This is not a time to elect the faint of heart in Baltimore County. As in other jurisdictions in Maryland and elsewhere, the county is facing serious economic issues that, despite signs of recovery, could be exacerbated by cutbacks and other policy decisions that could soon be made at the state and national levels.
Kevin Kamenetz, a 16-year veteran of the County Council, is the best choice to lead as county executive in a time of turmoil. The 52-year-old Owings Mills attorney has a depth of knowledge of county affairs, but also — perhaps more importantly — a willingness to make changes and seek innovations that might improve the quality of life for Baltimore County residents.
While the county has long embraced fiscal prudence — demonstrated most recently by reforms made to employee pensions — it has followed a game plan little changed in 16 years of stewardship by outgoing County Executive James T. Smith Jr. and his predecessor, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger.
Mr. Kamenetz continues the county's fiscal traditions but has shown a willingness to set a new course that would not settle for more of the status quo. He expects to reduce spending, but he would also like to see the county goals beyond just keeping the property tax rate from rising, and he has promised fresh ideas to improve public safety, business development, schools and the county's older communities.
His Republican opponent, former Del. Kenneth C. Holt, an investment executive, would also bring expertise to the county's financial dealings. He has demonstrated a refreshingly nonpartisan approach in this campaign — going so far as praising President Barack Obama's stimulus efforts, a rarity among GOP candidates in 2010.
But Mr. Holt appears less well prepared to grapple with other challenges facing the county. His proposal to build a Negro Leagues baseball museum and ballpark on Liberty Road, for instance, appears somewhat impractical and unlikely, if not fanciful.
Meanwhile, this election poses the most exciting opportunity for change in the Baltimore County Council in a generation. A political body that saw so little turnover that it almost never wavered from 7-0 votes will now have five new members. Across the county, voters have good choices who can bring a diversity of experience and ideas to the council.
In the 1st District, which covers Catonsville, Arbutus and the surrounding communities, we recommend Tom Quirk. The Democrat's experience as a financial planner will be valuable as the county weathers what are expected to be more years of lean budgets. He is also keen on using the council's power in land use and zoning decisions to make the communities in his district more walkable and to boost traditional business districts.
Vicki Almond gets our endorsement in the 2nd District, which includes Pikesville, Ruxton and parts of Owings Mills. Ms. Almond, a Democrat, is a longtime community activist and a former chief of staff to state Sen. Bobby Zirkin, which gives her excellent experience in balancing the needs of residents and businesses and knowledge in navigating county politics. Her chief focus is on education. In particular, she could be part of a bipartisan effort on the council to make the county's school board, which is now appointed by the governor, more accountable to local concerns.
In northern Baltimore County's 3rd District, we support Republican Todd Huff. His experience in his family business (the Brooks-Huff tire chain) and as a former president of the Towson Chamber of Commerce would be valuable on the council. He also makes continuing outgoing Councilman T. Bryan McIntire's focus on land preservation a top priority.
Councilman Kenneth N. Oliver is unopposed in the 4th District.
The 5th District, which stretches from Towson to Perry Hall, gives voters the toughest choice in the county. Democrat Mike Ertel is an experienced community activist from Towson, and Republican David Marks has an equal record of accomplishment in Perry Hall. It's too bad they are running in the same district, but Mr. Marks gets our endorsement. His experience in transportation planning in the state and federal governments is a plus, and he would be a strong advocate for making county government more open and transparent.
The 6th District pits Democrat Cathy Bevins, who served for years as Mr. Smith's constituent service liaison on the East Side, against Republican Ryan Nawrocki, a political newcomer. Ms. Bevins' experience in helping residents of the district is impressive, but her years working for the county government have made her too enamored of the status quo. Mr. Nawrocki would bring more new ideas to the council — such as a push to reform the school board and to tackle county pensions — and for that reason he wins our endorsement.
Councilman John A. Olszewski Sr. is unopposed in the 7th District.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun