Education, jobs creation and praise for District 13 Del. Guy Guzzone were the themes of the night Wednesday during the Columbia Democratic Club’s forum for Maryland General Assembly candidates at the Ridgely's Run Community Center in Jessup.

The night assembled the Democratic candidates hoping to represent Howard County at the state level as senators and delegates. Each strove to differentiate themselves and stand out to voters, who will have to pick just a few to support in primary races this June.

Forum attendees heard from candidates in districts 9, 12 and 13. Contested races so far this year are in District 9B, which covers most of Ellicott City, District 12, which encompasses parts of Howard and Baltimore counties from Columbia to Catonsville and District 13, which includes parts of Columbia and North Laurel.

Asked to name a politician they admire, several candidates highlighted Guzzone as a role model. 


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Here’s a recap of the other topics they focused on.

District 9B: Democratic voters have a choice between Tom Coale, an attorney, blogger and former Columbia Association member, and Rich Corkran, a veteran public school teacher and Democratic Central Committee member.

Coale presented himself as an “advocate and team builder” who wants to “bring more people into the tent” to participate in passing legislation in Annapolis. Coale named infrastructure improvements – in particular, flood mitigation for Ellicott City – and distinguishing between small and large businesses as the best thing the legislature could do to create jobs in the district and throughout the state. “We need to give [potential small business owners] the resources and opportunity to grow and we need to make sure [Maryland] is a good place to start a business and grow a business,” he said.

Corkran touted his “lifelong” Democratic values and said he prided himself on being a good listener: “I don’t expect to get a lot done the first year when I go to Annapolis, but I will listen and learn,” he said. Corkran called redevelopment the most pressing issue facing District 9B, along with transportation – he said legislators should seriously consider extending the Metro into Howard County – as well as health care and the environment.

District 12: Democrats will have their pick of three out of 10 candidates running for a delegate seat in the district.

• Eric Ebersole: A lifelong educator and Catonsville resident, Ebersole said his focus was on education. “Not many teachers serve” in the State House, he said, due to scheduling difficulties. “I’m willing to make that sacrifice.” He said, in his conversations with potential constituents, many had asked about the Common Core, a new set of guidelines rolling out in public schools this year. “We’re coming at it a little fast,” he said. “But overall it’s a good policy, it’s something that’s going to allow us to build thinkers and cooperators in the future.”

• Jay Fred Cohen: Cohen has worked as an IRS agent and orphans’ court judge. He said his concern was reducing taxes to make Maryland, in his view, a more attractive state for retirees and businesses. “We have to get out of people’s faces,” he said. “You’ve got to keep the companies here in Maryland and you’ve got to compete… competition is the name of the game.” 

• Mike Gisriel: A longtime Annapolis lobbyist and former one-term delegate, Gisriel said he thought those experiences distinguished him from the rest of the group. “Hopefully you can elect one that can help the other two get it done,” he said. He said some of his priorities would be settlement cost relief, senior citizen tax relief and trying to allocate more state money for education funding and school construction.

• Brian Bailey: A Lansdowne native, Bailey shared his experience as a community activist as a reason voters should support him. “Long before there were delegate seats that became open… I was there pounding the pavement, working with people on a variety of initiatives in southwest Baltimore County,” he said, noting that he thought “people who were public servants in their private lives” would have a fresher perspective to bring to Annapolis than “the creatures who have been there for 30 years.” Bailey said the biggest concern facing the district was inequality, particularly between Howard and some Baltimore County schools. “We need to level the playing field so that all students have the ability to succeed,” he said.

• Rebecca Dongarra: A Catonsville resident and small business owner, Dongarra highlighted her community involvement and refusal to accept special interest money for her campaign. She said she had been surprised by the number of people who brought up legalization of marijuana as she talked with District 12 residents, and that it was a concern for her – especially in how drug arrests tie in with mass incarceration in the state. She said some other important issues for her included addressing school overcrowding and environmental concerns, such as Cove Point, a proposal to build a natural gas export facility along the Chesapeake Bay in southern Maryland.

• Renee McGuirk-Spence: McGuirk-Spence, the director of governmental relations for the Maryland State Department of Education, said adequate funding for education was an important topic for her. “I believe that every school in District 12 should be a blue ribbon school,” she said. She said she supports expanding preschool “for all of our kids,” keeping state colleges affordable and working with the counties to make sure they have enough funding for schools.

• Terri Hill: The Columbia-based plastic surgeon said her work addressing complicated medical problems meant she knew that “the issues we deal with are more complex than just saying yes or no.” One such complex issue, she said, was raising the minimum wage. While the wage should be raised, she opined, legislators should also consider that some smaller businesses could be harmed. Tax supports for businesses, and particularly small businesses, she said, could help strengthen them and create jobs. While successful businesses should give back to the community, she said, “There’s a difference between what big and small businesses need to survive.” 

• Adam Sachs: Sachs, a Columbia resident and public relations specialist at the American Nurses Association, said he’s made promoting a single-payer health care system for the state and banning corporate and PAC contributions the cornerstones of his campaign. “A lot of us have the same positions,” he said. “What I want you to consider is who is willing to buck the power structure, change the structure, and I would say I’m that candidate.”… If you want someone to challenge what other people avoid, that will be me and I won’t back down because people think it’s not possible to change.”

Candidates Nick Stewart, a lawyer from Arbutus, and Clarence Lam, a physician from Columbia, did not attend Wednesday night, but both sent representatives in their place. Stewart was at home recovering from appendicitis, according to Jahantab Siddiqui, who attended the forum for the candidate.

Siddiqui called Stewart a “pragmatic” candidate whose focus would be on “expanding opportunities for District 12” by investing in education and growing industries. Howard County Register of Wills Byron Macfarlane, who came in lieu of Lam, said the candidate could bring “a unique perspective” to Annapolis “on the issue of health care, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, expansion of Medicaid and health care for children.” He said Lam also considers the redevelopment of downtown Columbia to be an important issue for the district.

District 13: Current Del. Guy Guzzone is running for state Senate, while incumbent Dels. Frank Turner and Shane Pendergrass have filed to keep their seats, leaving one open delegate seat. Board of Education member Janet Siddiqui and Oakland Mills community organizer Fred Eiland are running for the first time to fill the vacancy.