Sheila Ruth, a progressive activist and longtime resident of Westview Park, is slated to announce her candidacy Wednesday for the southwest area’s seat on the Baltimore County Council.
Ruth, a Democrat, is the first to challenge Democratic incumbent Tom Quirk, who announced in November that he will run for a third term in District 1, which covers the southwest area of the county, from Woodlawn to Baltimore Highlands.
“I’m running for the people of southwest Baltimore County, because I feel like we need someone to stand up for us,” Ruth said.
A web developer by trade, Ruth, 54, founded the Baltimore County Progressive Democrats Club. Since spring of last year, she has represented Maryland progressives as a chair on the state Democratic Party’s Diversity Leadership Council.
Ruth’s candidacy comes as the profile of progressive groups has risen in the southwest county over the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency. Chapters of one such group, Indivisible, a self-described movement to “resist the Trump agenda,” emerged in Catonsville and Baltimore County over the past year, and its members have caught attention with events such as a rally against white supremacy in August.
Ruth said that, to her, being progressive means “putting people and planet first,” and that her priorities include fighting poverty and investing in historically neglected communities.
“Baltimore County has a high degree of concentrated poverty and racial segregation,” Ruth said. “These are not problems that are going to solve themselves — they need investment and attention.”
Ruth supports the “Fight for $15,” a movement seeking to raise the state minimum wage to $15 an hour. Though state-level legislation would be ideal, Ruth said if that fails, she would work to make $15 the minimum wage in Baltimore County, a move she said would boost standards of living and raise the tax base to fund services and infrastructure improvements.
“Things like race and income need to be focused on in making any decision,” Ruth said, naming development and redistricting as examples. “In order to achieve equity, we need to invest more in certain areas than in other areas,” she added.
One area Ruth hopes to invest in is education. She questioned the wisdom of putting $60 million into a planned renovation of the aging Lansdowne High School building.
The renovation, the most expensive in county history, has caused controversy as residents argued that a renovation would not go far enough. Some have asked for a new school building, which the county has insisted it cannot afford.
“We need to at least explore the possibility of a new school,” Ruth said. Her position runs counter to that of Quirk, a strong supporter of the renovation.
The first-time candidate, who said that until last year running for office “wasn’t in my wheelhouse,” said she hopes to bring transparency, accessibility and responsiveness to county government.
“People shouldn’t have to take off work in the middle of the afternoon to drive to Towson to make their voices heard,” she said, adding that she would work to move council work sessions to evenings and develop a way for people to submit testimony even if they cannot attend meetings in person.
Campaign finance is also an issue Ruth is focused on — she said she would propose a small donor public financing program for Baltimore County in order to “encourage politicians to engage with the community.”
For her own campaign, Ruth said she will not accept donations from developers or corporations.
Quirk’s campaign finances were the subject of scrutiny after developer Steve Whalen pleaded guilty in 2013 to making straw contributions in order to donate more than legally allowed to Quirk’s campaign. Quirk was not accused of wrongdoing.
Quirk and Ruth will face off in the Democratic primary on June 26. The general election is Nov. 6.
“I think we have a good record of getting a lot accomplished in the district,” Quirk said in response to Ruth’s candidacy. “I welcome the chance to showcase my record.”
Ruth said she plans to officially file her candidacy Wednesday afternoon. The filing deadline is the end of February.