Oliver, McCrimmon vie for council seat

Lack of GOP hopeful means Democrat wins

Maryland votes 2006

August 29, 2006|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,sun reporter

Baltimore County Councilman Kenneth N. Oliver stood outside a new Home Depot in Randallstown one recent morning and pointed out projects along Liberty Road.

The first-term Democrat noted a weed-covered parking lot that will soon be the site of a Ruby Tuesday restaurant and a run-down shopping center across the street that is to become home to a Wal-Mart.

"The district is healthier," Oliver said later in an interview. "It has become economically viable, and people are looking forward to the Wal-Marts of the world coming here. They are looking forward to the Home Depots coming here."

Oliver, the council's first black member, is running for re-election in District 4 and is pinning his campaign largely on the economic development of the area.

His opponent, Democrat Penny L. McCrimmon, says Oliver has accomplished little in his four years in office.

McCrimmon, who lost a close primary to Oliver in 2002, cast doubt on how crucial Oliver was in the private-sector decisions that have injected new life into Randallstown, and she says he hasn't paid enough attention to other community concerns, such as schools and crime.

"He's grabbing for straws," said McCrimmon, who recently moved to Owings Mills after more than two decades in Randallstown. "He has nothing to show except for the Home Depot. People are dissatisfied."

Councilman Kevin B. Kamenetz, called Oliver "nonconfrontational, cooperative and unassuming."

"I think of all seven council members, Ken has the smallest ego," he said. "And that earns him a lot of respect."

There are no Republicans in the race, so the winner of the Sept. 12 Democratic primary will win a four-year term on the council.

The district, created before the 2002 election to encourage the election of an African-American, includes Woodlawn, Randallstown, Granite and parts of Owings Mills, a slice of the county where more than six out of 10 residents are black.

Many issues linger from the last election, including the large number of group homes in the area, under-performing schools, traffic and crime.

Oliver, 61, is a commercial lender who spent a decade on the county planning board, including a stint as chairman before being elected to the County Council.

He said he has worked with County Executive James T. Smith Jr. to attract businesses to Liberty Road, a commercial strip where he says a number of vacant buildings have been filled, creating jobs and allowing residents to shop closer to home.

"Since I've gotten elected, between private investment and county investment we've spent about $92 million on the Liberty Road corridor," Oliver said. "We had vacant shopping centers that have been here for the last seven years. Now they're going to be occupied."

He said he has worked with Smith to build a senior center in Randallstown, complete plans for a community center in Randallstown and place a police substation in Woodlawn.

Oliver has seldom sponsored legislation. And even on a council that strives for consensus, he is typically a quiet presence at work sessions.

Oliver said his style is to work closely with communities and advocate their interests.

Several community activists said Oliver's biggest strength is his ability to convey that he cares.

"Whenever we have meetings, we call on him and he's there. He pays attention," said Van Ross, a community activist from Woodlawn. "We didn't get a lot of that before."

Troy Samuels, 66, who serves on the board of the Greater Patapsco Community Association, said he is still concerned about traffic and overdevelopment, and that he increasingly feels unsafe in the area. His great-nephew was stabbed in a fight at a Randallstown bar three weeks ago and died at the hospital. The previous month, a Baltimore Ravens player was stabbed in a nearby bowling alley.

Nonetheless, Samuels said, he plans to vote for Oliver.

"He shows a concern. That was one thing I was impressed with," Samuels said. "He's willing to listen."

McCrimmon, who is also African-American, lost to Oliver by fewer than 500 votes in a six-way Democratic primary in 2002.

She said more needs to be done to ensure that growth doesn't overwhelm schools, police and roads. She said she would work toward zoning changes to reduce the number of group homes in the district.

"Development is rampant," she said. "He could have enforced current planning laws and been more stringent."

McCrimmon, 57, is at a fundraising disadvantage, with a campaign account one-10th the size of Oliver's $18,000.

But she said she has encountered many voters who want change.

"Mr. Oliver is not pro-active," she said. "He's not interested in any issues that concerns the average citizen."

Dallas Griffin, vice president of the Woodlawn Community Education and Development Association, said he wants more recreational programs for youths and more attention paid to group homes. He said he has not decided on a candidate.

"My group here has some questions," he said.

josh.mitchell@baltsun.com

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