Earlier this week, District 1 got its first Republican candidate for the County Council. Kevin Schmidt, 39, says he's running to bring a broader range of perspectives to a council dominated, four to one, by Democrats.
Schmidt, of Ellicott City, joins Democrats Dave Grabowski, a former Planning Board member, and Jon Weinstein, an Ellicott City businessman, in the race for what observers say is arguably Howard's most competitive council district. Democrat Courtney Watson, who currently represents District 1, won the past two elections by a 52-47 margin.
Schmidt said his top priority is to bring transparency, debate and, ultimately, compromise to county government.
He pointed to public dissatisfaction with several high-profile development projects as proof of the need for more discussion "on the front end." A group of Howard County citizens launched a petition drive in September in an effort to get a referendum on the ballot for some of the more controversial decisions to come out of the county's recently passed comprehensive zoning bill.
"There's no doubt there's an undercurrent within the community where people feel like the county is not advocating for their interest and that the process is already baked," he said. "By the time they get to know about what's going on in their community, they feel like they can't do anything about it. That's not how people should be feeling."
He said he thought public frustration could be reduced by better explaining development plans and their impact on the community upfront, and making it easier for them to find information as the process progresses.
"To me, when you got people that are frustrated, it's due to a breakdown in communication," he said. "It's very destructive when you've got to fight it through the court systems to get your voice heard. There's no reason why you can't get people in the room to talk through their differences."
Schmidt said his experience working in government and the private sector taught him the importance of discussion and negotiation.
Schmidt started as a legislative aide to Congressman Henry Hyde, a Republican from Illinois, joined the House intelligence committee a month before Sept. 11, 2001, and then worked as a director in the legislative affairs office of the Department of Homeland Security. Since 2007, he's worked as director of government relations at Smiths Detection, a firm that produces detection software for chemical, biological, nuclear and other threats.
He said his experience in both sectors positions him to draw business to the county, too. "I understand how the government impacts business, and I think that's definitely my strength and outreach to the business community," he said. "I know what's going to bring them to Howard County."
Schmidt said other goals for him included supporting Howard County schools and keeping taxes from going up. "It's my view that government, in these difficult financial times, shouldn't be adding pressure on people with regards to finances," he said.
And he said he planned to reach out to all the constituents in District 1, even some that have not been traditionally Republican allies, such as the police and fire unions.
"I want to show them that I'm going to listen," he said. "You've got to reach out to everyone, it doesn't matter [Republican] or [Democrat]."