The first challenger to County Executive Allan Kittleman in the 2018 election has declared his candidacy.
Republican Darren Vilus, 30, of Columbia, filed with the state board of elections last week to run against Kittleman in the primary election in June 2018. He is the first candidate of any political party to do so.
Vilus originally moved to the county in 1997, and now serves as a cashier at Weis Markets in Columbia. He graduated from Howard County Community College in 2015.
If elected, Vilus said his top priority would be education, and ensuring that young people are fully prepared to enter the workforce in Howard County. Vilus said he wants to take a hard look at the county schools' curriculum and place less of an emphasis on testing, and more on critical thinking skills.
Vilus does not have established stances on hot-button county issues such as the adequate public facilities ordinance or the upcoming school redistricting. However, he said he is firmly against last spring's proposed sanctuary bill, and favors stricter immigration laws.
He also said he wants to work to lower the cost of living in the county, andd ensure that the county is providing as many career opportunities for residents as possible.
"People are coming here looking to raise their kids, but jobs aren't giving them a chance or an opportunity," Vilus said.
Vilus said he is hoping to put up a strong fight against Kittleman, who narrowly won election in 2014. He particularly hopes to appeal to young people, and wants to inspire them to participate in local government.
Vilus has not yet established his campaign team, but did create a Twitter account for his candidacy.
"[I'm] hoping that I give it a good run," he said. "That I inspire young people to get more involved in what's going on in the county."
The first Democrat has entered the race for District 5's County Council seat, a seat currently held by Republican Greg Fox.
China Williams, who lives near West Friendship in Ellicott City, said she was driven to run for the seat because of the debate over the county's adequate public facilities ordinance. Williams said she does not feel the current legislation meant to update APFO is strong enough, and will not sufficiently protect the county's public schools from overpopulation and development.
"I'm going to make sure that there is a plan for handling the capacity issue for schools in the county," Williams said.
Williams moved to the county in 2016 from Catonsville, where she served as president of the Westowne Elementary School PTA for two years.
District 5 is one of the most crowded council races in the county — three Republican candidates have already filed to run.
"I think that a lot of the socially liberal, fiscally conservative residents of western Howard County can see me as an ally," Williams said.
At the state level, Democrat Katie Fry Hester is the first to enter the race for the District 9 Senate seat, which is currently held by Republican Gail Bates. The district includes Howard and Carroll counties.
Hester, a freelance consultant focusing on corporate sustainability and international development, said her main focus areas are health care, education and economic opportunities. This will be her first time running for political office, but Hester said her career has given her extensive experience in bringing communities together, something she said is integral to serving in office.
"We all want what's best for our kids," Hester said. "There's an enormous opportunity to unite people in Maryland around these issues."
Hester said she wasn't ready to say what specific issues she wanted to work on if elected, but that she wanted to listen and learn more about issues currently facing the Senate, and how she can contribute.