Candidates battle for District E County Council seat

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Three candidates — two Republican and one Democrat — are running for the open District E seat on the Harford County Council, as the current holder, Councilman Patrick Vincenti, is running for council president.

The Republicans include Diane Sengstacke, a Bel Air attorney, and Robert S. Wagner, a resident of greater Bel Air who spent 16 years on the council, 12 of them as the District E representative and the last four as council president.

Bridgette Johnson is the lone Democratic candidate. She is president and CEO of Bridgeline Solutions LLC.

District E covers a lot of territory in the central area of the county, stretching from the east Bel Air suburban communities around Fountain Green and part of Bel Air South in the Route 24/924 corridor through Churchville to greater Aberdeen.

Vincenti, a Republican and a resident of Churchville, was elected to the District E seat in 2014.

Early voting started Thursday, and it lasts through June 21. Election day for the statewide Democratic and Republican primary will be June 26.

Republican candidates

Sengstacke lives in the Tudor Manor community near Bel Air and is married with two children, a twin son and daughter.

This is her second run for the District E seat. She was unsuccessful in the Republican primary in 2014, losing to the eventual winner, Vincenti.

“I want to work for the citizens of Harford County and the businesses of Harford County,” she said. “I’ve worked hard all my life.”

Sengstacke, 62, is an attorney and senior partner in the Bel Air law firm of Sengstacke & Evans. Carolyn Evans is her law partner.

Sengstacke is also the owner and president of Home Title Co. of Maryland Inc. She sits on multiple local and state boards and commissions, such as the state’s Judicial Nominating Commission and Property Tax Assessment Appeal Board, as well as the county’s Economic Development Advisory Board, the Harford Community College Foundation board and the Welcome One Emergency Shelter board.

She is also a member of the Bel Air Rotary, is vice president of the Susquehanna Symphony Orchestra and sings in the Upper Chesapeake Chorus. The all-female group is affiliated with Sweet Adelines International, according to its website.

She describes herself as “ABC — Arts advocate, Business friendly, Committed to the community.”

Sengstacke said she will be “tough on crime” by working with law enforcement and prosecutors to combat opioids, preserve the county’s agricultural heritage, improve roads, especially at “dangerous intersections” such as Route 22 and Route 543 and Route 22 and Route 136, create more facilities for parks and recreation, complete the planned Maryland Center for the Arts at Route 24 and West Wheel Road, make local government leaner and more efficient, with lower taxes and fees and fewer regulations, plus attract more businesses to Harford.

“I hope to make a difference, keep Harford County great and make Harford County better,” she said.

Sengstacke said she thinks the current council has been responsive to citizen concerns.

“They have so many public hearings,” she said. “I think they’re being responsive — they listen and I will listen.”

Wagner, 60, of the Fountain Green area east of Bel Air, represented District E from 1990 to 2002, before being elected council president in 2002, a position he held through 2006, when he lost a re-election bid in the Republican primary to the eventual winner, Billy Boniface.

The lifelong resident of Harford County is “semi-retired,” having worked in recent years in the freight brokering field, coordinating trucks moving through the U.S. and Canada. Before that he was a farmer. He is married with four children.

“I think I have the experience and the knowledge that would serve the district well,” he said.

Wagner said that “everybody I’ve spoken with is anticipating” low voter turnout for the primary, since there is not a major issue on the local ballot, plus the election is happening when school is out for the summer and people start to go on vacation.

Wagner stressed it is important for voters to come out, particularly as more than one race for council seats have multiple Republican candidates.

“It’s critical that they do come out to vote on June 26, it really is,” Wagner said.

He entered the race toward the end of the filing period in February to give Republican voters a choice of more than one candidate in District E, he said.

“At the end of the day. I felt it was important that the district had a choice of candidates,” he said.

Wagner also said the council, Harford County’s legislative branch, hasn’t done a proper job in recent years of being a check and balance on the county executive’s administration, noting there have been a number of matters treated “almost like a pass through.”

“The council has taken on a different role in the past few years,” he said. “I don’t see them being the responsive body that they should be or the people expect to have.”

Wagner recalled sitting next to Harford County Executive Barry Glassman when they served on the council together from 1990 to 1998. Glassman is running for a second term as executive.

“I think we worked well in those eight years, and I think we can work together well in the next four,” Wagner said.

Issues of concern for him including providing the necessary resources to law enforcement to fight the ongoing opioid crisis, adequate funding for education and ensuring school safety, funding for fire and EMS companies, balancing growth with proper planning and making the council more responsive to citizens.

“You try to help as best you can in the role you have as a council member,” Wagner said. “I think it’s our role to take the time to listen, [to] be able to give some kind of definitive answer, and if you can’t, get back to them.”

Democratic candidate

Johnson, 47, of Aberdeen, is the lone Democratic candidate. She is making her first run for elected office.

Johnson, who has one daughter, grew up in Havre de Grace and joined the Army after she graduated from Havre de Grace High School in 1988. She served in the military for four years, leaving in 1992 with the rank of specialist.

She has a bachelor’s degree in government and international relations from the University of South Carolina in Columbia and a master’s from the University of Maryland, College Park in urban planning.

Johnson has worked for the City of Havre de Grace in its Department of Economic Development and Planning and later as manager of the city Office of Economic Development when the economic development and planning departments were split.

She worked with the Harford County Office of Economic Development from 2008 to 2016. She founded the nonprofit Harford Development Corporation in 2016. The HDC, which has a nine-member board, seeks to bring greater private investment in areas such as land development, housing, employment and transportation, according to her campaign website.

Johnson founded Bridgeline Solutions LLC, a private entity, last June. She is Bridgeline’s president and CEO, and she serves as the economic development consultant for the Harford Development Corporation. She also works, through Bridgeline, with local governments and nonprofit entities on economic development projects.

She cited her prior work in government, her desire to see greater economic development in Harford’s Route 40 corridor and to bring greater diversity to the current all-male, all-Republican council as reasons for running.

“I think it’s good to have some diversity of thought and party and to allow for some inclusiveness onto this new council,” Johnson said.

She sees economic development as not just jobs and growth, but “quality of life,” with more affordable housing, greater access to public transit and education, workforce development, tourism and entrepreneurship.

She said she supports pay increases for Harford County Public Schools teachers and greater investments in school safety, not just school resource officers but more counseling services for students.

Johnson said she thinks the council is responsive “as a whole,” but “I always think there’s room for improvement.”

She would like to see greater checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches.

“[The council should] take more of a lead when it comes to enacting policy, which is what we’re supposed to do in the legislative branch, and listen to the citizens on what the citizens’ needs are,” she said.

Campaign finance

Wagner raised $3,877.59 in campaign contributions between when he filed as a candidate in late February and May 15, according to a May 21 campaign report posted on the Maryland State Board of Elections website. Wagner’s campaign spent $1,340.79 in the same period.

Sengstacke raised $8,196.37 and spent $5,228.12 between Jan. 11 and May 15, according to her most recent May 22 campaign report.

Johnson raised $4,255 between Feb. 20 and June 10 and spent $2,837.35 during the same period, according to reports her campaign filed April 14, May 19 and June 11.

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