Baltimore County District 1 council and school board races takes shape

In the wake of Tuesday night’s deadline to file candidacy for the 2018 elections, Baltimore County District 1 constituents are getting a look at what the ballot will look like come November.

District 1 stretches from Woodlawn down to the southwestern edge of the county in Baltimore Highlands, covering Catonsville and Arbutus.

Its voters will elect two representatives: one to the County Council and for the first time this year, a member of the Board of Education.

Both candidates and office-holders said issues of the election will center around the big questions the county will be facing in coming years — from poverty and transparency, to school testing and school funding.

A central issue to many candidates’ campaigns is Lansdowne High School — stakeholders are in the midst of a debate between whether the 55-year-old school should be renovated or replaced.

County Council race

The final days before the Feb. 27 filing deadline brought a newcomer to the district’s County Council race: Republican Pete Melcavage, of Baltimore Highlands.

Councilman Tom Quirk, the Democratic District 1 incumbent who has been in office since 2010 and who running for re-election said, “I look forward to the competition. I think it’s an opportunity to showcase my record.”

Melcavage will run unopposed in the June 26 primary, facing off against either Quirk or progressive newcomer Sheila Ruth in the general election in November.

The Republican's candidacy is a long shot in a district that hasn’t elected a Republican since 1990. In 2014, Quirk won against Republican Albert Nalley, with more than 60 percent of the vote.

During a Feb. 26 candidate forum attended by all three council candidates hosted at the Woodlawn library, Melcavage talked about his opposition to the proposed $15 minimum wage and his support for having Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, work with local authorities to enforce immigration laws.

The lawyer and former political science professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County said his campaign’s priorities will be coming to a solution for the aging Lansdowne High School, battling the opioid crisis and bringing the county’s resources to the southwest area.

"Our part of the county is getting ignored while other parts get all kinds of things,” Melcavage said in an interview after the forum.

Quirk disputed that claim, pointing to recent investment in infrastructure and schools – particularly the millions of dollars spent on school renovations and replacements amid Executive Kevin Kamenetz’s $1.3 billion “Schools for our Future” initiative.

“I did hear my opponent on the Republican side saying he doesn’t think anything’s happening in the southwest area,” Quirk said during the candidate forum. “I couldn’t disagree more.”

But if Quirk, a self-described moderate, is to face right-leaning Melcavage on the November ballot, he must first face a challenge from the left in Ruth.

Ruth, a self-described progressive activist, is running on a platform focused on issues such as nondiscrimination for housing vouchers and a $15 minimum wage.

She has criticized Quirk’s 2016 vote against the Home Act, which would have made it illegal for landlords to discriminate against housing voucher recipients. The bill, introduced as part of a housing discrimination settlement, was voted down six to one in 2016.

Quirk said that on social issues like women’s rights he is progressive, but that his more “moderate” views on issues like fiscal policy and the Home Act line up with voters.

“I think I really represent a lot of what the southwest area of the county is about,” Quirk said. On the Home Act, he added: “My constituents … are very concerned about the Home Act. I’m not sure if my opponent understands that.”

Ultimately, Ruth said, she will support Quirk in the general election if he wins the primary.

“Although we have differences,” Ruth said, “Tom Quirk and I have far more in common than we have with Pete Melcavage.”

Board of Education race

For months leading up to the filing deadline, it looked like Catonsville teacher Matt Gresick was the only candidate running for the District 1 Board of Education representative seat.

But on the last four days before the deadline, five more candidates filed.

Baltimore County’s new hybrid Board of Education will be made up of seven elected members and five people named by the governor, who currently appoints the entire board. By Tuesday’s filing deadline, multiple candidates had declared candidacies for each of the seven positions that will represent each of County Council’s seven districts.

The 29 total number of candidates who filed their campaigns Tuesday have guaranteed voters competitive races in the June 26 primary election and in the Nov. 6 general election.

Nick Stewart, District 1’s current board representative, is not running for re-election. Stewart said the nonpartisan candidates will have a lot to think about.

“They’ll talk about some of the things in the zeitgeist as it relates to school safety, school discipline, school infrastructure and construction issues,” Stewart said.

The challenge for the candidates and the eventual board member, Stewart said, will be moving past high-profile, political debates to do what Stewart said is the real, in-the-weeds work of running and building school system.

“It can’t just be reacting to crises,” Stewart said. “It has to be about building the ... ‘cathedral’ – understanding that’s a process that takes years if not decades.”

Stewart expects the next board to grapple with workforce development, testing and school construction — particularly, he said, how to pay for that construction, when the cost of a new school is equal to or greater than the county’s annual budget for maintenance and construction across the school system.

Gresick, who filed his candidacy in November, is a teacher in Howard County and has made his experience as an educator central to his campaign. He told the Catonsville Times in November that if elected to the board, he said he would focus on improving schools as a workplace for teachers, which would result in better outcomes for students, he said.

Candidate Lisa Mack, of Catonsville, a former remedial English teacher at the Community College of Baltimore County in Catonsville, said her priority if elected, would be to prevent an epidemic of students who graduate from high school without basic skills.

“There’s something wrong with a system that puts out graduates that can’t read, write or do math,” Mack said. “To the extent that I can be a voice to question those practices, I decided to run.”

Echo Prana Salisbury, a teacher in the District of Columbia, said the issues most important to her are looking at methods of evaluation — for both teachers and students — and training them in “cultural proficiency,” connecting with students of different backgrounds.

Richard Young, a retired Woodlawn High School teacher, said he is running to advocate for fiscal responsibility, school safety and making school system processes more transparent to the public. He also wants to shorten the board members’ terms to two years, as opposed to the current four.

Pete Fitzpatrick, a nurse and paramedic who said he has lived in Catonsville all his life, said his campaign will focus on transparency in school-level decisions like choosing new principals, supporting teachers and educators, and “justice” — not just providing all areas with the same resources, but giving disadvantaged students what they need to be successful.

“The job isn’t to make graduates,” Fitzpatrick said. “The job is to make functioning adults.”

The other candidate running for a school board seat in District 1— Deborah Arnetta Cason – was not immediately available for comment.

Baltimore Sun reporter Doug Donovan contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
79°