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Kazimir, McMahan face off for Bel Air seat in Harford council race

Democrat Gina Kazimer, left, is challenging incumbent Republican Councilman Jim McMahan for the Harford County Council's District C seat representing the greater Bel Air area.
Democrat Gina Kazimer, left, is challenging incumbent Republican Councilman Jim McMahan for the Harford County Council's District C seat representing the greater Bel Air area. (The Aegis / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

A political newcomer is challenging incumbent Republican James "Capt'n Jim" McMahan, who is seeking a third four-year term on the Harford County Council.

Democratic nominee Gina Kazimir, who has lived in Bel Air's Howard Park for 14 years, said District C, which includes the Bel Air area, needs a new voice.

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"I believe he has lost touch with the real needs of his constituents," Kazimir said, referring to McMahan's record on issues like pay raises for future county executives and council members.

"I was very dismayed that he disregarded constituents with that support for the raises," Kazimir said.

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Kazimir, who turned 50 Thursday, said she is also concerned about a pattern of adding staff to the council office and would look into whether the office needs to be that big.

She is especially focused on education and adequately funding teachers, as well as other county employees.

McMahan, meanwhile, said he has "advocated strongly" for teachers and other government employees, noting he was has been endorsed by the Harford County Sheriff's Office.

"There is no way the council could have provided raises if the administration did not send them over," he said.

McMahan said he would continue supporting employees in the future but also said he wants to see a leaner county government.

"The next county executive is going to have to make some extremely difficult choices on programs and people," McMahan said from his office Monday. "I am here to support the reorganization, and the reorganization has to take place."

He added the reorganization has to start "at the top," and "once you pare out the excesses," changes can trickle down to other employees.

"I am expecting the new county executive to reorganize the excess programs, or the non-essential people that support them," he said. "We have got to get lean and mean in this economy."

When asked about the council office, however, which has added employees in recent years, McMahan said adding positions like a legislative aide for each council member made sense.

McMahan, 76, a former policeman and radio personality, pointed out he has gotten 432 constituent requests in the past six months, amounting to 2-1/2 requests daily that must be researched, he said.

He was first elected to the council in 2006 and re-elected in 2010. McMahan said he is a retired Maryland Army National Guard colonel and a former Bel Air town commissioner.

Besides government reorganization, McMahan said he supports limiting development, especially in the Route 924 area.

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"I am opposed to over-development of Plumtree Road and Route 924," he said, declining to elaborate.

The intersection drew a community outcry when Walmart proposed a store there, most notably. Apartments have also been proposed for the area and a MedStar health facility is being built.

If re-elected, McMahan said he would keep advocating for employees and would support the administration "if a resolution is requested."

"I want to see whatever can be done to raise employee morale," he said, but added the council "has got to be able to look at whatever the administration sends over because, believe me, they are going to have to make some tough decisions."

McMahan said he never takes an election for granted but has been disappointed by what he called negative campaigning all around this year.

"I am focused on a very positive agenda," McMahan said, adding he was speaking "just in general, from all the candidates running for office this time."

Kazimir, who also lives in Bel Air and owns a communications firm, has been active in the Bel Air Downtown Alliance, Anna's House and Habitat for Humanity, among other groups.

She said the campaign has been going "very well" and she respects McMahan's service.

"I just disagree with him and think it's time for a change," Kazimir said.

Kazimir also said the county needs to work on traffic safety and reconsider how it is adding development to the development envelope, the county's designated development area.

Regarding the Walmart site proposed off Route 924, Kazimir said she wants to see more steps in the zoning process to require more exceptions for projects like a big-box store in an area like Plumtree and 924.

"One of the things I would really like to see is a review of the zoning requirements," she said. "I think we need a considerably greater number of special exceptions."

Kazimir said she was excited to see Harford County Public Schools offer more chances for the public to comment on the education budget, calling it "a fantastic first step in the process."

She also said she wants to see a quarterly meeting with all stakeholders at the Board of Education.

Kazimir said, unlike McMahan, "I don't believe in 'top-down' [approaches], either for raises or for governance."

"We must all create consensus and work together," she said.

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