Democrat Liz Walsh entered the District 1 County Council race four months ago and has raised a fraction of the funds compared to her opponent, incumbent Jon Weinstein. Following Tuesday’s primary, 41 votes separate them.
Weinstein got 50.3 percent of the district’s 6,137 votes during the primary and early voting. More than 1,500 absentee and provisional ballots remain to be tallied before election certification on July 6.
So who is this political newcomer who could take down the seemingly popular incumbent?
Walsh, 47, is an Ellicott City resident and construction attorney who said development is the issue that led her to run.
“I think we gave voice to a lot of different groups who didn’t feel like they were being heard,” Walsh said Wednesday. “I think the overdevelopment resonated everywhere in District 1 I think those of us with kids in schools see the effects of that in class sizes. And those of who care about green issues, historic Ellicott City, we see the impact of that in our watershed.”
Walsh said she remains optimistic that the absentee and provisional ballots left to be tallied will sway the election her way. The county received 807 provisional ballots this year and voters requested more than 1,700 absentee ballots; 721 absentee ballots have been returned for counting.
Weinstein, 50, beat his opponents in narrow primary and general elections in 2014 and remains equally optimistic about his chances. He ends his first four-year term on the council this year and also serves as executive director of the management consultant firm The Newberry Group.
“I am no stranger to tight races. A bunch of people who were supporting me were saying, ‘Oh you know this should be an easy race for you,’ and I said, ‘Don’t count on that,’” Weinstein said Wednesday. “Every race has its own dynamic. It’s definitely closer than I thought it was going to be, but I thought it was going to be close.”
Weinstein’s campaign had $71,130.67 on hand at the end of the June 15 reporting period. Walsh had $2,011.35.
One possible answer to what swayed voters: the May 27 flood in historic Ellicott City, the second deadly flood to strike the district in less than two years.
Lisa Markovitz, president of the political organization The People’s Voice and a 2014 candidate in District 1, said the issue of development was already on many voters’ minds in the wake of the county’s housing development regulation update and school redistricting, but that the flood made it even more urgent.
“All that kind of placed development as an issue in this election and I think that Liz came clearly out on the side of slowing down growth and limiting development,” Markovitz said. “The redistricting concerns, [housing development regulations] being strengthened, it created that issue in this election already. The flood happening again I think added a lot of concern to those already increased concerns.”
Walsh pounced on development in the watershed and its effect on flooding in the days following the Ellicott City disaster over the Memorial Day weekend. She released a legislative action plan to tackle the issue four days after the flood, including proposals to audit the Department of Planning and Zoning, fund an early warning flood alert system and more stringent stormwater management regulations.
Weinstein, however, said in the wake of the flood, he near stopped campaigning, instead focusing his time on flood recovery.
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“The last four weeks, I more or less suspended campaigning to focus on recovery from the flood. I think I knocked on doors twice since the flood,” he said. “So I think that had an impact, because the most crucial time is the last few weeks before voting begins. So I thought I could have gotten more votes if I had gone out.”
If Weinstein succeeds in hanging onto the party’s nomination to face Republican Raj Kathuria in November, Markovitz said he’ll need to be transparent with voters about what is possible in slowing down development in the district, which includes neighborhoods in Ellicott City, Elkridge and Hanover.
Weinstein has introduced legislation to place a yearlong moratorium on development in the watershed, but Markovitz said he’ll need to do more to address the issue with voters.
“If he wins it’s going to be by such an incredibly slim margin that he has a lot of constituents then who have expressed an extreme concern that obviously has to be addressed,” she said.
Neither candidate had future plans yet for if they lose the election.
“[Our team said], ‘If we’re in this, we’re going at this hard from day one and we have every intention of making this meaningful and impactful,’” Walsh said. “We obviously knew it was a long shot, we knew we’d be outfunded and we were undeterred. It just made us more resolved to put in the manpower.”