Preston, Richards win uncontested Bel Air election

In an uncontested election for two seats on the Board of Town Commissioners, just 115 Bel Air residents showed up to the polls to vote Tuesday.

While the turnout may have been among the lowest ever for a town election and the outcome was preordained, there was no scarcity of excitement in Bel Air Town Hall as results were announced.

Both incumbent Commissioner Robert M. Preston, 64, and newcomer Patrick Richards, 45, with his family in tow, crowded into the town hall administrative office awaiting the final tally to confirm their victories. Town Administrator Chris Schlehr and Commissioners Robert J. Reier and Edward Hopkins, whose terms weren't up this year, stood by in support.

An 11-year veteran of the Town Board, Preston received 93 votes in the unofficial first count. Richards received 89.

In addition to Preston's seat, the seat of 16-year Commissioner David Carey was up this year, but Carey decided not to run and was recently appointed by the governor to a vacancy on the Harford County District Court.

With no real contest, most the 6,500 who could have voted chose to stay home Tuesday. The five-member town board governs the Harford County seat which has about 10,300 residents.

One resident who did bother to vote, John Krajewski, 61, of Homestead Village, said he votes 90 percent of all local, state and national elections. He said he has been a registered voter since the age of 18 and only misses an election when he is out of town on business.

"I like to be involved in who is administering our local politics," Krajewski said after casting his ballot Tuesday afternoon. "If we don't vote, we lose control of our democracy."

Tuesday's turnout amounted to less than 2 percent, but even in years when town races are contested, not many residents bother to vote. Only 11.3 percent of Bel Air registered voters cast ballots in the 2011 town commissioners election, when five candidates campaigned for three seats, according to the Harford County Board of Elections.

Six write-in votes were cast Tuesday. One provisional ballot was issued and there were no absentee ballots.

Preston said he sees a lot of new things on the horizon for Bel Air in the coming years, like a new town hall.

"I don't know if it will happen in the next four years, but I feel like a new town hall is in the future of Bel Air," said Preston, a local business owner, said.

In 2011, the town spent $1.03 million to buy the vacant BB&T bank building on Main Street to transform it into a new town hall building. Instead, the space was temporarily turned into a municipal parking lot while the town considers financing options for a new government center.

Richards said he was "cautiously, optimistic" in the hours leading up the polls closing. He ran an unsuccessful bid for town commissioner in 2007.

"My first objective is to expedite the learning curve as quickly as I can and get a feel for all of the various polices and issues that we might be facing throughout the next couple of months," Richards said.

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