Four years after ousting a Republican incumbent bya nearly 2-to-1 margin, the councilman representing northern Baltimore County faces his own challengers in the GOP primary election next month — a contest that has long decided who holds the County Council seat.
Two Republicans are running against Councilman Wade Kach of the county's Third District, which stretches from Lutherville to the Pennsylvania line: businessman Ed Hale Jr. of Cockeysville and Doug Zinn, a researcher and grant writer, of Parkton.
Schools, development and land preservation are among the top issues in the council district — the county's largest in terms of land. It has long been a GOP stronghold, sending a Republican to the council since at least 1994.
Republican Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, who died in 2016, represented the district from 1994 to 2010. Since then, Republicans in the district have easily maintained the seat.
The Democratic primary election features a race this year between Towson University professor Colleen Ebacher of Monkton and Bronwyn Mitchell-Strong of Lutherville-Timonium, who has worked in environmental education and program management.
But, before the general election, Republican voters in the June 26 primary must first decide between Kach, Hale and Zinn.
Kach, a former math teacher and school auditor who lives in Cockeysville, served nearly 40 years in the Maryland House of Delegates. He defeated former Councilman Todd Huff in the 2014 Republican primary and went on to win 68 percent of the vote in the general election.
He said he has focused on government transparency throughout his first term. For instance, he sponsored legislation that now requires county executives to hold two public hearings before proposing budgets to the council.
He also introduced a bill to require the council to hold work sessions in the evenings so that more residents could attend. But the measure failed.
Last year, Kach, 70, was the only council member to publicly criticize the makeup of the county's charter review panel, saying it was stacked with lawyers representing "special interests" such as developers with matters before county government.
"The county has a reputation of pay to play, and I think it's warranted," Kach said. "My dealings with certain lobbyists and certain property owners was that when they walk in, for some reason they expect you're going to do what they want to do."
But he has rankled some others on the seven-member council, who say he doesn't work well with others. Some of Kach's own council colleagues are supporting Hale — including Democrat Tom Quirk, who said he is personal friends with Hale.
"Wade's had a history of attacking other council members very publicly," said Quirk, of Catonsville. "He's really injected a lot of acrimony to the council unfortunately, and I think it's strained relationships … His inability to communicate with other council members and to actually have a relationship with other council members has absolutely hurt his constituents."
Quirk said several times, Kach introduced and withdrew legislation that would have regulated the use of solar facilities on rural lands because he "did not do enough preparation or homework" and couldn't work with other members on the issue.
Kach said the reason he has ruffled feathers is that he bucks the "establishment" and special interests, including developers. Those factions have too much influence in county politics, he added. He voted with the council's two other Republicans against a $43 million assistance package for the developers of Towson Row.
"There's this establishment, there's this power there that really does control a great deal of what the county does," he said. "They don't control me, and they want someone in the seat that they can control."
Both Hale and Zinn said they feel representation for the district is lacking.
Hale, who is the son of prominent businessman Ed Hale Sr., said he has paid close attention to county matters. For more than a year, he said, he has attended all council meetings and work sessions.
"I would be able to hit the ground running," said Hale, 51, who heads the trucking company Hale Transport.
Hale said he is a fiscal conservative who wants to attract business revenue and keep property taxes low. To protect rural open spaces and ecosystems, he said, he supports redevelopment projects within the district's commercial areas.
He supports building a new Dulaney High School and addressing other aging facilities.
"We need to come up with a 10-year plan to adequately address the aging schools," Hale said.
Zinn, 68, said he wants the county to offer more hours and services at senior centers and create more recreational opportunities for residents. He also said he wants to establish an initiative that guarantees jobs for community college students.
"I decided to run for office because I thought there was so much more that needs to be done in our district, and no one's doing it," said Zinn, who has worked for the county health department and the National Center for Health Statistics.
Zinn said he would make it a priority to improve school security and remove and monitor disruptive students. On land preservation, he said the county should adopt a policy of "do no harm" to agricultural and rural lands.
He also wants to establish a hotline for residents to report issues with basic services.
"If your trash isn't picked up, you shouldn't have to call five people," Zinn said
Kach began the year with the most campaign cash of the three candidates, with $72,037 on hand in the most recent finance report.
Hale reported a balance of $40,622 in the most recent reporting period, including contributions from developers and development lawyers. Kach also has accepted development-related contributions in recent years.
Zinn had $433 on hand. He said his support is "grassroots."