The Democratic primary in the Baltimore County Council's 5th District pits a four-term incumbent against a political novice.
There's Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a tough campaigner who has survived a number of political battles over the years, and community activist Kathy Reiner Martin, who is relying on a grass-roots effort in her first run at elective office.
They're running in a district that stretches from Towson and Perry Hall to the eastern edge of the county and includes older, established neighborhoods as well as fast-growing areas like Carney.
Gardina and Martin both say more needs to be done to plan for growth and relieve school crowding.
But Gardina said that when it comes to writing legislation to address those issues, there is no substitute for his 16 years on the council.
"It took probably every council member at least four years to understand how to really get things accomplished," said Gardina, 50, of Perry Hall. "A lot of it is being able to work with the county executive, to leverage projects to get better designs or less density. That's not something you pick up quickly."
Martin, 51, a computer systems analyst from Perry Hall, said she offers the perspective of someone who has spent 30 years working in the community - on neighborhood associations, environmental groups and parent-teacher organizations.
The winner of the Sept. 12 primary will face Republican former Councilman Wayne M. Skinner in November's general election.
Gardina is the council's longest-serving member, and he's shown a willingness to stick his neck out on issues. He's spent the past year pushing the school system to redraw boundaries to relieve crowding at Chapel Hill Elementary, at times criticizing school officials for not taking bolder steps. And he's used legislation to impose de facto building moratoriums in the fast-growing Carney and Cub Hill areas, even as some council members questioned whether he was abusing the tactic to thwart specific development projects.
Gardina, a former county police officer who teaches science at a private school, said he has been quick to insert himself in community uproars, whether it be the replacement of student housing at Towson Manor Village with other forms of housing or plans by the Country Club of Maryland to sell land for development.
He said he's most proud of his proposal to provide tax credits to owners of energy-efficient "green" buildings, which the council passed this summer.
"If the federal government doesn't follow through, I think it's the role of local government to take up the slack," Gardina said of the issues of global warming.
Martin said she would bring community leaders together to look at growth issues.
In an interview at a diner just outside Towson, Martin talked about tighter requirements for land conservation and storm water management, more parks in older communities and taking another look at community master plans to ensure growth doesn't overwhelm schools and roads.
She does not favor building moratoriums because, Martin said, she did not want to take away the property rights of homeowners whose homes are their "nest egg" for retirement. Instead, she would work to bring community leaders together to look at growth and how to manage it.
To address crowding at Towson and Perry Hall high schools, she said she would promote out-of-school internships and advanced classes at community colleges for seniors. "It's taking programs that are working but making sure they're working to the fullest extent for the residents," Martin said.