Top five issues emerge in District 1 County Council candidates debate

Deliberation surrounding Lansdowne High School, as well as immigration, affordable housing, and the race between Ben Jealous and Gov. Larry Hogan were among the contentious issues debated by the two men hoping to win the race to represent Baltimore County’s first councilmanic district, which stretches from Woodlawn to Baltimore Highlands, covering all of southwest Baltimore County and is home to some 115,300 people.

The Sept. 26 candidate forum, featuring incumbent Tom Quirk, a Democrat who was first elected eight years ago, and his Republican hallenger Albert “Al” Nalley, was hosted by The League of Women Voters of Baltimore County and held at the Catonsville Library with about three dozen people in attendance.

Quirk, first elected in 2010, lives in Oella and is a financial planner who owns a business on Frederick Road in Catonsville. Nalley is a sales manager who lives in Catonsville. Nalley unsuccessfully ran against Quirk in 2014 and had an unsuccessful bid for District 12A in the Maryland House of Delegates in 2010.

After some preliminary questions from the League of Women Voters, those in attendance were able to submit written questions for the candidates. Each candidate was given two minutes to answer, alternating who went first.

Below are five takeaways from the forum.

Mostly agree on Lansdowne High School

While there was no specific question about constructing a new Lansdowne High School to address capacity issues, a question about the equitable distribution of resources for schools in District 1 was the impetus for discussion.

Nalley knocked Quirk for not supporting the construction of a new Lansdowne High School when many in the community have stridently advocated for a new school to replace the building, first constructed in 1963.

Lansdowne High School is slightly under capacity, but, like many high schools in the county, is projected to be over-capacity by 2027.

The school’s physical building conditions were rated lowest in a countywide facilities assessment in 2014. Lansdowne was low on the list for having water damage, poor ADA compliance and structural settlement.

Quirk said he initially supported renovations for Lansdowne High because his understanding was that the county would only agree to a replacement school project if there were facility and capacity issues.

The calculus changed in early 2017, when then-County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced his support for building a new Dulaney High School, a that would be overcrowded in the near future. Quirk said that since Kamenetz showed support for building a replacement high school for a building that only has one issue, his thinking on Lansdowne changed. He went from supporting renovation work to supporting a replacement school.

Nalley said constructing a new school is at “the top of [his] list.”

Quirk concurred saying, “I want to make sure we get that new school at Lansdowne.”

Currently, the construction of a new Lansdowne High School is listed as 30th on a list of priority capital projects requested by the Board of Education.

Disagree on property taxes

Quirk said he would not support lowering the county’s personal property tax rate, currently $2.75 per $100 of assessed value. The county’s real property tax rate is $1.10 per $100 of assessed value. He said taxes are “a price that we pay for citizenship.”

Quirk said Baltimore County residents have to pay for things like police, fire, schools, sewage infrastructure and retirement benefits for government employees “collectively.”

Conversely, Nalley said he would support a “modest reduction, with property values escalating” and incomes on the rise. A reduction in the tax rate would keep the amount of money collected by Baltimore County “at a level as opposed to having it inflated,” he said.

Stark differences on immigration

An audience question asked whether children who are undocumented immigrants should be allowed to attend Baltimore County Public Schools.

Quirk said he thinks it is “really, really important that we educate the people in our country — period.”

“When we have kids that are not educated ... They're going to grow up, and they’re not going to be able to feed their families … [or make] a living wage.

“We're an inclusive society that educates our children— whoever's [they are], in Maryland,” Quirk said.

Nalley said he was “fine” with things like the DREAM Act, which protects the children of undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. not of their own volition, but that he is generally opposed to undocumented immigration.

“Let's call it what it is, OK? Undocumented are illegal ... If we're paying for them, that's just additional [taxes] … we have to pay. Folks should be sent back. If they're such good workers like some people think, let them go home and rebuild their countries of origin,” Nalley said.

The HOME Act

Baltimore County is under a consent decree to expand access to affordable housing. The HOME Act is a measure that would outlaw discrimination against renters on their source of income, meaning individuals can use Housing Choice Vouchers — formerly known as Section 8 Vouchers — to pay their rent.

Quirk said he had some “concerns” with the HOME Act as it pertains to sources of income, but he supports the idea of creating more affordable housing.

“I think future developments should consider maybe having a certain percentage of their development as part of affordable housing. I think that's really the best way to solve this problem,” Quirk said.

Nalley did not comment on the HOME Act during the debate, saying he was not “familiar” with it.

Later, after Quirk had answered the question, Nalley said he was not in favor of government-subsidized housing and that he wished the debate rules would have allowed him to clarify his position after he realized what the question was about.

“Why should I or you or anyone else, through the government, have to pay for somebody else lack of planning ahead for housing? I guess that sounds cold-hearted, but it is what it is,” Nalley said.

Up and down the ballot support

When the candidates were asked who’d they be supporting in the race for governor, Nalley said, “I would certainly support Larry Hogan.”

Quirk demurred, saying he was a proud Democrat and would support Democrats, never invoking Ben Jealous, the Democratic candidate for governor.

In his closing statement, Nalley took Quirk to task for being a “proud Democrat” but never stating his support for Ben Jealous by name .

In response, during his closing statement, Quirk said, “I proudly support [John “Johnny O” Olszewski] for county executive and, I proudly support all the Democrats from the bottom to the very top, including Ben Jealous for governor.”

Early voting in Maryland begins Thursday, Oct. 25. A full list of early voting sites can be found online at https://bit.ly/2s3dkIU. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 6.

A full schedule of candidate forums can be found online at https://www.lwvbaltimore.org/2018_county_council_candidate_forums. The Baltimore Sun’s Maryland Voter Guide can be found online at https://elections2018.news.baltimoresun.com/ and the League of Women Voters have an online information guide at https://www.vote411.org/.

cboteler@baltsun.com

twitter.com/codyboteler

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