The Baltimore County Council could see big changes in the coming elections as most members face stiff primary challenges and a council veteran is stepping down.
Campaign signs are popping up all over the county and literature is arriving in mailboxes as candidates approach the June 24 primary. Four of the council's seven members — Democrats Cathy Bevins, Ken Oliver and Vicki Almond and Republican Todd Huff — are in spirited primary battles. And Dundalk's John Olszewski Sr. is retiring from the council, triggering a scramble among five Democrats for the party nomination.
The party infighting is somewhat of a rarity for politics in the county, where incumbents have often cruised through primaries. At stake is who will face the voters in November for the right to sit on the county's legislative body, which has the final say on county spending and land-use decisions. Four years ago, the council saw its greatest upheaval in a generation in the November election when five seats were taken by newcomers, two of them women.
One was Bevins, 55, the council chairwoman, who's being challenged in the primary by Jeff Beard, 55, a longtime General Motors employee and representative for the United Auto Workers.
On a recent afternoon, Bevins went door to door in a precinct of the east-side district that is new to her after redistricting, a neighborhood of modest homes near the city line. She says she's counting on her office's attention to detail when constituents call with problems.
"I think people will remember, whether their issue was big or small, we treated it with the utmost importance in our office," said Bevins, who is backed by County Executive Kevin Kamenetz as well as the unions representing county teachers, police officers and firefighters.
On his campaign website, Beard has criticized Bevins about everything from a rat problem in Hillendale to her vote to raise council members' salaries to her recent bill that would require background checks for county recreational volunteers, a measure that Beard said lacks teeth.
"I personally don't feel that our representative has done her job," Beard said as he waved a campaign sign and a small American flag at a busy intersection in Rosedale last week. He has picked up endorsements from the AFL-CIO, some local Democratic clubs, and former Councilman Joe Bartenfelder, who represented the district.
Over half of the more than $100,000 Beard has raised for the campaign came from companies connected to developer David Cordish.
"He's much more attuned to what is good for the county than Cathy, and much more attuned to the neighborhood and civic groups," Cordish said.
Bevins said Cordish opposes her after she voted in 2012 to allow redevelopment of the Middle River Depot, which will be competition for his Carroll Island Shopping Center.
"They're upset about me rezoning the depot, which I had 100 percent support for from the community," she said.
Beard also received significant support from companies connected to Continental Realty Corp. Through a spokesman, the company declined to comment.
Beard acknowledged the contributions but said they won't influence him if he's elected, and pointed to contributions that Bevins has received from other developers.
"I'm not going to have anybody pay me off or say, 'You owe me,'" Beard said. "The only people I owe are the taxpayers."
On the opposite side of the county, incumbent Ken Oliver of Randallstown again must defend his turf. The district includes Woodlawn, Randallstown and Owings Mills, and is the county's only district in which blacks are the majority.
Oliver, 69, a three-term councilman backed by Kamenetz, said constituents have reacted positively to new development in his district, such as the Walmart on Liberty Road and the Owings Mills Metro Centre, which features the county's largest library branch and a community college center.
"My top focus has been redevelopment and economic development," Oliver said, adding that improving school facilities is another priority.
Oliver was a subject of controversy three years ago when he had to resign from a position at the state's Business and Economic Development agency because of a county charter rule against council members holding state jobs. He is now a full-time councilman.
In 2010, Oliver faced six challengers in the Democratic primary, hanging on to his seat by 98 votes. One of those opponents — Julian Earl Jones, a Woodstock resident who placed second in 2010 — is back for a rematch. Also running is Makeda Y.A. Scott of Owings Mills, who is seeking public office for the first time.