Both Democratic and Republican candidates list education and development issues as top concerns in the 35th Legislative District, which takes in all of rural northern Harford County and the populous county seat, Bel Air.
The steady march of development since the 1990s north from Interstate 95 has created a melting pot of commuters, small-town residents and multigeneration farming families in the district.
In the race for the seat in the Maryland Senate, a three-way Republican primary pits incumbent Sen. J. Robert Hooper against former state delegate Anthony M. DiPietro Jr. and newcomer Kenneth E. Unitas.
No Democrats or third-party candidates filed in the race.
Hooper, 66, a one-term incumbent, is co-owner of Harford Sanitation Services. He was a Harford County councilman from 1982 to 1990. A resident of Street, Hooper said education and the state budget deficit are his chief concerns, as well as helping his constituents locally.
"I'm a hands-on type person, not a highfalutin person," he said. "And I'm accessible."
DiPietro, 67, of Fountain Green, ran his family's auto shop in Canton before his retirement and served as a state delegate from Southeast Baltimore for 16 years.
He said that his experience would aid the county delegation and that he would seek to curb "runaway" property tax assessments and increase funding for education and farm preservation. "You can't grow tomatoes on asphalt," he said. "You've got to protect the farmers."
Unitas, 34, a Defense Department contractor and community college instructor from Bel Air, said he has "a passion for education" and sees boosting schools as his No. 1 priority. "We have a responsibility to protect and educate our kids," said the retired Anne Arundel police officer and son of former Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas.
Two Democrats and three Republicans have filed for the single seat in the Maryland House of Delegates representing District 35B, a newly created district around Bel Air.
Democrat David E. Carey, 38, a Bel Air lawyer, is chairman of the Harford County Democratic Central Committee and a two-term Bel Air commissioner. He is currently town mayor, a rotating position appointed by commissioners.
He said he would push to increase funding for public schools. He sees impact fees as the best way to address growth issues. "It's a tough issue and divisive," he said. "We have to do it. That's really my No. 1 priority."
Carey faces Charles F. Wagner, 49, a Bel Air lawyer and former boilermaker who is making his first run at public office.
Growth in the county is also his top concern. "It's what the rest of the problems stem from," Wagner said. He said he would also work to further Smart Growth, better state budgeting and fire and public safety concerns.
In the Republican race, Francis J. "Frank" Eurice, a consultant to long-term care facilities, is facing attorney Susan K. McComas and insurance agent Robert E. Shaffner.
Eurice, 55, who ran for state Senate in 1986, is a former rugby player who lives in Abingdon. Eurice decided to seek office because he believes education funding is lacking. "We need to get our fair share here in Harford County," he said.
Eurice said health issues are high on his list, including the cost of prescription medication and how effectively the state spends its health dollars.
McComas, 51, is a Bel Air lawyer who has been a town commissioner since 1987. She has served three times as mayor. She is also a member of the Republican Central Committee. She sees traffic, schools, crime and drugs as key issues.
The crowded Route 24-Emmorton Road corridor to Interstate 95 in the Bel Air area is a traffic concern she hopes to work on in Annapolis. "I'm going to be looking to really partner with the State Highway Administration to address the congestion," she said.
Shaffner, 60, of Abingdon, is an insurance and commercial real estate agent concerned about education and insurance reform. He ran for the House of Delegates in 1998. He said the price of health insurance is forcing many small businesses to drop coverage for workers, and the system needs reform so businesses can afford insurance.
On schools, he adds, "I am just totally disappointed in a system that spends the kind of money we do on students ... and we're no better off than we were before."
Two-seat District 35A, which includes several new precincts near Aberdeen, covers traditionally conservative Darlington, Jarrettsville, Fallston and a slice of suburban northern Bel Air and Forest Hill. No Democrats filed in this district.
In the Republican primary, single-term incumbent Barry Glassman, 40, is a claims specialist with Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and owner of a small sheep farm in Darlington. He served on the Harford County Republican Central Committee from 1986 to 1990, and the Harford County Council from 1990 to 1998.
Glassman said he wants "to protect and promote northern Harford County, through land preservation, protecting local businesses and shoring up school construction funds." Another priority issue, he said, is campaign finance reform.
Joanne S. Parrott, 61, also a one-term incumbent, is president of the board of directors at Highlands School for learning-disabled children in Street. The Fallston resident was a Harford County councilwoman from 1986 to 1998 and served as council president from 1994 to 1998.
Parrott said she would work to secure state money to decrease classroom size, improve technology and fund construction projects. She would also like to see more state funding directed to community colleges because "they play a very important role in the job market."
David W. Shrodes, 50, an auctioneer and chairman of Harford County's Liquor Control Board, is running against the two incumbents. He is a past chairman of the county's Democratic Central Committee. He changed his party affiliation this year.
Education and agricultural preservation top his list of legislative priorities. "Our schools are beginning to look like trailer parks," he said, referring to portable classrooms. "We need to be able to get a big piece of the [school funding] pie for north Harford."
Sun staff researcher Sheila Jackson and writer Ben Piven contributed to this article.