Preservation, economic development dominate campaign

Todd Huff, Baltimore County Council candidate in the 3rd district, ousted a four-term incumbent and four others in the Republican primary. But, for the first time in 16 years, that victory does not guarantee him the seat. Democrat Ben Sutley, unopposed in the primary, is eyeing the same job.

The two candidates are campaigning hard on what has been one of incumbent Councilman T. Bryan McIntire's signature issues: land preservation in the predominantly rural district that covers the northern part of the county.

"We have to make sure the right person grabs that torch from McIntire and continues what he has done for preservation in this district," said Sutley, 42. "This is not just about a beautiful countryside. Residential sprawl can suck the county budget dry."

Huff, 42, said he "wants to work with McIntire and continue his legacy of land preservation."

The county lists more than 55,000 acres in permanent preservation programs and is continuing efforts to safeguard more land from development.

"That 55,000 figure speaks well for a lot of people in both parties," said Mike Pierce, president of North County Preservation, Inc., a watchdog organization which is not endorsing either candidate. "This issue is not about party. Any development in this district detracts from the water quality of 2 million people in this watershed."

McIntire has yet to endorse either candidate in the heavily Republican district, but has met with both, at their request, he said.

Both candidates have long careers in business. As operations manager for six Brooks-Huff Tire and Auto Centers, Huff said he is schooled in the balanced budget concept.

"I am living it every day in the business world," he said. "I see the issues. I know what needs to be done and I address it."

"I can bring more energy to the job and get more business into the county," he said. "We can keep our economy going, even in these downturns."

Sutley, a former teacher with a master's degree in history, worked full-time and earned a law degree at night from the University of Baltimore. He runs a law office in the city and co-owns a company that works with businesses to help reduce healthcare costs.

"If people do their homework, they will see that I bring more experience to the table," Sutley said. "The differences between us are dramatic in our education backgrounds and what we have done in the private sector."

Both men have records of arrests and convictions for a variety of offenses, which in Sutley's case involved driving while intoxicated and drug charges, and in Huff's case a conviction for leaving the scene of an accident, and charges of passing a bad check and a handgun violation.

Preservation of the county's working farms has been a significant issue in the campaign. District 3 has the largest geographical area of any council district and is the only one of seven that does not share a boundary with the city. The district extends north to Pennsylvania, west to Carroll County and east to Harford County.

Huff, past president of the Towson Chamber of Commerce, has promised to build communication between businesses and the communities that surround them, he said. He would streamline government and enforce existing laws rather than enact new ones. He would move forward with land preservation efforts and zoning to help farmers diversify and sustain their livelihoods.

He also would increase vocational education opportunities in county schools.

"Not every kid can go to college," he said. "We need to get vo-tech back into schools to help prepare those students for the work force."

Sutley said vocational programs already in place are sufficient and expanding those would prove too costly.

"You can't just throw out feel-good ideas," he said. "You have to examine costs first. I am very analytical."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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