City Council President Michael Leszcz has his eye on several issues as he seeks an eighth term on the council, issues he maintains his background and experience make him best equipped to handle.
Maintaining city services and living within the city's budget during current uncertain economic times are among those issues that have the highest priority.
City officials grappled with a $3 million shortfall when they put together the current fiscal year budget and had to make cuts across the board. Leszcz said, as he advocated then, if re-elected he will do all he can to ensure that the services residents have come to expect from the city are preserved.
"My goal is to maintain services with no layoffs or furloughs of city employees as we operate within our budget," said Leszcz, who is running against Laurel Boys and Girls Club athletic director Adrian Rousseau. "I'm committed to maintaining full staffing for emergency responders and other services. We've taken a 95 percent decrease in state (shared highway) funds, but I want to make sure potholes are fixed."
The renovation of Laurel Mall is also on Leszcz's mind as he campaigns. Although the project is a few years off schedule, Leszcz is confident the mall's new developer, Owings Mills-based Greenberg Gibbons Commercial, will move the shopping center's face-lift forward this year.
"We have a new managing partner with a vision," Leszcz said. "We're in the worst economic times since the Depression, and banks don't want to lend money. But they are starting to loosen up, and the mall will be done soon."
Finding ways to re-energize Laurel's historic Main Street corridor is a campaign issue for most city candidates, but Leszcz is focusing on positive aspects of the street, as opposed to what's lacking, to attract businesses.
"We're talking to developers now about the old Police Department building and Karl (Brendle, the city's economic developer) and others are trying to relocate restaurants to Main Street," Leszcz said. "We have a new restaurant (Salute) that's doing well. There are constraints on Main that don't allow drinking (within 500 feet of a church), but those are not part of city (regulations), but county rules."
Leszcz has lived in Laurel for 42 years in the city's Ward 1, but before moving to the city in 1969, he and his six siblings moved around a lot because their father was in the Air Force. He said they lived in Germany until he was 6 years old and in California in the 1950s. When he was 9, the family moved to Alaska.
"We lived in Anchorage for three years, where I learned all about fishing in Fairbanks and all over (Alaska). I also did a lot of camping and Boy Scouts activities," he said.
The next move for the family was Fort Meade, where Leszcz's father was on an intelligence assignment. Leszcz attended Arundel Junior High and Arundel Senior High. During the summers, he worked for 50 cents an hour at a large company on Long Island, in New York, that built marinas and boats.
"I built my first boat at 15: a 16-foot hydroplane, four-passenger boat," said Leszcz, who also recalled traveling to Washington with an older co-worker during that time to hear Martin Luther King Jr. give his famous "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963. "I was very impressed that Dr. King gathered all those people, and it made an impact on me. I grew up in the Air Force, that was desegregated, and that day brought home for me the trials and tribulations of so many people."
After Leszcz graduated from high school in 1964, he attended St. John's University for one year and then transferred to the Panama Canal Zone College for a year when his parents were stationed in Panama. Next stop, the U.S. Coast Guard.
"… I volunteered for the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard had a third of its personnel in Vietnam. I thought I'd get there, but I was rotated as far as Subic Bay (in the Philippines), and was discharged before I got to Vietnam," he said.
After his two-year stint in the Coast Guard, Leszcz returned to school at Delaware State University, where he studied chemistry. Before he graduated, he accepted a position at Grace Research as an assistant chemist in Laurel. He said he chose Laurel because it was where he met his wife while in high school and married her in 1969.
That year, Leszcz worked for six months with the Internal Revenue Service but left to manage a gas station on Montgomery Street for two years because it paid more and allowed him to purchase a home in Laurel. In 1974, he returned to the IRS, where he currently works as chief of statistical computing.
As for his political career, Leszcz said that began in 1979 when he was appointed to the city's Planning Commission and later became its chairman, dealing with issues such as the development of the mixed-use Laurel Lakes complex.
"After being on the Planning Commission for 17 years, I was approached by (former Mayor) Frank Casula to run for council in Ward 1. I ran but didn't win the first time. When Mike Walls didn't run for his seat, I ran at large and won. It was an opportunity to connect with all people all over the city."
Leszcz, who served as a Ward 1 council member for three terms before serving for four terms as the at-large member, also represented residents city wide when he served for five months as Laurel's mayor after Mayor Frank Casula died in 2001. In addition, he has served on national and local legislative committees over the years for the National League of Cities and the Maryland Municipal League. He is a member of the Patuxent River Commission and the Maryland Business Tax Reform Commission, and sits on Laurel Regional Hospital Foundation's board of directors.
As to why he should be re-elected to an eighth term on the council, Leszcz said, "I've done a good job, and I'm not a one-trick pony but am trying to deal with many issues at one time that are important to the citizens of Laurel. I'm not a negative person or just a talker but a doer with a responsibility to every taxpayer and resident of Laurel."