Campaigns occupied by growth, planning

District 4

Candidates differ most on priorities

Maryland votes 2006

August 30, 2006|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,sun reporter

If Anne Arundel is the target for rapid, extensive growth over the next decade, the bull's-eye is smack dab in West County, say the candidates running for County Council in District 4.

Six men are seeking the seat being vacated by two-term councilman Bill D. Burlison, and they share the same concerns: crime, run-down schools, outdated roads, scant mass transit options and a general sense that county government has ignored them.

Democrats Jamie Benoit, Andrew C. Pruski, Devin Tucker and Walter K. Moody and Republicans Sib Saab and David A. Tibbetts also share a sense of urgency as District 4 is about to be turned upside-down by the national military base realignment and closure process, also known as BRAC. At least 20,000 jobs will settle around Fort Meade over the next five years, and billions of dollars in residential and commercial development is about to take form.

"We are at a point that we can't make mistakes," said Saab, a Crownsville resident. "We either make it or break it."

At least five of the candidates on the primary ballot Sept. 12 support establishing the math-and-science magnet program at Meade High, preserving the Navy's 875-acre former dairy farm in Gambrills and expanding the MARC station in Odenton. Most spoke of the need for "managed growth," affordable housing and to raise developer impact fees to pay for new infrastructure and services.

Despite that agreement, each of the candidates has different priorities and different areas of expertise.

Benoit, 34, says he knows local issues better than anyone, having grown up and gone to public schools in the 4th District, which extends from Laurel east through Odenton and Gambrills and into Crownsville. He also trumpets his military background as a retired Army lieutenant.

He said that experience would make him the county's best advocate in dealing with the military, which already has the largest employment presence in the county.

Benoit, who has served on the board of directors for the Piney Orchard community and is married with two children, said Odenton's development is most important to serving the county's long-term interests.

He also said that cutting into the county's extensive school maintenance backlog is a top priority, along with establishing a community center in Severn and pushing forward with plans to make the much-anticipated Odenton Town Center a reality.

Anne Arundel officials say the county has the highest bond rating of any U.S. jurisdiction under a tax cap, but Benoit said the county should "lose its fixation with its bond rating" and renovate schools such as Arundel High and Brock Bridge Elementary.

"The future of our kids is worth more than our bond rating," he said.

He said he was hesitant about raising impact fees.

On the fundraising front, Benoit has stood out. He had $43,150 on hand as of the Aug. 15 state filing deadline. (His campaign filed a second pre-primary report this week, showing he had spent more than $41,000 in the past two weeks. He has about $5,800 on hand, the report said.)

Benoit said that his funds have not come "overwhelmingly from special interests." But, as a lawyer, he has represented developers in the county.

Pruski, 27, says his experience as an educator, formerly in Prince George's County and currently in Baltimore County, gives him a leg up in advocating for the county school system and ensuring accountability.

Having recently struggled to buy a duplex in Gambrills with his wife, Pruski said he wants to encourage zoning changes and other ideas to promote affordable housing.

"That's one of the reasons I got into the race ... to raise the issue of low- and middle-income people," said Pruski.

A member of the Fort Meade Alliance, a lobbying arm for the Army post, Pruski said decreasing class sizes could improve discipline and learning so students can someday fill the defense jobs at Fort Meade.

Pruski grew up in western New York, but is quite familiar with Anne Arundel County: His father was stationed at Fort Meade in the 1970s, and his mother worked for many years at a department store in Laurel.

According to his mid-August report, Pruski raised about $10,400 - nearly half of which came from a political slate in Prince George's County - and had about $5,400 left.

Tucker, 34, a program manager for an economic development think tank in Washington, intends to promote affordable housing and mass transit, lifting the working class and curtailing crime. Married with a 4-year-old daughter, Tucker said improving school performance is a paramount concern.

Tucker, who is originally from St. Louis and has lived in Russett for six years, said the county needs to begin taking care of the people already here, rather than focus on future growth. One reason he's running: "I'm tired of being treated as a second-class citizen."

Tucker has been an avid supporter of affordable housing. He advocates requiring developers to set aside up to 25 percent of a new development of "work force housing" that could serve middle-class families.

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