Democratic voters in Baltimore County's District 6 who are looking to fill an open seat being vacated by County Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder have a choice of three candidates, two of whom have seen government from the inside and one who has been a champion from the outside for a neglected river.
Stephen L. Verch, who founded the Back River Restoration Committee, is on the ballot along with Cathy A. Bevins, who worked for years as the county executive's east-side constituent service assistant, and Todd Schuler, who is a member of the Maryland House of Delegates, as Bartenfelder — now running for county executive — was when he was first elected to the seat in 1994.
District 6 stretches roughly from the Northeast Baltimore line to the Chesapeake Bay, and includes Putty Hill, Middle River and White Marsh.
Cathy A. Bevins
Bevins has spent most of the last seven years on the line where local government meets citizens' day-to-day life, where no complaint seems too small to call to the county executive's attention. She's answered residents' beefs about dog droppings, decaying houses, trash in the neighbor's yard, and of course, snow removal. She's played safari guide for those trying to find their way through the county bureaucracy.
"Every day was like the prize in a Cracker Jack box," said Bevins, 51, of Middle River, who is running for elective office for the first time. "You never knew what it was going to be."
After six years in constituent service, she recently took a job in administration with the Baltimore County Volunteer Firefighters Association. Bevins figures she knows how county government works and she'd like to apply her experience on the council.
Although the council position is officially part time, Bevins said she'll step down from her fire post if elected. "I'm going to be more effective if I'll just be the County Council member from the 6th District," she said.
Jobs are her chief concern in this race, as the economy appears to be most important to the district residents she's met while campaigning. She's emphasizing the unfinished work along Route 43, a two-lane road from Eastern Avenue to Interstate 695. Once envisioned as a vibrant business corridor, it's now "a short cut from Middle River to Towson," Bevins said. "It's not serving the purpose it was created for."
She doesn't have a specific proposal to change that, but she said a business and marketing plan for the thoroughfare would be high on her list of things to do as a councilwoman.
"It's the one issue that pains me most," she said.
Schuler has served one term as a delegate, and now, with a new county executive and at least four new council members coming in, he said he sees "a tremendous opportunity to be part of where Baltimore County is going in the future."
He said the county's future is tied in some ways to what lies ahead at Aberdeen Proving Ground, not far north of the district in Harford County, as more people and business will be moving to the area as a result of the U.S. military's Base Realignment and Closure process, or BRAC.
"The key is making Baltimore County a place that can compete" for those businesses and residents, he said. Part of that project "has to be improving transportation around Baltimore County. I feel like we're 30 years behind a real public transportation system."
At the same time, he said officials have to balance economic development and preservation, especially along the waterfront and at the county's urban/rural planning boundary, part of which runs through District 6.
"Developers want to move that line," said Schuler, 33, a worker's compensation lawyer who lives in Overlea.
Much of the county's waterfront lies in the district, with parts of it on the urban side and part on the rural side of the line. While he doesn't favor a ban on development at the waterfront or elsewhere, he said decisions have to be made about "whether we're going to develop every last bit of green space and whether we're going to preserve some of it."
Schuler has the endorsement of the Greater Baltimore Sierra Club, and a 92-percent overall rating from the League of Conservation Voters based on his four-year record in the General Assembly. Of the three Democratic candidates, he said, "I'm the only one running on a legislative record."
Verch got waist deep in community activism in his efforts to help rescue the Back River, and now he'd like to tidy up county government. He said he wants to substitute a 401K plan for the council pensions that caused such a stir this year, and he'd work to impose on council members the same two-term limit that applies to the county executive.
"Eight years on the County Council is enough time to get your ideas out," said Verch, of Perry Hall, a lawyer who also works part-time for the county Department of Corrections conducting reviews of inmate disciplinary hearings. "Otherwise, you're just building a fat campaign war chest" that scares off prospective challengers, he said.
"The people I've talked to, those people are really for term limits if it was on the ballot," said Verch, adding that he's talked to many people who are unhappy with council pensions, which the council voted to cut in January.
He said he would support no budget increases and would work to reform the laws governing so-called planned unit developments to prevent developers from using those regulations to get around controls on how many homes or condominiums can be built in a given amount of space.
Like Bevins, Verch points to Route 43 as a reminder that the county has to step up efforts to attract small business and not depend on the military.
"We need to attract more than government-related business, which is what BRAC is," he said.
A first-time candidate for elective office, Verch helped to found the Back River group, which has been coordinating volunteer efforts to remove tons of trash and old tires from the waterway, long considered one of the most polluted in the state.
At 54, he said "I'm still young enough and naïve enough to think I can make a difference."."