Republican Donna Blasdell and Democrat Andre Johnson are facing each other in this year’s general election race for the District A seat on the Harford County Council.
The winner of the Nov. 6 election will succeed outgoing Republican Councilman Mike Perrone, who did not seek re-election to his seat after being elected in 2014 to one four-year term on the council. He was a last-minute entry in the primary to challenge Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, but lost by more than 8,000 votes.
He has not endorsed either candidate in the race, including for his legislative aide, Blasdell, the Republican candidate in the race to succeed him.
Blasdell, who has worked with Perrone throughout his term, “would do a great job in this position,” Perrone said, although he did not officially endorse her.
“I think it just feeds that perception that politics is this kind of insiders’ game,” he said of endorsements among elected officials and candidates.
Blasdell, 53, of Edgewood, said she is honored to be the GOP nominee. She ran against Paula Mullis, of Joppatowne, in the primary, ånd won with 840 votes, compared to 588 for Mullis.
“I want to move forward and be [the District A] representative on the council,” she said Monday.
Blasdell, a married mother of nine, worked as a project manager for contractors doing business with federal agencies and then was a stay-at-home parent before she joined county government.
She said that during her time as a legislative aide she has established relationships with the community, county government and law enforcement officials.
“Working with Mike [Perrone], I’ve learned what the concerns are already for the district,” she said. “I think I can continue to reach out to the people and continue to make the improvements they want to see.”
Blasdell said she has heard many concerns that fall into four areas — crime and drugs; a lack of economic opportunity; a lack of educational opportunity; and a lack of public transportation options that would give local residents greater access to the education and job opportunities they desire.
She said she would work with law enforcement and the State’s Attorney’s Office to develop individual strategies to target specific crimes in specific areas, such as one neighborhood experiencing drug problems and another neighborhood dealing with vandalism.
On economic growth, she said county economic development staff should reach out to businesses and make them aware of the opportunities available in Joppa and Edgewood, such as various growth and development zones. Blasdell also said she wants to see more businesses that provide entertainment options for families, such as ice rinks, movie theaters, bowling alleys, “something to keep the families in the areas with something fun to do.”
Blasdell said she would “definitely” want to see Harford Community College’s proposed applied technology center come to the Route 40 corridor, preferably in Joppa or Edgewood, so youths can take college classes in their community and adults can learn a trade or earn a GED.
She said constituents want to see the county’s bus service expand the number of routes, offer extended hours on weekdays and run during weekends. She said an express route to HCC would help students who must spend three hours — one way — on buses to get to the college’s main campus in Bel Air.
She suggested the transit service set up pilot programs to determine the level of interest.
“It’s a catch-22,” Blasdell said. “You can’t have the riders until you have the routes, and you can’t have the routes until you have the riders.”
Johnson, 47, of Edgewood, won a hard-fought primary battle against former District A Councilman Dion Guthrie to become the Democratic Party nominee. Guthrie, a resident of Joppatowne, represented District A from 2002 to 2014 — he was defeated by Perrone in a re-election bid four years ago.
Johnson won his primary race against Guthrie by a much narrower margin of 199 votes — 1,416 votes to Guthrie’s 1,217 votes.
Johnson said he and Guthrie are both “very competitive.”
“I would like for him and his constituency [in Joppatowne] to know that I’m going to try to bring both communities together, to have one focus, and I hope I garner their support as well,” Johnson, who grew up in Edgewood, said Monday.
Johnson works for Baltimore City, conducting special investigations for the city’s housing and community development department to find the owners of vacant houses. He retired from the Army in 2015 as a staff sergeant, after 17 years in the military. He was deployed to Iraq, where he was a tank commander.
Johnson, a first-time candidate for office, said he is “willing to take on the challenge” of being on the council.
“Just talking to the people in my district, there are a number of issues that the people really want to see addressed,” he said.
Johnson said he had heard concerns about bringing a recreation center to Joppatowne, caring for local waterways, the need to redevelop local infrastructure, bringing more businesses to the area and the desire to “generate more of a community feel for the residents of Edgewood.”
Johnson has also heard concerns about the status of Joppatowne High School. Some people fear the high school will be closed — school system and county government leaders have denied that will happen — and others have asked whether the building will receive a facelift, he reported.
A “limited renovation project” for Joppatowne High is part of Harford County Public Schools’ proposed capital improvement plan for fiscal 2019. The school board must approve the CIP in September for submission to the county and state government for funding — HCPS officials made their most recent presentation to the board during its Aug. 13 meeting.
The limited renovation for Joppatowne, which has not had a major overhaul since it opened in 1972, includes an array of improvements, according to HCPS documents. School system officials plan to improve the electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems, make “life safety” improvements such as adding a backup generator; improvements to existing classrooms; building new classrooms and gathering spaces; improved access for people with disabilities; security upgrades such as a vestibule at the main entrance; and repairing and repaving the parking lot; according to documents.
“Joppatowne High School has a dynamic homeland security program, and the school needs to be upgraded and renovated for the community,” Johnson said, referring to the school’s Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Program, a signature program for Joppatowne students.
“The District A community has been underserved for years and it’s time for a strong voice that’s actually going to fight for the needs of the community,” Johnson said. “There’s no more time for any lip service; it’s really time for action.”
“The fact that I can reach different segments of the community and reach across the aisle and make deals with different people will definitely be an asset,” Johnson said.
He said that, as a military veteran, “I know that I have to accomplish the mission for my constituents.”
“It’s been a challenging four years and I’m looking forward to returning to the real world of work,” Perrone, 42, said recently.
He is a licensed Certified Public Accountant. He ran The Sharing Table, a soup kitchen and food pantry, through Prince of Peace Church in Edgewood from 2007 to 2011 and then again from 2013 to 2015.
Perrone said he plans to “get into some type of full-time accounting,” either in the corporate or nonprofit sector, when he leaves office.
He has faced challenges during the past four years, often being the lone “no” vote on key pieces of legislation, such as a bill to grant raises to council members.
He also raised the ire of the local farming community in the spring when he proposed shifting millions in transfer tax revenue away from agricultural preservation and toward what he saw as more pressing needs such as the county-run EMS, school safety and employee raises.
The proposal did not gain any traction, and the fiscal 2019 budget passed 6-1 in May with the ag preservation funding intact — Perrone cast the lone “no” vote on the budget.
“I ran because I wanted to make legislative changes that would help make District A more fertile for investment, and I also wanted to streamline and bring more efficiency and effectiveness to the way county government operates,” Perrone said Monday.
He expressed frustration that the county executive’s administration “has always had the votes they needed on the council to get their agenda through, whether I went along with them or not,” which made it more difficult to gain support to help the communities in his district.
“I don’t like to talk a whole lot,” he said. “I like to let my deeds do the talking for me.”
District A is one of four seats on the seven-seat council that will have a new occupant following the election. Republican Councilman James McMahan, who represents the greater Bel Air area in District C, is not on the general election ballot — he made a run for state delegate and was defeated in the June primary.
District E Councilman Patrick Vincenti, a Republican who represents the Aberdeen and Churchville areas, is the Republican nominee in the race for County Council president. He and Democrat Frank “Bud” Hines are running to succeed Council President Richard Slutzky, who is retiring after 16 years on the council, the last four as president.