In the last two weeks before Election Day, Anne Arundel County Council candidates are knocking on doors and making a final push for donations before voters head to the polls.
Fifteen candidates — seven Democrats, seven Republicans and a Libertarian — are vying for seats on the seven-member council. The council currently is made up of four Democrats and three Republicans but that could change after the Nov. 8 election.
Four council members, Allison Pickard, a Glen Burnie Democrat representing District 2, Nathan Volke, a Pasadena Republican representing District 3, Amanda Fiedler, an Arnold Republican representing District 5, and Lisa Rodvien, an Annapolis Democrat representing District 6, are all facing challengers.
While Democratic candidates work to persuade voters that the council has done critical work during County Executive Steuart Pittman’s first term to improve county services and help those in need, Republicans argue it’s time for a change in county leadership to provide tax relief for working residents, promote small businesses, and help hurting families weather the spike in inflation.
[ VOTER GUIDE 2022: Read the candidates' positions on the issues ]
Volke said he hopes the council again has a Republican majority as it did following the 2014 general election. District 2 could be the deciding race, Volke said, pointing to its history of Republican representation. Before Pickard, the Glen Burnie-based district was represented by Republican John Grasso, who mounted an unsuccessful GOP primary bid for county executive. Pickard will have two opponents, Republican Noel Smith and Libertarian David Sgambellone.
“District 2, everybody has known for a long time, is the battleground,” said Volke, who will face Michael Gendel, a Democrat waging a write-in campaign. “That is the district that swings the council.”
Three council seats will have new occupants, either because the current seat holders face term limits or because they decided to run for another office. Jessica Haire, a Republican from Edgewater who represents District 7, is running for county executive. Sarah Lacey, a Democrat from Jessup representing District 1, lost a primary for a House of Delegates seat. Andrew Pruski, a Democrat from Gambrills who represents District 4, completed his maximum two terms and is seeking a House of Delegates seat.
In District 7, Republican Shannon Leadbetter and Democrat Shawn Livingston will compete for Haire’s job , while District 1 will see its former representative, Pete Smith, seek that seat again, this time against Republican Jeremy Shifflett. Fiedler is running against Democrat Carl Neimeyer.
With early voting set to begin Thursday and tens of thousands of mail-in ballots already returned, most candidates have continued to campaign in the final days of the election. On the campaign trail they are hearing concerns from residents about the trajectory of the economy, including inflation, high gas prices and a possible recession.
With inflation on the rise, it’s not appropriate to be spending so much on new capital projects, said Smith, the District 2 candidate and owner of Noel Smith Brazilian Jiu Jitsu & Fitness in Glen Burnie. He pointed to a project to convert the Doll Furnished Apartments in Glen Burnie into transitional housing for those experiencing homelessness that Pittman announced in April. It will be funded with about $3 million in American Rescue Plan money.
“I’m pretty confident I’m going to win,” Smith said. “Your working-class families, your Glen Burnie families, seem to be struggling the most when I talk to them. They are not happy.”
Pickard, said the county must continue to improve services by investing in its police and firedepartments and its teachers.
“It’s important for Anne Arundel County to continue to invest in itself,” she said. “We have to be able to maintain a competitive and quality workforce and that takes an investment.”
Sgambellone, the Libertarian, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
While some voters are frustrated with inflation , many understand that global economic forces cannot be controlled by local government, said Rodvien, who will face former Annapolis Mayor Mike Pantelides, a Republican.
“Our county and at least District 6 are well educated enough to know that the main things driving the economic conditions, in particular the inflation, is Russia’s war in Ukraine basically forcing the world to cut off one of its major oil suppliers,” she said. “I think it’s not that people aren’t frustrated with it, but I also think that a lot of people understand that it’s something way beyond our borders that’s the cause.”
Pantelides said that whatever the cause of inflation, county government can help ease the pain by lowering taxes. However, Pantelides would need to win the seat to do that and he understands that will be difficult in a district that includes heavily Democratic Annapolis.
“I’m realistic that it’s a very tough district to win in and I’m probably the underdog in it,” Pantelides said.
He noted that he was possibly an even bigger underdog in his mayoral race and won. Residents he’s spoken to said Annapolis is in need of a Republican voice because the City Council, mayor, state delegation and federal delegation are composed of Democrats. He said he hopes that can be his ticket into the council.
Perhaps the candidate with the most difficult path to victory is Gendel, who is mounting a late write-in campaign against Volke.
“There’s not a snowball’s chance ... of defeating Volke on a write-in basis,” Gendel said. However, voters have been “generally sincere in their appreciation that they have a choice and that I dropped my hat in.”
Another candidate with an uphill battle is Cheryl Renshaw, a Republican and a real estate agent in District 4, who is running against Democrat and former school board member Julie Hummer to claim Pruski’s seat. Renshaw said she would have run as an independent but feels independents aren’t taken as seriously as Democrats and Republicans.
“I don’t feel like I’m Republican enough to get Republicans’ support,” Renshaw said. “I’m more of a middle-of-the-road person.”
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Regardless of the outcome of the race, she’s glad she got out in the community and was able to talk to her neighbors about their concerns, one of the biggest being the Chesapeake Terrace Rubble Landfill that a developer wants to build in Odenton. That developer, Halle Companies, donated tens of thousands of dollars to Haire’s campaign for county executive. However, Haire said she’s against the landfill as well.
“Win or lose I’m going to be fighting that,” Renshaw said.
Hummer opposes the landfill, but her larger message of continuing to invest in the community seems to be what is tipping residents in District 4, which includes Odenton and Gambrills, in her favor, she said.
“Look at the past four years and the huge progress we’ve made in this county on so many issues. That progress was made because we had a Democratic county executive and we had a Democratic majority County Council,” Hummer said. “They were willing to take on things like creating a human rights commission and forestation and all those things that I don’t believe would be priorities under a Republican majority council.”