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Two councilmen in 5th face primary challenges


Two Baltimore County Council incumbents are facing primary challenges in the reconfigured 5th District, and will face one another in the November general election if they win on Tuesday.

The toughest fight appears to be in the Republican primary, where Councilman Wayne M. Skinner is facing off against Del. James F. Ports Jr., who rose to prominence as a leader in the fight against an unpopular property condemnation initiative.

The race in the 5th District -- which includes parts of Towson, Perry Hall and Carney -- got off to an uncertain start. Skinner and Democratic Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, who were placed in the district when council lines were redrawn last year, announced their re-election bids with a certain amount of bitterness over having lost some of their home turf.

Gardina's announcement in July came a few weeks after he said he would run for state Senate. He decided on a council bid, however, after the state Court of Appeals rejected Gov. Parris N. Glendening's legislative district maps and drew new ones that Gardina said created a district with communities that were less familiar to him.

Ports had explored several options, including a run for county executive or Congress before he entered the council race. And political newcomer Al Svehla, a Democrat, decided to enter the race despite requests, including one from Gardina, that he wait.

All candidates have since run serious and intense campaigns.

Gardina, 46, from Perry Hall, has served three terms on the council, making a name for himself as an early champion of revitalization efforts in Essex.

Although Essex is no longer part of his district, Gardina says similar efforts are needed in the older communities of Parkville, Carney, Hillendale and in the Towson business district.

"In any area older than 40 years old, we need to look at directing resources to improve infrastructure," he said.

Gardina, who is an environmental engineer, said controlling development in all areas of the county is important. But at the same time, he added, the county needs to attract new businesses to create jobs.

Svehla, in his first run for public office, says he's not as long a shot as some might believe, especially in areas such as Towson, where Gardina is not a household name.

A 56-year-old county planner from Perry Hall, Svehla would have to give up his job if elected. After 29 years of service -- most of it in the county parks and recreation department -- Svehla said he would to like to make the council his full-time job.

He sees community conservation as the No. 1 issue facing the district. "The county has the force that brings everyone together on this issue," said Svehla.

While much emphasis has recently been placed on regional parks, Svehla said he also supports the "neighbor space" concept, where properties are put into a county trust and maintained by community groups.

On the Republican side, Skinner, a 48-year-old office manager for the state from Loch Raven Village, has served one term on the council. He lists his opposition to the expansion of the Baltimore County Detention Center in Towson and his work on traffic and parking complaints around Dulaney High School and Providence Road among his accomplishments.

"Traffic is one of the most common complaints from constituents, whether it's that their neighborhood is a cut-through for commuters or that they face congestion. It's everywhere in the district."

Ports, 43, of Perry Hall, has served three terms in the House of Delegates. But he scored political points by debating County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger on Senate Bill 509, a Ruppersberger initiative that would have expanded the county's power to condemn land for revitalization. The bill was overwhelmingly defeated in a county referendum.

Ports, an account executive with Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., said he decided not to run again for his 8th Legislative District seat because he supports term limits. And, he said, "I felt one of my strongest assets was working at the local level."

Ports says the county's open space program would be a priority for him if elected to the council. He envisions setting aside a large parcel of land that could be used for playing fields -- attracting mid-Atlantic youth competitions.

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