During a recent forum, the candidates running for one of two open seats on the Baltimore County Council presented similar visions for the future.
Democrat Mike Ertel and Republican Tony Campbell, running to represent the district that includes Parkville and Towson, agreed that the County Council ought to be expanded by at least two members to account for a rise in population. Both shared similar ideas for addressing poor school performance, a lack of affordable housing and food insecurity.
Among the few differences were their approaches to a question on crime. Campbell took aim at Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, blaming her for a rise in county crime. Ertel focused his answers on community policing.
But by the end of the forum, both Ertel, a longtime Towson community leader, and Campbell, a Towson University political science professor, acknowledged their commonalities.
“Unlike other council races, I think both of us would be excellent council members for our district,” Campbell said.
Campbell and Ertel are vying for the council seat left open by longtime member Cathy Bevins, who announced in March that she didn’t plan to run for reelection.
The district’s boundaries were changed during the redistricting process following the 2020 census, bringing in downtown Towson. The change moved Ertel, who previously ran unsuccessfully for the District 5 seat, into the sixth.
The race is shaping up to be among the tighter contests for the council this year — at least based on fundraising. The two each had about $20,000 on hand in August; and, between late August and late October, Ertel raised about $25,000 and Campbell raised about $35,000, according to recently filed campaign finance reports.
In many of the other races, big fundraising gaps separate the incumbents and their challengers. The race for the council’s other open seat in the county’s southwest pits Democratic state Del. Pat Young against relative political newcomer Al Nalley, a Republican former small business owner.
At the Oct. 25 forum hosted by the Randallstown NAACP and Baltimore County League of Women Voters, Ertel touted his 17 years volunteering for the Towson Communities Alliance, and eight years on the board of trustees for the Community College of Baltimore County.
“I feel like I have just a little more hands-on experience with dealing with a lot of the issues we deal with on the County Council,” Ertel said.
Campbell, on the other hand, touted his political experience in federal, state and local government. Campbell served in President George W. Bush’s administration, worked for the State Highway Administration and served on Baltimore County’s charter commission and school board nominating committee.
“It comes down to voice. It comes down to representation,” he said. “I understand what the role of local government is supposed to be. I understand the partnerships.”
Campbell previously ran unsuccessfully for Ben Cardin’s U.S. Senate seat, in addition to Baltimore County executive and Baltimore City Council president.
When asked about crime in the 6th District, which abuts the northeastern corner of Baltimore City, Campbell took a different tack than Ertel, jabbing at Mosby.
”The way that Mrs. Mosby was doing her job was in direct correlation with the rise of crime in Baltimore County,” he said.
Last year, the county surpassed a record for homicides set in 2019. More than 50 people were killed in the county, including in two mass shootings — one in Woodlawn and the other beginning in Phoenix before ending in Essex.
In 2020, Mosby announced her office would stop prosecuting certain lower-level crimes such as drug possession and prostitution. Researchers from the Johns Hopkins University conducted a 14-month study of the policy and found no corresponding uptick in resident complaints or threats to public safety.
In this year’s Democratic primary, Mosby, who is facing a trial for federal perjury charges, was unseated by defense attorney Ivan Bates. Running unopposed in heavily Democratic Baltimore City, he is the presumptive winner.
In his responses about public safety Tuesday night, Ertel didn’t mention Mosby. He called himself a proponent of “community policing,” adding that the county must address the “root causes” of crime, including by strengthening neighborhoods.
“The other thing I see a lot of as I’m in the neighborhoods is — and I think COVID has not helped us here — there’s not the sense of community we’ve had before,” he said. “One of the things we can do as council people is community building. I’ve been a community association person.”
Campbell, for his part, spoke about bolstering education as a means of reducing recidivism. For him, calling for more transparency from the county school board was a focus during Tuesday night’s debate.
The Morning Sun
”Fifty-one percent of our property tax dollars goes to BCPS,” he said. “And the bureaucracy has been totally tone-deaf.”
For instance, Campbell said the public hasn’t received enough information about the cost of the ransomware attack that befell the school system in late 2020. The district has estimated the attack will cost the county more than $7 million. Officials have said no personal information was stolen but haven’t disclosed details about the extent of the attack or any ransom demands.
Ertel also spoke about a need for the County Council to start “ringing the bell” on failures within the school system, including lagging test scores.
On affordable housing, the duo agreed that the county’s vacant homes should be put to use to add housing stock. Ertel added that affordable housing units shouldn’t be segregated, but rather integrated within communities with more expensive offerings.
And on expanding the County Council, the pair spoke about working together in previous years as part of a group of concerned citizens hoping to expand the council. Proponents have suggested the idea could improve diversity on the council, which stands to include only men for the first time in more than a decade if all incumbents are reelected. Two female challengers remain in the race.
But Campbell went a step further, arguing that his time on the county’s charter review commission, when he proposed a council expansion, showed him a “corrupt” side of the county.
”Sitting in that room with a bunch of Towson lawyers who really pull the levers in Baltimore County, I realized how corrupt Baltimore County actually is, how much of a pay-to-play system Baltimore County is,” he said. “It’s important for leaders, members of the County Council, to shine light on this.”