Four candidates — two Democrats and two Republicans — are vying to succeed Councilman Mike Perrone as the District A representative on the Harford County Council.
Perrone, a Republican, was elected to the seat in 2014, unseating Democratic incumbent Dion Guthrie, who held the seat for 12 years and is working to regain it.
The district covers the Edgewood and Joppa areas in the southwestern corner of Harford County.
The statewide primary election is June 26, and early voting runs for one week prior to Election Day, from June 14 to June 21, according to the calendar on the Maryland State Board of Elections website.
Democratic and Republican voters will choose their party’s nominee in state and local races, and that nominee will move on to the November general election.
The Democratic candidates in the Harford County District A race include Guthrie, 79, of Joppatowne, and Andre Johnson, 46, of Edgewood.
The Republican candidates are Donna Blasdell, 52, of Edgewood, and Paula Mullis, 71, of Joppa.
“We’ve had little or no representation in the last four years,” Guthrie, who represented District A from 2002 to 2014, said. “I’ve had numerous people on both sides of the aisle ask me to run back and put us back on the map.”
Perrone, who grew up in Joppa and is a Joppatowne High School graduate, announced last October that he would not seek another term on the council so he could focus on his personal and professional life. He later filed to run for county executive in late February in the final hours of the candidate filing period.
He is challenging incumbent Harford County Executive Barry Glassman in the Republican primary. Glassman did not have a primary opponent until Perrone filed, and Perrone stated he wants to give the voters a choice.
He has often taken contrary positions as part of the seven member all-Republican council, such as casting the lone vote against pay raises for future members of the council in 2016. He offered a dozen amendments for stricter development regulations in legislation to create the Magnolia Neighborhood Overlay District that same year, none of which received a second from his colleagues, killing them before any discussion could happen.
He has also faced criticism from members of the community opposed to construction of the Ansar Housing Complex along Trails Way in Joppatowne. The project of more than 50 houses has been marketed as a “mini-peace village” for elderly members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Perrone was taken to task last summer for talking with Forest Hill homebuilder Bill Luther about Luther’s intentions to build the community, months before a groundbreaking, but not informing his constituents — Perrone said the conversations were confidential at the time as the project was not yet up for county approval and thus not a matter of public record.
Guthrie, a 52-year resident of Joppatowne, has been among the residents opposed to the project, citing concerns about the houses being open to Muslims only, although proponents have said anybody can buy a house in the community.
Perrone drew the ire of Harford County’s agricultural community this spring when he proposed an amendment to the fiscal 2019 county budget to stop funding for agricultural preservation next year with the eventual goal of shifting the more than $24 million in transfer tax revenue to other county needs such as improving school safety.
The amendment failed as the council passed the overall budget May 15.
“We need to elect somebody who knows how to be a legislator and unfortunately, we do not have that right now,” Guthrie said.
Guthrie is married with six children, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. He is a consultant and business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt. The union represents about 250 workers at Goddard.
He has previously worked as the full-time business manager and president of the IBEW in Maryland, and he spent 20 years as an unpaid registered lobbyist in Annapolis for retirees and “working men and women.”
He said lobbying gave him experience in working with Democrats and Republicans, and he noted he was the only Democrat on the Harford County Council during his first four-year term. He was one of two Democrats, along with Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti — now a state delegate — during his second and third terms.
“I was able to get over 90 percent of my [council] bills passed,” Guthrie said. “You just have to know how to be a legislator; you have to know how to work with both sides of the aisle.”
Guthrie is a 2000 graduate of the Harford Leadership Academy. The academy is a leadership development program sponsored by Harford Community College and the Harford County Chamber of Commerce, according to the HCC website.
Students learn about all government operations in Harford County. Guthrie recommends anyone running for local office participate in the academy “as soon as possible.”
“Learn something about your county and how it operates,” he said.
Andre Johnson, his opponent, is a first-time candidate for office. He grew up in Edgewood and is a 1990 graduate of Edgewood High School.
He retired from the Army as a staff sergeant in 2015, after 17 years in the service. He was a tank commander on the M1A2 Abrams tank, and he was deployed to Iraq from 2009 to 2010.
Johnson said he did not see extensive combat in Iraq, but his tank was part of convoys struck by improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. His tank was not hit, but other tanks and vehicles in the convoys were.
He is an employee of Baltimore City, conducting special investigations for housing and community development. Johnson and his colleagues track down the owners of about 30,000 vacant houses in the city, many of whom live out of state.
Johnson is married with five children.
He said he saw little difference in the community where he grew up when he returned to Edgewood after leaving the Army, save for a new strip mall along Route 40.
Johnson takes issue with “the fact that Edgewood doesn’t have any economic development.”
“I believe that Edgewood [and] Joppatowne should be one of the crown jewels of the county, and I just don’t see that,” he said.
Johnson wants to be “a beacon” for young people who “don’t really see any positivity.”
“I want to build my community, build the structure of our community and make it a vibrant, thriving community,” he said.
Johnson cited his military background and “just my willingness to get things done” as attributes that make him the best candidate. He said members of the military accept their missions and do not allow anything to deter them from accomplishing it.
“I’m goal oriented, goal driven and I’m a lifelong resident of District A,” he said. “I understand what the people want. I get out there and I talk to people, I engage people and I’m a fresh face, I have fresh ideas and I won’t be deterred; I want the very best for my community.”
Donna Blasdell, who serves as Perrone’s legislative aide, is married with nine children, including two sets of triplets, according to her campaign website.
She was born in Germany into a U.S. military family and grew up in the Fairfax area of Northern Virginia. She earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration from George Mason University in Fairfax.
She spent more than 15 years after college working as a project manager with contractors doing business with government agencies such as the Federal Aviation Administration, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, National Library of Medicine and NASA, according to her website.
Blasdell was a stay-at-home parent and was involved in church organizations and the PTAs at her children’s schools before she started as Perrone’s legislative aide at the beginning of his term in late 2014, she said in a recent interview.
“Working with Mike, I’ve discovered a passion for trying to help people as a legislator,” Blasdell said.
She decided to run for the seat after Perrone determined he would not seek re-election. This is her first run for elected office.
Southern Harford “seems to be under-represented” on the County Council and county government, and she wants to “help our citizens bring a voice to the council and try to bring some equity.”
“Some of our needs, I feel, have not been addressed well, such as economic development and revitalization,” she said.
She thinks she is the best candidate because of her work with the district.
“I’m aware of what the current trends are, and I think I can continue taking that knowledge and work with whatever council is in place to ensure the concerns of District A are heard and acted on,” Blasdell said.
Her opponent, Mullis, is the chair of the Joppa/Joppatowne Community Advisory Board. There are eight community advisory boards, or CABs, that represent unincorporated areas of the county, hold public meetings and advise the county executive’s administration about “matters of interest or concern” in each area, according to the county website.
Mullis has been involved with the board, for seven or eight years, beginning when the bodies were called Community Councils. She was appointed to her local community council by then-County Executive David Craig.
“We’re a very active community, a very active board, so I’m really proud of that,” she said.
Mullis has lived in Joppatowne for 45 years. She is married with two children and three grandsons.
She has been involved in the community throughout her time in Joppatowne, such as supporting her children’s school PTAs, working with the Harford County Republican Women for about 20 years — she is the group’s vice president and has held many other leadership roles, including president — plus she has worked with the Coast Guard Auxiliary.
Mullis helped teach boating safety and conduct safety exams of vessels at the Gunpowder Cove Marina, now called the Joppatowne Marina.
She also works for a company that conducts physical exams for the insurance industry, and she and her husband, Fred, have a company that does pre-employment drug testing and DNA testing.
“I’d just love to give back to the community that has given so much to me over the years,” she said.
Mullis said she is running for council because she wants to be a “strong voice” for the Joppa and Edgewood areas, to encourage businesses and new residents to move to the community.
She also wants to get the word out about local schools and programs such as the International Baccalaureate magnet program at Edgewood High School and Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness signature program at Joppatowne High School.
Mullis said she wants people to say Edgewood and Joppa are “lovely communities” where they would want to move and send their children to school.
“We are a lovely little community here, we really are,” she said.
Mullis has run for office in the past, including unsuccessful campaigns for County Council and the Republican Central Committee of Harford County.
“I’m giving County Council a try again, because I want to try and make a difference and be a voice,” she said.
Candidates across the state were required to file campaign finance reports in late May.
Documents posted on the State Board of Elections website indicate that Guthrie has raised the most cash of the four District A candidates between Jan. 11 and May 15.
Guthrie’s campaign raised $10,025, according to a disclosure form filed May 18. The campaign spent $4,115 between January and May. His largest contribution, $6,000, came from the IBEW’s PAC Educational Fund, of Washington, D.C., according to the form.
Johnson’s campaign raised $2,984.11 and spent $2,950.51 during the same period, according to his May 21 disclosure form.
Blasdell raised $1,223.60 and spent $722.44, according to her campaign’s May 23 form.
Mullis’ campaign filed an Affidavit of Limited Contributions and Expenditures May 22 stating that she would not raise or spend more than $1,000.
Mullis said Wednesday she still has funds from previous campaigns, as well as materials such as signs and bumper stickers.
“I really didn’t need to raise a lot of money,” she said.