Candidates focus on growth

District C

Two Republicans, one Democrat look to shape region's course

August 20, 2006|By MARY GAIL HARE | MARY GAIL HARE,SUN REPORTER

In Harford's District C, the race to represent the county's most densely populated area on the County Council has attracted three candidates, the least number of hopefuls for any of the six seats.

Republicans James V. McMahan Jr. and Brian Young will square off in the Sept. 12 primary. The winner will face Joan Morrissey Ward, the lone Democrat in the November race. The victor will represent Bel Air and its immediate environs on the seven-member panel.

McMahan and Ward are Bel Air town commissioners, well aware of the town panel's history as a springboard to higher county and state offices. In 2002, Robert G. Cassilly, a former commissioner, defeated Ward in the District C race. His deployment to Iraq left the council seat open.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in the Harford County section of The Sun on Aug. 20 incorrectly reported the law school status of Brian Young, a Republican candidate for the District C seat on the County Council. Young will begin third-year coursework at the University of Baltimore School of Law next month.
The Sun regrets the error.

"There is a void on the County Council because a young patriot had to go serve his country in Iraq," said McMahan, 67, a former Army officer who retired from the Maryland State Guard with the rank of colonel after more than 30 years of service. "Why shouldn't another veteran take his place and once again step up to the plate?"

Young, a newcomer to politics, is, at 23, the youngest of any candidate for a council seat this year. But he has schooled himself in politics and has rarely missed a council meeting in the past few years.

"I want to spend the rest of my life here," Young said. "I love where Harford is and what it has to offer."

Managing growth in and around the county seat has emerged as the critical issue for the candidates and in Ward's case is the rational for running.

Ward, 49, a former county planner, said "frustration with the lack of good government management" motivated her to try again for a council seat.

"The only way to make a difference is to have a different council," she said. "I want to be a decision-maker instead of recommender from the planning department."

Her campaign is somewhat dormant, awaiting the outcome of the Republican primary, she said. The Republicans, however, are in full campaign mode. They are both going door to door, hosting gatherings, posting signs and waving to motorists at intersections.

"My district is a sliver out of the center of the county," McMahan said. "It is not a big area, but it is relatively populated. Most of it is in the county's development envelope. We have to be smart about where we grow and how we grow."

McMahan would work to redevelop Bel Air's older areas and push for restoration of the town's aging buildings.

"You have to build consensus," he said. "I can be the consensus builder in the future."

Young, a recent Salisbury University graduate and a first-year law student at University of Baltimore, called District C "the heart of the county" and an area completely surrounded by development.

"There are still opportunities for parks, roads and schools," he said. "People want to come here and our planning has to be better so that new development fits in. The toughest challenge is working to preserve what makes Harford County a great place to live."

Both Republican candidates are calling for a tougher stance on crime, particularly gang-related violence. While many see crime as concentrated in the southern areas of the Harford, Young said officials need to take a countywide approach.

"We need better organization," he said. "We have to make sure the sheriff's office and towns are all working together."

McMahan, who worked in law enforcement briefly in his youth, said no area is immune to spreading gang activity. Rather than tell the sheriff's department how to do the job, county officials should make every possible crime-fighting resource available, he said.

"All of Harford County is my district, when it comes to this issue," he said. "I want to deal with this problem now and eliminate it before it goes to Fallston, Jarrettsville and beyond. The council needs to make sure the sheriff's department has the resources it needs, especially to gather intelligence. Living in a peaceful environment is a right, not an option."

A longtime radio personality and lifelong Bel Air resident, McMahan has name recognition, an advantage Young is trying to counteract. While clerking for a downtown law firm, Young said he has built a strong base in the Republican Party and has been active in the community.

The opponents have shied away from making their obvious age difference an issue, preferring instead to focus on growth, crime and education. They are both graduates of Bel Air High School, McMahan in the school's first graduating class and Young painfully aware of the 55-year-old building's deficiencies.

"He has a great future," McMahan said of his opponent. "I just hope it's not in the next four years. He is a good opponent, but I bring more experience to the job."

Both Republican candidates said they are waging a grass-roots campaign and have vowed they will not lose touch with constituents they have met this summer. They have vowed to keep government open and accessible to all residents.

"We founded our country based on giving people a say in government," said Young.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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