Baltimore County Council District 1: First-time candidates tout their credentials

Four Democrats in race to face unopposed Republican for Baltimore County's District 1 Council Seat

August 07, 2010|By Arthur Hirsch, The Baltimore Sun

Four first-time candidates are seeking the Democratic nomination for Baltimore County Council in the southwestern District 1, an older suburb of many quaint main streets that also faces the challenge of drawing new businesses to areas that are showing their age.

Hoping to succeed 16-year council member Samuel Moxley, who declined to seek re-election, are Brian Bailey, a health policy manager for a national medical association, caterer Rebecca Dongarra, marketing consultant Greg Morgan and financial planner Tom Quirk. They're running for the chance to face an unopposed Republican, Steve Whisler, in the general election.

All four offer their credentials as particularly suited to represent the area that includes rundown commercial stretches in Lansdowne, the small-town neighborhoods of Arbutus and Catonsville, and the growing research center of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

The district is also home to the Spring Grove Hospital Center, a state psychiatric institution in Catonsville with a nearly 200-acre campus. Though the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene says there are no plans to close the hospital or make any of that land available, a local developer has been touting a mall proposal, rousing organized opposition in years past and campaign chatter this season.

Brian Bailey

The candidate who has been the most engaged of the four in partisan politics is also the youngest. Bailey, 25, is the youngest person in the state to head a county Democratic Party. He was elected to the central committee at 21 and to the chairmanship at 23.

Bailey touts not only his political experience, but his work as chairman of the Southwest Area Educational Advisory Council of Baltimore County Schools. Like the other candidates, he stresses the importance of county schools in keeping communities stable, but he says his experience with the advisory group gives him a leg up in understanding how schools are run.

Members of the County Council vote on the school budget, which they can cut, but they do not write school system policy.

Bailey is the only District 1 candidate who is not from Catonsville, which has monopolized council representation since the district was created in the 1950s. The Lansdowne resident said he wants to change what he calls a "Catonsville complex" that tends to focus on the area at the expense of others.

"I want to make sure other areas of the district are not left behind," Bailey said.

He'd like to see the council pay more attention to economic development in Lansdowne and Baltimore Highlands, where vacant commercial space indicates areas struggling in comparison to Frederick Road, Catonsville's thriving main street.

If land were to become available at Spring Grove, Bailey said, he'd like to see it used for parkland or expansion of the UMBC campus.

Rebecca Dongarra

Dongarra, 42, stresses the council member's role as advocate and marketer for the district.

"You need a savvy business person who's going to be an advocate for the area," said Dongarra, who with her husband, Paul, runs Dionysus' Kitchen caterers. She said she serves as the "chief financial officer" for her company of 25 part-time employees and would bring that perspective to her work on the county's budget.

As a council member, she said she would advocate greater effort to stem domestic violence, and quoted the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence as reporting that in 2009, Baltimore County had 12 deaths resulting from domestic violence, the most in the state. She said her campaign staged a celebration for the 30th anniversary of the Family Crisis Center of Baltimore County.

She said she might support a small hotel at the Spring Grove site, but otherwise opposes commercial development there. She said she wants to change county practices on development to give citizens more information about plans as they take shape and more of a voice in deciding what is built.

As it is, she said, "too many people feel shut out of the process" and that "the developers are calling the shots."

Greg Morgan

Morgan says his strong suit is his experience as a community activist and former executive director of the Greater Catonsville Chamber of Commerce.

"I have the leadership skills that are needed for this position," said Morgan, 48, a marketing consultant who also manages a real estate investment firm.

Through his work at the chamber, he said, he helped bring new tenants years ago to a long-vacant building on Frederick Road in Catonsville. As a council member, he said, he would continue to work to fill empty commercial space. He said this is part of the reason he opposes commercial development at Spring Grove.

"We have so much vacancy around here, why are we going to build something new?" he asked, expressing a view shared by his opponents, who also say the priority should be on refurbishing commercial buildings.

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