Within Maryland, Anne Arundel County has turned into ground zero for politics this election year. Millions of dollars have been spent trying to persuade voters to either approve or reject a zoning change that would allow slot machines at Arundel Mills mall.
But county voters have other choices to make. Between term limits and primary election results, most incumbents will not be returning to the county council after next Tuesday. And voters must decide whether to retain County Executive John R. Leopold or replace him with either Democratic candidate Joanna Conti or Green Party candidate Mike Shay.
Mr. Leopold has done an exceptional job over his four years in office balancing the county's budget in the midst of a national economic downturn without raising income or property taxes or laying off employees. But there have been too many allegations involving sexual misconduct — charges Mr. Leopold has unequivocally denied but which have yet to be adjudicated — for us to feel comfortable making any endorsement in the county executive race this year.
Whether Question A passes or fails, the county continues to face potential budget deficits in future years, and the new council will have to set spending priorities. A revision of the county's comprehensive plan is also on the horizon, as is redrawing of council district lines.
In District 1, which covers much of the northern end of the county from Brooklyn Park to Hanover, voters should re-elect Daryl Jones of Severn, a Democrat who has demonstrated a good grasp of the issues and has served as the council's sole African-American member. While we disagree with his position on slots (he opposes the Arundel Mills site), his knowledge of county government should prove valuable to the new council.
John Grasso, a Republican, is our choice in District 2, which centers on Glen Burnie. The high-energy businessman has proven himself a tireless campaigner and represents that rarity among candidates, a fiscal conservative who has also made cleaning up the environment (and in his case, Marley and Furnace creeks) a top priority.
It's a tough call in Pasadena's District 3, where both Republican Derek Fink and Democrat Charlie Parks would make good additions to the council. But our choice is Mr. Parks, a retired deputy chief in the county fire department who, like his opponent, advocates spending cuts to balance the budget but would also bring a strong background in public safety.
Democrat Jamie Benoit of Crownsville is the incumbent 4th District councilman and has earned another term. His willingness to be pragmatic on difficult issues — the budget, slots, BRAC-related development, septic tank discharge — gives him the leadership advantage over his Republican opponent, political newcomer Charlotte K. Weinstein.
The 5th District race pits two retirees, Republican Dick Ladd from Broadneck and Democrat Paul G. Rudolph from Severna Park. We endorse Mr. Ladd, a former Army helicopter pilot making his first run for elective office who pledges to get the county on sound financial footing by taking a hard look at the pensions and benefits of county workers.
In District 6, we recommend Tyler Heights Democrat Chris Trumbauer, a former biologist for the Department of Natural Resources who now heads West/Rhode Riverkeeper. He promises a strong voice on environmental issues as the county begins its once-a-decade comprehensive rezoning process.
The District 7 race pits Democrat Torrey Jacobsen, longtime community activist, against Republican Jerry Walker. Although Mr. Jacobsen's familiarity with local issues is impressive, we endorse Mr. Walker, whose business background and strict fiscal conservatism are more in tune with his district.