Meet the council candidates in central Baltimore County

Voters in the northern and central parts of Baltimore County are set to choose between a slate of County Council candidates in the June 26 primary.

In District 3, the northernmost district, which stretches from Lutherville and Timonium up to the Maryland line, incumbent Wade Kach faces a challenge from two Republican opponents. On the Democratic side, two candidates will face off.

In District 5, which covers Towson, Parkville and Perry Hall, Republicans will choose between incumbent David Marks and a primary challenger. There are two Democratic candidates.

The leading vote-getter from the two parties in each district will square off in the general election in November.

Early primary voting begins on June 14 and ends June 21. Voters can also apply to mail their ballot before June 19, and send it before June 26.

Find your polling place and district at https://vote.baltimorecountymd.gov.

District 3

Colleen Ebacher — Democrat

When people started urging Colleen Ebacher to run for office, the Towson University professor said she told them, “You’re crazy. I have four kids and a great job.”

But eventually, she said, her work on immigration issues and involvement in local progressive groups like Indivisible, reacting to the election of Donald Trump, convinced her to run.

Ebacher, 56, of Hereford, is running on a platform that includes issues such as vocational training, environmental preservation and what she calls “smart, sustainable development.”

Some of Ebacher’s environmental priorities include curbing urban sprawl by promoting development in concentrated areas and enforcing reforestation requirements for developers. She also wants to encourage electric vehicle use by including them in municipal fleets and implementing charging stations at municipal centers.

Ebacher weighed in on the debate over high school construction, saying the county needs a 10-year plan to build new schools rather than “pitting one school against another.”

The candidate, who describes herself as a progressive Democrat, said although she is running in a longtime Republican stronghold, she thinks this year she has a shot.

“People are really motivated for change,” Ebacher said, adding that there are enough Democrats in the district for a win, as long as Democrats are motivated to show up to the polls. “If there’s anything Donald Trump has done, it’s to motivate people to come out and vote.”

Bronwyn Mitchell-Strong — Democrat

Bronwyn Mitchell-Strong’s campaign is focused on what she calls “upstream solutions” – tackling social ills early in life.

The Timonium resident, who has been a foster parent along with her wife for the past six years, said the experience has inspired her to work for solutions to the issues those children faced.

“We opened up our home and our hearts to these children, and in walks all of these social problems we’d only read about or seen on TV,” Mitchell-Strong, 47, said, noting that her “frontline experience” with issues like poverty, homelessness and trauma give her a unique perspective on how to fix them.

Mitchell-Strong wants the county to invest in early childhood education and literacy, in part by implementing universal pre-kindergarten. She also wants to make sure judges, teachers and police are trained in how traumatic experiences, such as homelessness, impacts a child’s development.

Like other candidates, Mitchell-Strong, an environmental educator by trade, emphasized that she wants to focus growth on the district’s existing developed footprint, particularly in areas with empty facilities.

The candidate supports funding new school construction by implementing developer impact fees, as well as by trimming school system administrative costs and STAT, a controversial technology program. But if necessary, she said, she would be willing to look at limited tax increases; she said she believes many people are willing to pay more in taxes to support new schools.

“Our county was built with public investments,” Mitchell-Strong said. “We need to be investing in that now in order to shore us up for the next 50, 100 years down the road.”

Ed Hale Jr. — Republican

Ed Hale Jr. led the pack in fundraising in the last campaign reporting cycle, raising nearly $20,000 in a four-month period.

The Republican candidate, who is the son of Ed Hale Sr., the Baltimore developer and owner of the Baltimore Blast, is trying to unseat incumbent Wade Kach by touting his pro-business stance and private-sector experience.

“I’m a business person,” said Hale, who owns a trucking company in Rosedale. “When you sign the front of paychecks like I do every week, there are weeks where you have to think outside the box.”

Hale, 51, of Cockeysville, said his top priority is curbing the county’s “excess of spending,” while keeping taxes low. At the same time, he said he wants to work to attract businesses to the area, addressing their needs on a case-by-case basis.

Though Hale considers developers important to moving new projects forward, he said he supports focusing development on urbanized areas to preserve open space.

Though Hale wants to curb spending, he said he supports a new Dulaney High School and investing in infrastructure, like roads. But the priority, he said, is cutting spending to maintain the county’s triple-A bond rating, which allows it to borrow more cheaply.

“They’re the ones lending the money; if we’re not getting it at the lowest rate, we’re spiraling downward,” Hale said. “Unless you’ve got them on your side, everything else is going to have to be curtailed until we can get them satisfied.”

Wade Kach — Republican

Wade Kach has a long history in local politics. The former math teacher and school system auditor spent nearly 40 years in the Maryland House of Delegates before running for his current seat on the County Council in 2014. He is currently seeking his second four-year term.

Kach, 70, of Cockeysville, said his top priorities in his second term would be improving county transparency, preserving open space and constructing new buildings for Dulaney and Towson High schools.

A self-described “reformer,” Kach touted his success in passing a bill that requires the county to hold two public input meetings, instead of one, prior to submitting a budget. He also wants the council to hold work sessions in the evenings, outside of the normal workday.

Though Kach wants to spend money on building new schools, he said he does not want to raise taxes.

“Spending is all about priorities,” he said, pointing to the STAT program and the controversial $43 million deal the county made to restart the stalled Towson Row development as examples of the county being “ripped off.”

Some of Kach’s opponents, including Hale and Ebacher, said the councilman has a reputation for being obstructionist, for voting “no” rather than working with other council members. Kach disputed that, saying he is willing to work with others, but sticks to his conviction on certain issues.

“If I vote no, it’s the right thing to do,” Kach said. “I do compromise when I can, and I have many times. But there’s certain things you don’t compromise on. I don’t compromise on waste and inefficiency.”

Doug Zinn — Republican

If Doug Zinn were elected as District 3 County Councilman, the first thing he would do would be to meet with county employees and thank them for what they do, because “people don’t thank them.”

“I’m bringing a fresh approach to management,” Zinn said. “I want to leave the county a better place for my daughter.”

Zinn, 68, of Parkton, said he wants to focus on bipartisan cooperation and creative, win-win policies.

The health care administrator and grant writer said he wants to lower taxes and offer more services to seniors, by improving senior centers and setting up post-retirement job programs for “active seniors.”

He also wants the county to adopt a “do no harm” policy when it comes to land, and proposes setting up a system for observing “problem students” online to improve school safety.

Rather than raise taxes to pay for services, Zinn said, he would prefer to find creative solutions, like fining businesses for violating rules by posting signs on roads, or putting existing buildings to new uses.

Zinn differentiates himself from the other Republican candidates by emphasizing that he is refusing to take campaign contributions from corporations, relying solely on individual donations. In the last four-month reporting cycle, Zinn waived his reporting requirements by certifying that his campaign had raised and spent less than $1,000.

The candidate said he is not interested in a second term.

“I only want to prove what I can deliver,” Zinn said, “So they can say ‘Doug Zinn, he did something.’”

District 5

Alex Foley — Democrat

In the weeks leading up to the primary, Alex Foley, of Parkville, traveled to Guatemala to build an eco-friendly stove for a family there.

That tendency to care for people and the environment elsewhere — planting trees in foreign countries, for instance — is the reason the real estate agent and broker said he is running for County Council. “The air cleaned by those trees is the same air we’re breathing,” he said.

Foley’s focus is on basic county services, like bulk trash and infrastructure, particularly by emphasizing regular preventative maintenance and planning.

He also wants to preserve open spaces, something he said he has experience with from his community activism, including as vice president of the Ridgeleigh Community Association, opposing projects like Royal Farms developments.

Unlike many candidates, Foley said he is not sure building new high schools is the right way to go, though he said he does not have a definite position “without numbers.” Instead, he said, he wants schools to focus on spreading successful programs to other schools, with a focus on equity.

Foley said he would be willing to consider raising taxes, if necessary, to provide services like education, a position he said he knows is not popular.

“I’m not playing politics,” he said. “And I’m not interested in things that aren’t true.”

David Marks — Republican

Councilman David Marks is a Republican, but points to his record of independence.

“I’m the most independent member of the County Council,” he said. “I break with my political party and the majority when I think it’s the right thing to do.”

Marks, 44, of Perry Hall, who is running for his third and final term as a councilman, has butted heads with the majority on the council over issues such as county assistance for Towson Row. But he said he is proud of his accomplishments in working across party lines to get schools renovated and fund parks, including the planned Radebaugh Neighborhood Park in Towson.

If re-elected, Marks said his priority would be to secure funding for the reconstruction of Towson High School. He also wants to establish a circulator bus route in downtown Towson, similar to the Charm City Circulator, an idea that the council considered in 2016 but that fizzled out. That idea, he said, would help boost the revitalization of that area.

Marks said he also wants to secure funding to stabilize Herring Run and complete the proposed Six Bridge Trail, a greenway that would run through Towson along that stream, connecting neighborhood parks.

Rather than raise the tax rate to address budget shortfalls, Marks said he advocates for cutting spending, particularly by examining the high cost of construction.

Jay Payne — Republican

Jay Payne says the Republican primary in District 5 is “closer than the pundits think.”

The Towson real estate agent declined an interview, saying he was having trouble hearing on his cellphone. In a Facebook message, Payne said he is running to “fight for the interests of middle class taxpayers” and bring “common sense” to local government.

Another priority, Payne said, is to “say no to sanctuary policies.” In his Facebook message, the candidate made reference to MS-13 and “violent profiteers of illegal immigration.” He knocked incumbent Marks for voting to table a bill that would have instructed corrections officers to screen for immigration status.

Marks said he has the support of the Fraternal Order of Police, but that he voted to table the bill to “respect the Constitution,” because he said the legislation did not have enough auditing or enforcement mechanisms and did not adequately target violent criminals.

When asked to elaborate on how specifically Payne would achieve his goals, he replied, "I will be more than happy to follow up after I win the primary election.”

John Michael Torsch — Democrat

John Michael Torsch is running for one reason: to improve the lives of those in Baltimore County suffering addiction.

Torsch, 34, of Perry Hall, said that his brother died of a heroin overdose about eight years ago. After that, his family started a nonprofit in his brother’s name. The former cook and chef now works as a peer recovery specialist and an advocate for addiction treatment.

He said he decided to run for County Council because he believes the county — and especially the council — is not doing enough to address the crisis, which killed more than 200 in Baltimore County last year, “the most deadly public health crisis we’ve ever experienced.”

“I was tired of going to funerals,” Torsch said.

To combat the crisis, Torsch said he would work to change zoning laws to encourage recovery houses to locate in Baltimore County; none are in the county currently, he said. He also would work to expand the county’s mobile crisis teams.

The candidate is also concerned about school safety, particularly in overcrowded schools like his alma mater, Perry Hall High School.

To pay for his plans, Torsch said he would not raise taxes. Instead, he would look for alternative grants or federal dollars, or move money from county services that are less of a priority.

“Green spaces are incredible,” Torsch said. “But at the end of the day, we’re not losing 300 people a year because of parks.”

Torsch highlighted the fact that he is not a politician. If the County Council were trying to “sweep an issue under the table,” he said, he would go directly to Facebook Live.

“I’m the council’s worst nightmare,” he said.

asolomon@baltsun.com

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