Two-term state Del. Bobby A. Zirkin describes his district in northwest Baltimore County as having a small-town feel, where it's not out of the ordinary to run into your former fourth-grade teacher while waiting in line for a coffee at a Pikesville Starbucks.
"I told his mother he'd be a lawyer - and president," Amy Harris, Zirkin's teacher at Wellwood Elementary, said on her way out of the store one afternoon this week.
For now, Zirkin, a Democrat, wants to be a state senator. He is facing Republican Jeffrey S. Yablon, a first-time candidate, for the seat in District 11, which includes Pikesville and Owings Mills.
For the first time in 20 years, the ballot for the seat will not include state Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, who made an unsuccessful run for Congress this year.
The district leans heavily Democratic, with the party holding an almost 3-to-1 advantage in registered voters over Republicans.
Yablon, 40, a lawyer from Owings Mills, said he is running because he has become frustrated with what he describes as extreme partisanship in the General Assembly. "For such a progressive state, our legislature is governing in reverse," said Yablon, who ran unopposed in the primary. "It should be a body of compromise as opposed to what I call a monocracy, a one-party system."
He said he wants to bring "fresh ideas and independent thought."
Yablon grew up in Long Island, N.Y., and moved to Maryland in the early 1990s. He is married and has two school-age children.
He describes himself as fiscally conservative and socially moderate, supporting, for example, embryonic stem-cell research. He also supports bringing slot machine gambling to Maryland as a way to increase revenue that would go toward education.
He talks about expanding health care and reducing expenses in part by allowing the importation of prescription drugs from Canada. One of his top goals, he said, would be to reduce class sizes and school crowding.
Yablon, who owns a real estate title company, was reprimanded in September 2003 by the Maryland Court of Appeals for lack of diligence and failure to safeguard client property, court records show. Yablon said the ruling involved a dispute with a former employer, and that he agreed to the reprimand instead of pursuing the matter in court.
Zirkin, 35, a lawyer from Pikesville, said that after eight years in the House of Delegates, he wants to bring his causes to the Senate, where he said he would have more influence.
He would continue to champion juvenile justice reform, fight identity theft and toughen sentences for drunken drivers.
He said he would reintroduce bills to create regions for group homes, moving them away from urban areas and into "wilderness" settings. He also wants to ensure that children from juvenile services and social services are not placed in the same facilities.
Zirkin wants to crack down on identity theft by making it mandatory for credit card companies to report security breaches to customers. He also talked about expanding a law that requires certain drunken driving offenders to install devices that prevent them from driving their cars if alcohol is detected on their breath.
He said if elected he would have a direct say in measures that have passed the House but stalled in the Senate. "It just hasn't been a focus," he said of some of his proposals that made their way to the Senate. "I will absolutely be bringing that focus there."
In the race for the three House of Delegates seats representing the district, the Democratic ticket includes incumbent Dels. Jon S. Cardin and Dan K. Morhaim and former Del. Dana Stein.
Cardin, 36, a lawyer from Lutherville, is seeking his second term. He said he supports a more progressive tax structure, incentives for alternative energy use and smaller class sizes.
Morhaim, 57, a physician from Owings Mills, is seeking a fourth term. He said he wants universal health care, the streamlining of government health care and more accountability in government purchasing of contracts.
Stein, 48, a Pikesville resident and executive director of a nonprofit civic group, served as a delegate from June 2002 to January 2003 after being appointed to fill a vacancy. He said he wants universal health care and legislation that would encourage competition in the energy industry.
The Republican candidates are Patrick T. Abbondandolo and Patrick V. Dyer.
Abbondandolo, 24, of Reisterstown, is an account executive for a telecommunications firm. He said he wants more school construction and legislation to spur economic development.
Dyer, 44,, a small-business owner from Timonium, said he would like to lower education costs, partly through providing need-based scholarships, to expand health care and to protect the Chesapeake Bay.