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Democratic Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents southwestern Baltimore County, cast his vote in support of the HOME Act to prevent landlords from refusing rental applicants based on their use of federal housing vouchers, but says the bill likely won't have the impact its proponents expect.
Democratic Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents southwestern Baltimore County, cast his vote in support of the HOME Act to prevent landlords from refusing rental applicants based on their use of federal housing vouchers, but says the bill likely won't have the impact its proponents expect. (Jen Rynda, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Midterm elections nationwide brought a host of Republicans, including Larry Hogan, who won Maryland's gubernatorial race, to office last week.

The same occurred in Baltimore County on a smaller scale with the election of another Republican to the County Council, to bring the membership nearly even with three Republicans and four Democrats. The last time on record there was a 3-to-4 ratio on the council was in 1990 when three Republicans were elected to the 7-member legislative body.

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And like Hogan, who in the days following his election, touted that now is the time for both parties to come together to work for progress, several newly elected or re-elected County Council members say they believe the new makeup of the council brings better balance but also the opportunity to build on collaboration, already established by at least two council members.

Re-elected councilmen, Republican David Marks, who represents Towson and Perry Hall, and Democrat Tom Quirk, who represents Catonsville and Arbutus, plan to continue the non-partisan relationship they began last term to accomplish even more going forward.

Quirk points to 50 different bills and resolutions the pair collaborated on.

"There's a lot less partisan division at the local level. We are dealing with issues like schools, government services, firemen and teachers," Quirk said. "I am looking forward to working with the newcomers."

Those newcomers include Republican Todd Crandell, representing Dundalk and Essex and replacing longtime Democrat Councilman John Olszewski Sr. who stepped down. Crandell becomes the first Republican to represent that district since the County Council was formed in 1956.

Republican Wade Kach, a longtime state delegate who replaces Todd Huff, will represent North Baltimore County; and Democrat Julian Jones, who defeated incumbent Ken Oliver in the primary and was unopposed in the general election, represents Randallstown and Woodlawn.

Marks was unopposed in the general election and Quirk beat Republican Al Nalley. Democrat Vicki Almond was re-elected to represent Owings Mills and Pikesville; and Democrat incumbent Cathy Bevins won over Republican Jason Samios-Uy for the council seat representing the Middle River area.

Marks said the council is now better balanced.

"It's extremely healthy to have two parties represented," Marks said. "Voters are less disenchanted when you have two parties. There is a greater chance for accountability and for checks and balances."

Marks doesn't view his collaboration with Quirk on council matters as anything so formal as a bi-partisan alliance. Rather, he considers Quirk a friend who "drives a lot of discussion on the council and is interested in the same issues — planning and transportation — that I am."

"The council has never been overly partisan or divided like the state legislature or the U.S. Congress," said Marks, who was re-elected with 98.7 percent of the vote.

Marks cites two reasons: the non-partisan nature of the legislation and the nature of those who serve on the council. "The Republicans tend to be moderates and the Democrats conservative," he said. "We all literally try to get along."

Like Marks, Quirk also feels that having both parties represented on the council benefits Baltimore County.

"We are well past the time to put our focus on parties," he said. Two parties "makes for a fairly decent checks-and-balances (system) and it doesn't hurt to have different opinions and views."

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Kevin Kamenetz knows the County Council well. Before being elected county executive, he served four terms as the councilman representing Owings Mill and worked closely with Republicans and Democrats, he said last week. It's an example of local government that leaders in Annapolis and in Washington should emulate.

"Partisan politics has never been how we operate and clearly the voters recognize that," he said, listing a few issues — potholes and parks and school air conditioning — voters care about which are neither Republican nor Democratic.

"There are services to be delivered and problems to be solved, and if you do that voters will appreciate the results and the politics will take care of itself," Kamenetz said. He said he expects to continue the amiable relationship with both parties he had as a councilman and recently as county executive.

"That is what we've done in Baltimore County over my 20 years in office, and that is what we will continue to do. I look forward to working with the new council," he said.

The new County Council will deal with several important issues, from development, including the redevelopment of Towson, to negotiations with labor unions for county police and firefighters.

And, it is likely to revisit the Stormwater Remediation Fee, colloquially known as the "rain tax." The state mandated the tax on property-owners — individuals, companies, religious institutions — in certain jurisdictions, Baltimore County among them, but left fee structuring to the jurisdictions.

"I am hearing a lot of complaints about it," said Marks, noting that the two Republicans on the council at the time disagreed with the fee structuring.

Republican Kach, the newly elected 3rd District councilman, who replaces a Republican, believes the addition of another Republican seat on the council (Crandell) will make a difference in the council's dynamics and said there are differences between the parties on basic issues.

"When it comes to fiscal issues, party affiliation is important," said Kach, who represents the northern part of the county from Lutherville to the Pennsylvania line and who campaigned to change the property tax in Baltimore County.

"I am hoping party lines aren't gong to be a driving force on the council," Kach added.

Democrat Almond, re-elected incumbent in the 2nd District, agrees that the new 4-to-3 split changes the dynamics on the council, "but in a good way," she said.

She echoes the opinion of others who say the council is not particularly a partisan body. "When you have three Republican members, it does bring the Republicans to the forefront."

Almond is also hoping that the new council is more independent and less deferential to the Democratic administration than the previous council.

"This could strengthen the council," she said of the additional Republican. "We should be able to do things we didn't (before). I hope we develop more of a team spirit."

Towson University professor John Bullock said there are two, not necessarily compatible, results from the election of an additional Republican on the council.

On the one hand, said Bullock, who follows state and local politics, County Executive Kamenetz is a Democrat, as are most of the council members.

"You still have a majority of Democrats" governing the county, he said. "People may be expecting a shift in the council's policy priorities, but it may not be that big a shift."

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On the other hand, Bullock said, perhaps the added Republican signals the growing influence of Republicans in the county.

"People may look at it as an opportunity to have more public input into the council," Bullock said.

Even though Marks emphasizes the collegiality of the council, he can also cite two issues in the previous council where the votes split along party lines.

One issue was his bill to set a three-term limit for County Council members. Republicans supported it; Democrats did not. The other issue was expanding the speed camera program. Democrats supported it; Republicans did not.

It's too soon to tell how the reconfigured County Council will interact with Kamenetz, he said.

Marks hopes that the new council will not change the previous dynamic with the county executive, whom, Marks said, has worked equally with both Republicans and Democrats.

"The first test will be (Kamenetz's) appointments" to county department heads, over which the council has approval, Marks said. "I am going to urge my Republican and Democratic colleagues to give (appointees) the careful consideration they deserve."

The first signal of how the new council will work might come Dec. 1 when the body convenes. Traditionally a coalition of four members forms to elect the chairperson, a situation that usually allows each member of the coalition a turn at being chair during the four-member term.

Likewise, Almond won't predict the new council's working relationship with Kamenetz. "I would think the dynamic has to change but I don't know how," she said. "That remains to be seen."

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