Balto. County Lawyers Back Council Hopefuls

Fundraisers Include Son Of Outgoing County Executive

December 15, 2009|By Bryan P. Sears | Bryan P. Sears , Patuxent Publications

Two Baltimore County development attorneys - one the son of County Executive James T. Smith Jr. - have picked a trio of County Council candidates for 2010 and are working to create large campaign war chests for the three.

Michael Paul Smith, the executive's son, and David Gildea, a former law clerk for James Smith when he was a Circuit Court judge, are raising money for candidates in three council districts where there will likely be open seats.

The attorneys have hosted fundraisers for hopefuls Tom Quirk in the 1st District, which includes Catonsville and Arbutus; Gordon Harden in the 5th District, which includes Perry Hall and Towson, and Cathy Bevins in the 6th District, which includes Middle River, Fullerton and Parkville. All are Democrats.

The suggested donation at each event was $1,000, an amount political observers said is unprecedented for council races.

Those seats are now held by Democrats Stephen G. Samuel Moxley in the 1st, who hasn't announced if he'll run again; Vince Gardina in the 5th, who has said he'll retire, and Joseph Bartenfelder in the 6th, who is expected to run for county executive.

Some community activists expressed concern over the attorneys' fundraising for candidates because of the council's role in zoning and development.

"The image of a Tammany Hall-style political machine selecting candidates to run in open council districts is troubling," said David Marks, president of the Perry Hall Improvement Association.

Council members, individually and as part of a legislative body, control the quadrennial rezoning process and can add or make changes to zoning classifications.

Community activists said that if candidates raise large sums with the help of development attorneys, it would raise concerns about how decisions might be made on the next council - and who would have access to decision-makers.

Neither Smith nor Gildea responded to repeated requests for interviews.

Gildea is a partner in the Towson law firm of Gildea and Schmidt - with former county zoning commissioner Larry Schmidt. Among Gildea's clients is John Vontran, who this year bought the Yorkway apartment complex from the county for $1.6 million. The county had paid $21 million for the Dundalk property in 2006.

Smith, a lawyer at the Towson firm of Bodie Nagle, lists land use as a practice area on the firm's Web site.

His father is prevented by term limits from running for executive again, but is considering a legislative bid and has his own million-dollar campaign account that he can funnel to other candidates.

Bevins, Harden and Quirk acknowledged they're running, and denied that donations organized by those with development ties would affect their decisions.

Bevins, 50, has worked for six years as a constituent services coordinator for the elder Smith, and is responsible for concerns in Dundalk and the district she now wants to represent on the council.

Harden, who has an Owings Mills insurance company, has served on the county planning board since 1996, and said he and his family have been friends of the Smith family for years. Harden said he met Gildea through the planning board, which decides zoning issues and approves development requests.

Quirk, a Catonsville financial planner, said he met Gildea when both served on the county's community college board. Quirk said he became acquainted with Michael Paul Smith after Quirk's wife, Siri Svaeren, worked for county executive Smith as a special assistant. Svaeren was Bevins' supervisor.

Bevins acknowledged the "suggested" donation for her November event at an Essex waterfront home owned by Michael Paul Smith was $1,000, but said that not everyone who attended paid that amount.

Bevins said she attended a similar event for Quirk at Gildea's house.

Quirk said his fundraiser was held last month in Gildea's Stevenson home. He called the ticket price "unprecedented," and said it was set by Gildea, whom Quirk called his "fundraising chairman."

Bevins, Harden and Quirk all said the fundraising efforts would not influence their actions as council members.

"I'm my own candidate," Quirk said. "It's my name on the ballot."

Said Harden: "I wouldn't take a dime from someone who said, 'I'm coming back to talk to you,' " he said.

Bevins defended her high-priced fundraiser as necessary so she can "knock my opponents out of the box."

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