Three Republican candidates and one Democratic candidate are vying for the District C seat on the Harford County Council as the incumbent Councilman James McMahan is running for state delegate.
McMahan, also known as “Capt’n Jim,” is a Republican candidate for the District 34B seat in the Maryland House of Delegates. He was first elected to the District C council seat, representing the Town of Bel Air and the surrounding areas, in 2006. He is finishing his third term and is vice president of the seven-member council.
The four District C candidates running this year are Republicans Susan Burdette, Tony “G” Giangiordano and Patti Parker, and Democrat Karen Kukurin.
The Republican winner of the June 26 statewide primary election will face the uncontested Kukurin in the November general election. The deadline to register to vote or change one’s party affiliation is 9 p.m. on Tuesday. Early voting for the primary runs from June 14 to June 21.
There are four open seats on the County Council, including McMahan’s, as the current office holders are not seeking re-election to those positions.
Council President Richard Slutzky is retiring after 16 years on the council, the past four as president; District A Councilman Mike Perrone is running for county executive; and District E Councilman Patrick Vincenti is running for council president.
Susan Burdette, 64, of Bel Air, is married with two sons. She is currently the chair of the Bel Air Board of Town Commissioners, which carries the honorary title of mayor. She has served on the town board since 2011 and her fellow commissioners selected her as mayor in 2015.
Burdette is heavily involved, beyond her work with the town, with organizations serving Harford County and statewide organizations such as the Maryland Municipal League: she is president of the MML’s Cecil-Harford chapter, which has helped her make connections with multiple state leaders including Gov. Larry Hogan and First Lady Yumi Hogan.
“As a council member, I could do a lot more now that I have all this experience and all these connections,” she said.
The District C council member serves the Town of Bel Air, as well as greater Bel Air and part of Forest Hill. District council members also deal with countywide issues. Burdette said she worked at every county library branch during her 35-year career with the Harford County Public Library serving in roles such as librarian and programming and community relations specialist. She also helped start the Friends of the libraries’ groups to support each of the 11 branches. She is now retired from the library system.
Issues of concern include fighting the ongoing opioid crisis and preserving farmland.
“It is important that we preserve that farmland and that we do have more and more families that are buying local [produce],” she said.
Burdette said she agrees with County Executive Barry Glassman’s administration’s policies on growth and development, ointing to the 2016 HarfordNEXT master plan, as more affordable housing is needed for seniors who want to retire to Harford County, as well as for young families that want to move to the area.
“I think what the administration is doing now is going in the right direction,” she said.
Burdette said she has been involved in countywide initiatives to fight opioids, such as a the 2017 National Opioid Crisis Community Summit at the Edgewood Area of Aberdeen Proving Ground, and she has worked with police at the municipal level to help steer overdose victims toward recovery services.
The local initiative, which she worked on with Bel Air Police Chief Charles Moore, started in January in response to officers having to respond multiple times to the same people having overdoses. A town police officer who responds to an overdose call can refer the victim, or their family, to county programs that offer mental health and social services support.
“The officer doesn’t feel like they just walked out the door leaving a Band-aid on [the problem],” Burdette said.
Republican candidate Tony “G” Giangiordano, 55, is the owner of AAG Insurance in downtown Bel Air. He founded the firm in 1993, and he now has five fully licensed agents and more than 3,500 current policy holders.
Giangiordano said he has counseled 80 to 90 percent of those business and individual clients.
“I’ve met with thousands of clients over 25 years,” he said.
Giangiordano, who is not married and has no children, grew up in Bel Air and graduated from Bel Air High School in 1980. He went on to earn a degree in business administration from Harford Community College and a degree in marketing from the University of Maryland at College Park.
He joined the MetLife insurance company after college and later worked in commercial lending for Transamerica before founding his company.
Giangiordano is involved in the community, too, having been the past treasurer for the Bel Air Jaycees, and he is a founding member of the Society of Italian-American Businessman — that group has raised about $228,000 over four years for distribution to charitable organizations and for scholarships — plus he is a member of the Chesapeake Professional Women’s Network. He said is probably the only male member of that organization.
He said he has heard through clients multiple concerns on issues facing Harford County over the years, such as crime, drugs, zoning, finding qualified employees, business regulations, transportation, taxes and how the county spends its revenue.
“And I’ve tried to help solve those [issues],” he said.
Giangiordano is making his first run for elected office.
“You’ve got to give back to the community. I thought this was one of the ways — to take my knowledge and experience in dealing with individuals, businesses, my background in finance and community involvement [to the County Council],” he said.
Republican Patti Parker, 44, is also making her first run for office. The mother of two is the board president of Visit Harford! Inc., the quasi-governmental organization established under the Glassman administration to promote tourism in Harford.
Parker also works as the director of sales and marketing for Homewood Suites by Hilton in Riverside. She has been in the hospitality field for about 20 years, and she serves on the Harford County Economic Development Advisory Board.
“A lot of my expertise has revolved around economic development and tourism-related activities,” she said.
Parker grew up in Bel Air. Her family has been in Harford County for five generations, three of those generations in Bel Air.
“I want my kids to want to come back here, and I worry about the progress that we’re making and the decisions that we’re making to attract future generations,” she said.
Parker said she thinks she can bring “a unique perspective” to the council, “one that is respectful of the heritage but is also looking toward the future.”
Parker said Bel Air is a good place to retire — SmartAsset.com wrote earlier this year that Bel Air is the best place to retire — but she also wants to continue to build the tax base and have a “vibrant community” for people of all ages.
Parker said the county should focus on strong schools, public safety and quality housing, as well as attracting businesses that offer high pay and career longevity. She also wants to promote greater vocational training for high school students and building connections between those programs and companies that need such workers.
“We’re not living up to our full potential,” Parker said. “I think that we could be doing more.”
Karen Kukurin, 65, and her husband, Ron Olsen, a former WMAR-TV reporter and anchor, have lived in Bel Air South since 2015. Both are retired, and they moved from California to be closer to family and friends.
“We had friends here in Harford, so we started looking around,” Kukurin said. “We really loved what we saw, and it was just so charming.”
She has been a business executive, worked with the United Way in Los Angeles and even served as deputy director for former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Hollywood star who led the Golden State from 2003 to 2011.
“I understand the need for [social] safety nets, but I also understand business,” she said.
Kukurin did not think she would run for office, “but I feel compelled to do it.”
“I started noticing, just over the time I’ve been here, this encroaching development,” Kukurin said.
She cited the “monster Walmart project that was going to be as big as eight football fields, right up the street from me.”
Walmart, the Arkansas-based retail giant, announced in 2012 plans to build a 186,000 square-foot store on 35 acres at Route 924 and Plumtree, in the midst of a corridor that is already heavily developed and traveled. The site is zoned B3, for high-intensity commercial use.
Walmart faced intense public opposition to the project, as well as a requirement by Harford County to spend $6 million on traffic improvements. The company announced in November 2015 that it would not build in Bel Air, as it could not reach an agreement to get an extension on its contract to purchase the property from the owner, the Baltimore-based Haron Dahan Foundation.
The retailer announced in 2016 plans to expand its existing store on Constant Friendship Boulevard in Abingdon, near the Route 24/I-95 interchange.
Kukurin remains concerned about development in the Bel Air area, whether at the Route 924 and Plumtree site that is still zoned B3, or along Route 22 that could require major improvements to the well-traveled highway.
She wants the County Council to adhere to the HarfordNEXT master plan and existing zoning ordinances, regardless of requests from developers.
“These council members make decisions based on special interest,” Kukurin said. “No one holds them accountable, there’s no checks and balances, and I don’t want to see this wonderful community turned into a cement jungle.”
Burdette raised $14,161 and spent $4,801.53 between Jan. 11 and May 15, according to her most recent financial disclosure form dated May 21 and posted on the Maryland State Board of Elections website.
Giangiordano raised $5,540, and his campaign spent $4,123.02, according to his May 22 report.
Parker raised $14,422.16, and her campaign spent $10,102.49, according to her May 21 report.
Kukurin raised a combined $4,675 and spent $143.49 between January and May, according to two reports her campaign filed, one on April 16 and the other on May 18.