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Candidates vie for Watson's District 1 seat

While most of Howard's state legislative races this primary season are packed with candidates vying for a chance to head to Annapolis, the county's council races have been relatively uneventful; with one notable exception.

In District 1, there are more Democratic and Republican candidates competing for one seat than there are total seats on the County Council.

In the moderate district, where the ratio of Democrats to Republicans in the 2012 presidential election was 1.3 to 1 – and 8,445 residents were registered independents – the outcome of the primary election June 24, as well as November's general election, is anything but certain.

Four Democrats and two Republicans have filed to run in the district, which covers Ellicott City, Elkridge and Hanover and has been represented by Council member Courtney Watson since 2006. Watson is the Democratic candidate for Howard County executive and will leave the District 1 seat behind at the end of December.

The first of her would-be successors announced his candidacy more than a year ago.

Jon Weinstein, a Democrat who launched his campaign in mid-May 2013, was the first to file. He leads the race in endorsements.

Weinstein, 46, is an Ellicott City resident and the owner of Line of Sight, a project management consulting firm based in Columbia. His campaign has been endorsed by the teachers, police and fire unions, as well as the Howard County Association of Realtors and the Columbia and Western Howard Democratic clubs.

The next to throw his hat in the ring, in early June last year, was Democrat Dave Grabowski, a project superintendent for Lewis Contractors and former chair of the Howard County Planning Board. Grabowski, 60, is a lifelong Elkridge resident and also served on the Recreation and Parks Advisory Board for more than a decade.

The race's first Republican candidate, Kevin Forrest Schmidt, filed in October. Schmidt, 40, lives in Ellicott City and is vice president of government relations for Smiths Group, a Washington-based security technology firm. Before working at Smiths, Schmidt worked at the Department of Homeland Security and as a congressional staffer. He's secured endorsements from District 9A Del. Gail Bates and the African American Coalition of Howard County.

In December, Democrat Lisa Markovitz became the first woman to file for the seat in a district that has been represented by a woman for more than half of the 27 years since the council switched from at-large to region-specific members. Markovitz, 50, lives in Ellicott City and owns a small financial agency. She's been endorsed by the Maryland chapters of the Sierra Club and Parents Choice.

Wendy Royalty filed several months later, in early February. The 49-year-old Democrat and Ellicott City resident is currently a stay-at-home mom to her two children, but she previously worked as vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Maryland and as a Baltimore City community planner. Despite her late entry to the race, Royalty has succeeded in clinching endorsements from Maryland NOW, NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, the National Association of Social Workers' Maryland chapter and the African American Coalition of Howard County.

The final candidate to enter the race, on the filing deadline, was Republican David Blake Melton, 45, a defense contractor at Fort Meade and an Ellicott City resident.

With so many candidates in the running, each has tried to distinguish him or herself from the rest.

Weinstein said he's been focused on "communicating specifics about what I would do if I'm elected."

He emphasized the interconnectedness of the community's concerns about education, public safety, housing, business and infrastructure.

"There is a relationship between them," he said. "You can't make a change in one of those without affecting all of them. … I am the only candidate talking about the interplay amongst the various issues."

Weinstein has also led the pack of candidates in terms of campaign fundraising.

Since the beginning of the year, Weinstein has raised $33,900, from 50 individuals, 13 businesses and four political action committees.

Between May 21 and June 8, he raised $9,650, the bulk of which came from local development companies, including Fal Water and Sewer Company and Howard Land Developers, which each donated $2,000; and Reuwer Family Real Estate Holdings, Welsh Property LLC and Centennial Square ETC-DD LLC, which each donated $1,000.

Since January, he's also raised $17,000 from various PACs, including $6,000 from the Maryland State Education Association's Fund for Children and Public Education PAC; $5,500 from the Howard County firefighters PAC; and $4,000 from the county's police officers PAC.

Grabowski, the only candidate from Elkridge, has less in the bank, but offered his experience working on county issues as a reason he should be elected.

"I think what I have to offer, more than anyone in the race, is my experience — with the planning board, with the county," Grabowski said. "For 35 years I've been a community activist in Howard County. On the Planning Board, I dealt with budgets, I dealt with land use, I dealt with everything that a county council person has to deal with. I know how the system works, and I know where to go to get the resources."

Since January 8, Grabowski has raised $3,195, from 10 individuals, five businesses and one political club, Friends of Chris Reilly, with a P.O. box in York, Pa.

Schmidt said he's the candidate with the greatest focus on fiscal responsibility. "We have all these … priorities – teachers' pensions, state-of-the-art education system," he said. "We've got choices to make, and I believe that you've got to start identifying some … programs and having an open discussion on them in an open forum, and being fiscally prudent. Living within our means, and not passing on taxes and fees onto our citizens."

Markovitz, who has since last summer helped lead an effort to bring certain comprehensive zoning land-use decisions to a citizens' referendum, has made slower growth a cornerstone of her campaign.

"Our district is about to face a huge increase in density and population … and it is sort of concentrated, the plan, in our district more than other districts," Markovitz said. "So, uniquely, our district needs to be able to speak for its constituents to the whole council about the district's needs that differ in some ways from the other districts' needs."

Markovitz has raised $6,035 from 26 individuals since January, and has pledged not to take developer or PAC money. She has also loaned $15,000 of her own money to the campaign.

Royalty pointed to her experience in local government — she helped organize recycling programs in Baltimore City after completing her master's in social work — and said she was dialed-in on the issues that matter most to her potential constituents, particularly when it comes to education. She said her observations as a mother with two children in Howard County public schools would resonate with other voters in the district.

"I think people like to see someone who is having the same experiences as they are, that they can relate to, especially at the local level," she said.

Since April, Royalty has raised $5,180 from 27 individuals, the political action committee for the National Association of Social Workers and the campaign of Baltimore County state Sen. Jim Brochin. The campaign also received a $12,000 loan from treasurer Mark Miller.

Besides an appearance at a League of Women Voters forum in April, Melton, who did not respond to requests for an interview, has been largely absent from the campaign trail. In an interview after he filed, Melton said he considered himself a moderate who was firm in his belief in gun rights but was more pragmatic fiscally.

"I'm all for reducing taxes, but reducing taxes just for the sake of reducing taxes – I don't know that that's such a good idea," he said at the time. "It's always a trade-off."

Melton has committed to raising less than $1,000 this campaign season and therefore did not have to file a finance report.

Early voting ends at 8 p.m. June 19. The primary election is June 24. For more information on the District 1 candidates, go to elections.baltimoresun.com/candidates.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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