Planning Board Chairman Kenneth N. Oliver announced his candidacy for the new black-majority Baltimore County Council district yesterday with endorsements from the west side's most prominent leaders.
Dubbed the "consensus candidate" of the Progressive Reform Political Action Committee, Oliver is backed by state Sen. Delores G. Kelley, a Randallstown Democrat; Ella White Campbell, president of the Liberty-Randallstown Coalition; and various other political, religious and community leaders.
The 4th District, which runs west along the Liberty Road corridor and also includes rural communities in the county's far west, was drawn with no incumbent and a large majority of African-American voters. The county has never had a black county councilman.
"We are a diverse community, and we are here to make history," said Oliver, who is black.
The idea of backing a candidate more than a year before the primary election, Kelley said, is to identify an "excellent candidate" early on in hopes of establishing him as a front-runner and preventing the vote from being split among lesser candidates for the Democratic nomination.
"We could not go through an entire year ... and have just a lot of people running around against each other like we were in a rodeo with no idea where excellence might be," Kelley said. "We wanted to offer the community what, in our estimation, is the very best."
The leaders who gathered to endorse Oliver yesterday said they expect others will run for the seat.
But even without the help of Kelley's political resources, Oliver would be a serious candidate. Although he has never run for political office, he has served on the Planning Board for nine years and has been chairman for two, a position that puts him as close to the bread-and-butter issues of planning and zoning as anyone who's not on the County Council.
"I think that the experience on the Planning Board gives any candidate a tremendous head start because you understand the budgetary process and the zoning process," said Councilman Kevin Kamenetz, the Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat who appointed Oliver to the Planning Board.
On the Planning Board, Oliver has played an advisory role in managing county development. The board makes recommendations on zoning changes, neighborhood plans, design standards and the county's master plan, but all final decisions on those matters are made by the County Council.
Oliver, 57, of Randallstown is senior vice president of the Development Credit Fund, a minority-owned lending institution. He is also a board member of the Maryland Center for Community Development, a statewide nonprofit that promotes fair housing. He and his wife, Thelma, have three children and four grandchildren.
The main planks in his campaign, Oliver said, are to finish the streetscape along Liberty Road, establish a new industrial park on the west side of the county, promote community conservation and growth management, control traffic, improve education in the county and increase the number of parks in the 4th District.
He said he also favors increasing the number of council seats from seven to nine. Each council member represents on average of more than 107,000 people, which is far too many, Oliver said.
Oliver said he would relish the opportunity to make the decisions instead of just advising, as he does on the Planning Board.
"There will be no more apartment complexes on this corridor, ever," he said, referring to Liberty Road, where community groups have long complained of over-development.
At least one other person is exploring a candidacy for the seat, and leaders in the area say they expect more. "What they're trying to do is, I think, pretty silly," said Noel Levy of Owings Mills, who is thinking of running.
"They are going to put forward a candidate and say: `This is who the black community is all getting behind.' Of course, they are a very small percentage of the black community, and there will be other factions in District 4 coming forward in the next few months and there will be many other candidates."