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Republicans see opportunity in Dundalk area council race

When voters in eastern Baltimore County go to the polls in November, the ballot will be missing a familiar name: John Olszewski Sr., a Dundalk Democrat who has served nearly 16 years on the County Council.

When Olszewski announced he would not seek a fifth term to represent District 7, five Democrats competed in the party's June primary; one Republican ran unopposed.

Now, as Democrat Joe DiCara and Republican Todd Crandell face off in the general election, the race is drawing attention from state GOP leaders. They see the void left by Olszewski as an opportunity to make inroads in a Democratic stronghold.

No Republican has been elected to represent Dundalk on the County Council since the panel was formed in 1956 — although W. Brooks Bradley, a Dundalk undertaker who served on the council in the late 1950s and early 1960s, eventually switched parties and ran for Congress as a Republican.

DiCara and Crandell have also switched parties: DiCara was a Republican and ran for the House of Delegates in 1998; Crandell was a Democrat when he sought a House seat in 2010. Neither won his race.

Jobs and economic growth are top issues in a district that includes Dundalk, Edgemere and parts of Essex and Rosedale. The closure of the Sparrows Point steel mill in 2012 was the most high-profile of several economic setbacks the traditionally blue-collar community has faced in recent years.

Both men grew up in the district.

An Essex resident who directs marketing and public relations for One Source Imaging Solutions in White Marsh, DiCara says he knows how to woo business to the area. He has worked as a county music teacher, state economic development official and as the county's deputy director of economic development.

"People need a living wage," DiCara, 65, said. "Retail is nice, but manufacturing, assembly, environmental technologies all have a place here."

Crandell, 44, of Dundalk, works for the Aurora Group, an Annapolis insurance and finance firm with space industry clients. He pledges to focus on redevelopment and revitalization, and backs incentives for home ownership and limits on subsidized housing.

He says he's an outsider who offers "an opportunity to move away from the old-boy network that has led to the downward economic spiral of our district."

Recently, DiCara faced criticism over a claim on his website that he earned a master's degree from the University of Baltimore, which he had not. He says the website designer made a mistake, and the claim has been removed.

The seven-member County Council currently has two Republicans — Councilman David Marks of Perry Hall, who is unopposed in his re-election bid, and Councilman Todd Huff of Lutherville, who lost his primary race.

The state Republican Party has taken an interest in Dundalk, where House and Senate seats are also up for grabs, and have been polling likely voters.

Democrats have a more than 2-1 advantage in voter registration in Maryland, but state GOP party director Joe Cluster says residents of the district there have gone Republican in recent presidential and gubernatorial elections.

"I think this year is going to be very good for us in the Dundalk area," Cluster said.

Crandell has monetary edge in the race, with about $14,100 in his campaign account, according to finance information filed this past week. DiCara has roughly $6,100.

Cluster says residents are frustrated by issues such as the state's stormwater remediation fee — often derided as the "rain tax." Many residents also are unhappy with the county's sale of the North Point Government Center to developers, an initiative backed by Democrats, including Olszewski and County Executive Kevin Kamenetz.

Frustration with government dominated by one party can lead people to look for alternatives, said political scientist John Bullock of Towson University. If people feel their voice isn't being heard, "they might begin to look at different options," he said.

Declining union membership and the promise of lower taxes could also help Republicans in Dundalk, Bullock said.

But Olszewski, whose son John Olszewski Jr. is seeking the state Senate seat vacated by the retiring Sen. Norman Stone, isn't ready to concede the area to the GOP.

He says good things are happening in the district, such as the Sollers Point Multi-Purpose Center, a library, recreation center and community museum that opened in 2011 in Turners Station, and new single-family housing such as Yorkway, a project that replaced crime-ridden apartments.

"The Democratic representatives that we've had have done a great job over the years," he said. "When the constituents look ... they'll see that we've fought for their interests in Annapolis and in Towson."

Baltimore Sun librarian Paul McCardell contributed to this article.

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Todd Crandell

Party: Republican

Age: 44

Education: Gilman School

Occupation: Partner, the Aurora Group

Family: Not married

Joe DiCara

Party: Democratic

Age: 65

Education: Bachelor of Science in Education, Towson State College (now Towson University)

Occupation: Director of marketing and public relations, One Source Imaging Solutions

Family: Married, two children, three grandchildren

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