Baltimore County

Open seat draws crowded Democratic field in Baltimore County's District 2

An open seat on the Baltimore County Council in District 2 has lured six Democrats into the primary contest who are focusing their campaigns on economic development, the Rosewood Center property, budget management and the public's role in land-use decisions.

Longtime community activist and former state Senate staffer Vicki Almond, Pikesville Chamber of Commerce executive director Sherrie Becker, retired businessman Albert M. Harris, former state Del. Theodore Levin, public finance lawyer Timmy Ruppersberger and activist Alan P. Zukerberg are hoping to face Republican Jon M. Herbst in the general election. Herbst was nominated by the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee when no GOP candidates filed before the deadline.

Vicki Almond

Almond, 61, emphasized the value of her work as chief of staff to state Sen. Bobby Zirkin. In the position she held for three years before deciding to run for County Council late last year, she found that constituent service was "my forte," and said she learned how local government works.

"I already know how to maneuver through county government," said Almond, of Reisterstown, who has been active for 25 years in community organizations, including the PTA and the Police Community Relations Council. At the same time, she said she cultivated relationships with local community leaders, businesspeople and land developers — all key, she said, to getting things done.

As a member of the council, she said she would press the county to buy a 55-acre piece of state land at Gwynnbrook Avenue and Owings Mills Boulevard for a school site, as middle school students in Owings Mills are being transported to Deer Park Middle School on Liberty Road.

She also advocates a comprehensive redevelopment plan for Reisterstown Road as an alternative to what she called the "piecemeal" approach the county has taken.

Sherrie Becker

Along with other candidates in this district and elsewhere, Becker said the chief concern she hears while campaigning door-to-door is jobs.

"I've talked with so many people who have lost their jobs, or young people who can't get jobs," said Becker, 55, stressing the value of her background in running her own marketing business and with the Pikesville Chamber of Commerce.

"It takes someone who has done economic development to do economic development," said Becker, who lives in Quarry Lake, saying she would act as a liaison between banks and businesspeople planning new ventures in the district. "We're not getting the help from the federal government and we're not getting the help from the county."

Becker played a role in developing design guidelines for the section of Reisterstown Road that forms Pikesville's main street, and said the District 2 council member is going to have to be more active in continuing that effort, as the county program that has helped in commercial renovation projects in Pikesville is ending for lack of money.

"It's not the time for the uninitiated," said Becker. "The council needs to get going immediately."

Albert M. Harris

Harris, 74, is building his low-key campaign on the premise that "they're going to have to learn how to run a county like a business." He says he has the experience to help do that.

Along with many years as a computer systems engineer, manager and business consultant, Harris established and sold two technology companies, one specializing in financial software, the other in print image software. This is his first experience running for political office, although, he said, "I've always been interested in politics."

Harris said he has not been through the county budget or the school budget, and did not have specific suggestions on where cuts might be made, but he said more "oversight" is needed to save money. While the council has authority in the school budget but not school policy, he said "if you threaten to cut their budget, they'll start listening."

The Pikesville resident said he started his businesses with small business loans, and as a council member he would be more aggressive in talking with banks about what the county should be doing to encourage more economic development.

Theodore Levin

Levin, 65, has been out of politics since 1995, when he lost the seat he'd held for 20 years in the Maryland House of Delegates after his northwest Baltimore County district was redrawn. He's running against the political tide on one key question: the future of about 175 acres in Owings Mills that was home to the Rosewood Center, a state institution for people with developmental disabilities.

The county Planning Board and other officials support Stevenson University's proposal to use the land for athletic fields and administrative offices, and, so far, the state — which declared the property as surplus — has been talking only with Stevenson, which has a campus next to Rosewood.

Levin, a Pikesville resident with a general law practice there, has other ideas. He said "there's a greater need" for a branch of the Community College of Baltimore County, which has campuses in Dundalk, Essex and Catonsville, but not in the northwest.

He calls for a comprehensive approach to redeveloping older areas of the district, especially around the Milford Mill and Old Court stops of the Baltimore Metro subway line. He advocates creating walkable communities by building more sidewalks and connecting communities with walking paths.

Timmy Ruppersberger

Ruppersberger, 55, has served briefly on the county Planning Board, but most of her experience in government has been through her work as a public finance lawyer, helping counties arrange to pay for public projects and economic development. She said her skills in analyzing costs will be crucial in difficult times.

The county now gets an AAA score from all three major bond rating agencies, and Ruppersberger — a second cousin of U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger — said "some probably difficult decisions are going to have to be made" to keep that distinction and continue to provide essential services.

In the pursuit of new business and jobs, Ruppersberger, who lives just north of the city line in the Bare Hills neighborhood, said the county is "going to have to be a little bit more aggressive" to compete with nearby areas, perhaps expanding the array of financing methods used to pay for projects.

A member of the board of the Baltimore County Public Schools Education Foundation, Inc. a nonprofit created to promote public school fundraising, Ruppersberger said as a council member she would use her relationships in education to advocate for district schools.

Alan P. Zukerberg

Zukerberg, 64, a lawyer, is worked up about land development, and has been for years as a member of several neighborhood associations.

The Pikesville resident said the county applies land use law selectively and makes it too difficult for the public to get information about projects.

"The county should be advocating for us, we don't think that's what they're doing," said Zukerberg. "We think they're working to expedite projects for influential developers."

Zukerberg, who ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate as a Republican against former Sen. Paula C. Hollinger in 2002, said he's not against development per se, but he wants "quality development." He said he could name no Baltimore County projects that meet that standard, but he said it has been done in Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties.

Part of the solution, he said, would involve giving neighborhood residents more notice of pending projects, such as signs posted at the development site, and allowing residents to sign up for electronic notices with links to detailed information about the project. He also would push for a state law that would make it easier for homeowners associations to pursue legal action in land-use cases.