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Dissatisfaction in town not the reason for large field in Bel Air election, outgoing officials say

Nine candidates, including one incumbent, are running for three seats on the Bel Air Board of Town Commissioners in Tuesday's election.
Nine candidates, including one incumbent, are running for three seats on the Bel Air Board of Town Commissioners in Tuesday's election. (Erika Butler/The Aegis / Baltimore Sun)

It’s been more than a decade since the Town of Bel Air has seen a field as large as the one in Tuesday’s election, with nine people running for three seats on the board of town commissioners.

Commissioners Susan Burdette and Brendan Hopkins, whose seats are up for election this year but are not running again, don’t think there are so many candidates because they’re unhappy with how the town is being run.

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“Everyone seems like they’re totally satisfied; I was surprised at the number of people running,” Burdette, who was elected in 2011, said. “I don’t get the vibe that people are running to make changes or because they don’t like the way things are going.”

The polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Bel Air Town Hall Tuesday; 7,662 residents are eligible to vote for three of the nine candidates.

The only incumbent running is Philip Einhorn, hoping to win a second term. Other candidates are Kevin Bianca, Daniel Gray, Erin Hughes, Donna Kahoe, William Kelly, Michael Kutcher, James Lockard and James “Capt’n Jim” McMahan.

The League of Women Voters of Harford County will be hosting a forum Wednesday, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., at Bel Air Town Hall on 39 N. Hickory Ave., to give voters a chance to get to know the candidates.

Bel Air commissioners are elected to staggered four-year terms — three commissioners will be elected this year, two in 2021. There are no elections in even years in Bel Air.

The most candidates in town elections since 2005 was seven, in 2007. In 2017, four candidates ran for two seats; in 2015, five candidates sought three seats; in 2013, one incumbent and one newcomer ran uncontested; in 2011, five people ran; four in 2009 and three in 2005.

Burdette said it could be because so much is going on in town — she attended two ribbon cuttings for new businesses Friday.

“People have more of an opportunity to be volunteers and be involved a little and they get an idea of what’s going on and they just want to more a part of it,” she said.

Hopkins said most of the nine running are “quality candidates." Having a lot of candidates requires them to get themselves out there.

“I think it forces them to have to campaign and let the citizens know, ‘this is my plan for Bel Air and Bel Air’s future,’” Hopkins said. “If it’s an unopposed election, you’re getting what you get and voters don’t have a choice. I like that voters get to choose.”

Hopkins, who served one term, said serving as a town commissioner has been very time-consuming, and while he’ll miss working with the staff and interaction with citizens, “kids are only kids once. I look forward to more time with my kids.”

He thinks he and his colleagues on the board of town commissioners would have heard from residents if they weren’t happy with how the town is being run. Since few people come to the town meetings, he presumes they’re doing a good job.

He’s hoping to see a bigger voter turnout this year — the last two town elections have drawn about 5 percent of those eligible.

“In order to get separation from candidates, we need more than 400 to 500 people to vote,” Hopkins said.

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In the 2007 race with seven candidates, voter turnout was 14.24 percent, the highest of the seven most-recent elections. Turnout in 2009 was 13.66 percent and 2011 was 11.3 percent, while the uncontested 2013 race drew a 2 percent turnout.

One of the issues Hopkins said he thinks could come up is a new Bel Air Police Department, which is as close as it has ever been to moving forward.

It’s possible, with the potential for three new commissioners, the approach could change, but Hopkins doesn’t think so.

“This is the third time with the police station, but I think it’s gotten to the point with Bel Air Police Department they don’t have a choice but to build a new one,” Hopkins said.

Given the mold and mildew and unsafe conditions for processing and storing evidence in the existing building, Hopkins said he doesn’t see how the town can get around building a new space.

While only three people can win a commissioner’s seat, Burdette hopes the town will take advantage of all the candidates’ interest.

“The ones that don’t win we’ll grab up and put on committees and commissions,” Burdette said.

The town doesn’t have difficulty in getting people to serve in those capacities, but it’s also nice to get new people involved.

“I’ve noticed a lot of people on those boards and commissions will be retiring or leaving,” she said. “I’m afraid we’ll have a lot of people leaving all at once. It’s good to have people waiting to take their place.”

If you go

What: Bel Air Town Commissioners forum, presented by the League of Women Voters of Harford County

When: 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 30

Where: Bel Air Town Hall, 39 N. Hickory Ave.

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