Fred Eiland has thought about running for office for the past five years. And on his birthday — July 23 — he made it official by filing for the state delegate race in District 13.
Eiland, 58, a Democrat from Columbia, said that public service was a calling for him. "I've always wanted to serve the people," he said. "I believe that's the best thing you can give back to your community."
Eiland's first taste of public service was in 2009. A recent widower with three young children, he decided to take some time off from his job as general manager of a Giant grocery store in Randallstown to spend more time with his kids.
As he focused on his children's education and extracurricular activities, he became more involved in the school community and ended up as president of the PTA at Stevens Forest Elementary.
For the past three years, Eiland has been involved in his neighborhood in another way. As community organizer in Oakland Mills, he acts as a link between the village's residents, schools and merchants and keeps them informed of events and services offered by the community. In 2010, he was also a member of the Oakland Mills Village Board.
Now, he said, he's ready to take his service to the state level. District 13 delegates represent parts of Columbia, Clarksville, Elkridge and Savage in Annapolis.
"I believe there's a disconnect when it comes to the State House and the actual residents," he said.
Eiland believes long-term politicians have a tendency to lose sight of their constituents' concerns. "I think you start to lose contact with the average citizen," he said.
Delegates Shane Pendergrass and Frank Turner have represented District 13 since 1995. Guy Guzzone, the district's third delegate since 2007, announced a run for retiring District 13 Sen. Jim Robey's seat earlier this summer.
Eiland acknowledged that he faces a tough race. Pendergrass, Turner and Guzzone already have endorsed physician and Howard County School Board member Janet Siddiqui, of Clarksville. The four Democrats are running together as "Team 13."
"I'm going to be a low-budget campaign, I'm more door-to-door," Eiland said about his own plans. "I see myself differently. I'll be an underdog, but I don't think they'll see me coming. That'll be the surprise."
Eiland, who has been friends with Turner for years — they played in the same basketball league — said he intends to stay away from party-line and block voting if elected to the State House. That's one of the reasons he changed his registration from Republican to Democrat a year and a half ago.
"Their vision is not my vision, and I realized that they were running strictly party-line and nothing else, and there wasn't any leeway," he said of the state's Republican party.
If elected, Eiland said, one of his top priorities would be improving education across the county, particularly in schools with less funding. He would like to expand Head Start programs to help more of the county's children keep up with those whose parents can afford private preschools.
He is also a proponent of Bridge Columbia, a project that would renovate the footbridge across Route 29 between Oakland Mills and downtown Columbia and accommodate a shuttle service connecting Howard Community College, Howard County General Hospital, Oakland Mills and downtown Columbia.
"Right now, our local transit system is dismal, to say the least," he said.
And he hopes to expand political participation in District 13.
"I'm very hopeful," he said. "That's another reason that I am running — because I believe that going door-to-door and saying, 'Hey, I don't care if you vote for me, but you need to vote,' is important," he said.