Three Democrats are vying for a shot at the District 5 seat on the Baltimore County Council, all pledging to boost economic development in the growing suburban area.
Longtime Councilman Vince Gardina announced last fall that he would not run for re-election after serving an unprecedented five terms. Gardina's exit has opened the door for Mike Ertel and Gordon Harden from Towson, and Bill Paulshock from Perry Hall. Republican David Marks, also from Perry Hall, is running unopposed for his nomination.
The district includes Towson and Perry Hall as well as Towson University and Goucher College, and stretches to the Harford County line. In addition to economic growth, the race has focused on issues related to education and building a better relationship with Towson University. Pension reform has also been a hot topic on the campaign trail; Gardina will retire at age 54 with a $54,000 pension for life. All candidates said they would support term limits.
As Mike Ertel sees it, schools are the glue that holds the community together. That's the main reason he said he is seeking a seat on the County Council.
A Baltimore native, the 44-year-old Ertel said he saw that as neighborhoods declined, so did the schools, which is why he is concerned about lagging performance at schools along the Loch Raven Boulevard corridor.
If elected, Ertel said he would try to work with the school system to improve academic achievement at all schools. The County Council has only fiscal authority over the autonomously-run school system. However, Ertel said he still believes the council members can advance the discussion.
"As a councilman, you do have the ability to make things political and ask things publicly, and drive the agenda on what's going to happen," Ertel said.
Along those lines, he said he'd like to see the county implement a systemic plan toward upgrading aging campuses. "You want your schools to look like you care about them."
Ertel also said he believes the county should be more proactive in seeking economic development opportunities.
"We need to look at bringing in cutting-edge industries and good-paying jobs," he said. "We've got to figure out what we as a big county are going to sell to the rest of the world."
In his 13 years on the Baltimore County Planning Board, Gordon Harden said he's learned what a councilman can and can't do.
And he knows what he would do, if elected.
"I'd like to continue the county in the way that it's been going," said Harden, 60, who has been endorsed by outgoing County Executive James T. Smith Jr.
With his $56,000 war chest, Harden has the most cash on hand among the candidates. But he's been criticized for taking donations from development attorneys. He said he doesn't foresee any conflicts.
"I have the support of people across the spectrum who recognize that my experience is what this county needs," Harden said. "They're residents of Baltimore County and they are looking to see Baltimore County be the best it can be."
Among the challenges facing the district is the need for redevelopment, which may require easing zoning restrictions to create more "walkable communities" that include shopping, residential and entertainment districts.
Towson also needs more employment, commercial and transportation options — such as a shuttle system run with Towson University — to better retain graduates from the local colleges, he said.
"As we're finally getting residences in Towson and people are living in the downtown core, we've got a lot of empty space," Harden said. "We need jobs there."
Bill Paulshock, 49, said he's never forgotten his mother's advice when he opened his seafood shop: Put people first.
Paulshock said he would bring that perspective to county government, which he calls a "part-time job with a full-time commitment."
Paulshock has fought off residency challenges from those who argue his rightful address is outside the district in Kingsville, not Perry Hall. He has owned Bill's Seafood on Belair Road for more than 30 years and been active in local business affairs and recreational leagues.
"It's easy to cater to the large mass and that happens a lot in government, but I am a big believer in helping all the needs of people, no matter how large or small you are," he said.
To help resolve tensions between Towson University students and homeowners, Paulshock has proposed creating a "quiet zone" just beyond the campus that would be under the jurisdiction of Towson University police. Economic development and fiscal responsibility are among the most critical issues facing the county, he said.
"There's no one better than a small businessman to address those issues," he said. "It's great to bring things to a community but you really have to make sure that what you're bringing fits the community."