Baltimore County was expected to elect its first black representative to the County Council yesterday, but the tightest race last night was between Del. James F. Ports Jr. and Councilman Vincent J. Gardina for the seat representing the 5th District.
In the only close council race this year, Democratic incumbent Gardina and Republican challenger Ports were running neck and neck with almost half of the reconfigured district's precincts reporting. The district includes part of Towson, Perry Hall and Chase.
In the 4th District, Kenneth N. Oliver, former chairman of the planning board, was expected to win over Republican Gail M. Thies and was leading after scant returns were recorded.
Oliver would be the first African-American to serve on the council. He would represent Randallstown, Granite and Woodlawn and part of Owings Mills.
In the 1st District, which includes Catonsville and Arbutus, Democratic Councilman Stephen G. Samuel Moxley faced Republican Berchie Lee Manley, a community activist who served on the council from that district from 1990 to 1994. No results were in at 9:45 p.m.
The remaining four council seats were uncontested. That means council members Kevin Kamenetz, a Pikesville Democrat; T. Bryan McIntire, a north county Republican; Joseph Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat; and John A. Olszewski Sr., a Dundalk Democrat, will serve new four-year terms.
A year ago, Gardina's political fortunes took a major blow when five council members passed a redistricting plan that cut off most of the constituency he had represented for more than a decade and put him in the same district with incumbent Republican Wayne M. Skinner.
For a time, Gardina considered retirement from politics or a run for the Maryland Senate, but at the last minute, the three-term incumbent filed for his old council seat and easily defeated his primary opposition.
"My platform is the same as it was in the primary," Gardina said during the campaign. "But I've found, from talking to people, which communities need to be targeted."
Gardina, 46, an environmental engineer, said revitalizing neighborhoods, controlling development and crime and attracting new businesses to the county remain his priorities.
Ports, who raised his political profile in a series of debates with County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger over the condemnation and revitalization plan known as Senate Bill 509, decided against bids for Congress, state Senate or county executive and challenged Skinner in the Republican primary, saying he wanted to serve in the office closest to the people.
Ports ran an energetic campaign, capitalizing on his association with Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who is extremely popular in the district.
"I think people recognize me as the guy who fought City Hall and won - a voice for the people," Ports said during the campaign. "The 509 issue transcended across the county. It wasn't just a property-grab issue. I think they saw me as a the guy who spoke up, spoke out for the people."
Constituent services, open space and the county's likely budget problems stemming from the state's deficit are the top issues facing the district and the county, said Ports, 43, an account executive with Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.