance reports — Nawrocki with $19,365 and Sullivan with $18,789. Bevins’ campaign chest in January topped $251,000.
Several candidates said development raises concerns about classroom crowding.
“Where are all these kids for all these new houses going to go to school?” asked Allen E. Robertson, vice president of the Bowleys Quarters Community Association.
Robertson, 62, wants the county to eliminate the Planned Unit Development process, which exempts developers from certain zoning regulations if they offer a community benefit. He has also proposed reducing housing density and expanding open spaces.
Bevins says some new development projects in the district were approved before her time, but are just now being built.
“I’m the one in office, so I’m the one they’re complaining to,” she said.
Erik Lofstad, 34, of Rosedale, has focused on transparency and accountability. He says he would live stream a camera from his office and make his emails public.
“When I talk about transparency, I’m talking about radical transparency where people would pretty much know where I stand at all times,” said Lofstad, a business analyst. His other top issues include fiscal responsibility and public safety.
Candidate Glen Alan Geelhaar, a Parkville resident and engineering assistant, says voters are eager for new ideas, and aren’t as focused on their political party. Geelhaar, 53, wants the county to build a new elementary school for Parkville and has proposed making the county police chief an elected position.
"People want a change, a change in direction,” he said.
In April, four protestors involved in women’s organizations picketed outside a Nawrocki campaign event, holding signs that accused him of domestic violence, the East County Times reported.
In a statement on his website, Nawrocki said that when he and his wife separated temporarily, each of their attorneys advised them “to file reciprocal protective orders to gain a leg up in our custody process,” but there was never any domestic violence. No criminal charges were filed. They have since reunited.
Nawrocki said Bevins sent the protesters to his event. Bevins called the accusation “absolutely ridiculous.”
“If I was going to send protesters against Ryan Nawrocki, there would be more than four people there,” Bevins said. “I know how to gather people.”
Bevins, 59, says she’s worked hard over the past eight years, and her record “will see me through the election.”
She worked as a constituent services coordinator for former County Executive Jim Smith, and says responding to residents’ problems is one of her greatest strengths.
When out knocking on doors, she said, she has met some registered Democrats who say they don’t want to vote Democrat anymore.
“I’m still in a Democratic district,” Bevins said. “The Democrats just have to come out and vote.”
Glen Alan Geelhaar
Experience: Engineering assistant with communications company
Experience: Various positions in IT and project management
Residence: Middle River
Experience: Owns marketing and PR firm. Formerly worked for the Maryland Aviation Administration and Maryland Transit Administration
Allen E. Robertson
Residence: Middle River
Experience: Investment representative; former vice president with Maryland National Bank; vice president, Bowleys Quarters Community Association
Experience: Co-owner of Sullivan & Sons, a towing/recovery business; former teacher’s aide; owned Sweet Fixation candy shop
Residence: Middle River
Experience: Councilwoman since 2010; previously worked as eastside constituent services coordinator for former County Executive Jim Smith and as administrator of the Baltimore County Volunteer Firemen's Association