Baltimore County Council District 4: Incumbent Oliver has strong challenge, defends record

Seven Democrats seek fourth district seat

August 29, 2010|By Mary Gail Hare, The Baltimore Sun

Of the three incumbents seeking re-election to the Baltimore County Council, Kenneth N. Oliver might be facing the toughest primary battle.

Six Democratic opponents are working to unseat the two-term councilman. They are campaigning on how to spur economic development, improve schools and enhance public safety. Oliver is running on what he has done for constituents.

With no Republican candidate in the race, the tight Democratic primary will likely determine who represents the district that includes Woodlawn, Randallstown, Owings Mills and Reisterstown. Oliver, the only African-American on the seven-member council, has represented the minority district since 2002.

"I started something eight years ago, and want to continue that progress," he said.

Oliver's opponents say he has not accomplished enough to warrant four more years. The district needs fresh ideas and a more aggressive presence on the council, they say. They are finding widespread frustration with a county that is not directing enough resources to their densely populated area. They are concerned about the numerous vacancies at Owings Mills Mall, the failing schools and the unfulfilled promise of a library and community college location.

Opponents include Jack Becker, a retired businessman and teacher; Antonia Fowler, a nurse; Kristy Herring, a teacher; Julian E. Jones Jr., a firefighter; Leronia Josey, an attorney; and Penny McCrimmon, an entrepreneur, who lost the primary race to Oliver in 2006.

Oliver is running with the added weight of a guilty plea last year to charges that he pocketed $2,300 donated to his political campaign.

As part of a plea deal, Oliver, a retired banker, agreed to pay a $2,500 fine and to serve 50 hours of community service observing the work of an accountant who is an expert in the proper use of campaign accounts. He also must serve a six-month period of probation, which will be supervised until he pays the fine and court costs.

"I made a mistake, but even the judge acknowledged that I am an honorable man," he said.

Kenneth N. Oliver

Oliver, 65, of Randallstown, said he will push for improvements, including an upscale supermarket, at Owings Mills Mall, but says such projects must wait until its owners emerge from bankruptcy this fall.

He said he helped bring a new middle school to the area as well as the Randallstown Community Center. He has worked on the conversion of a long-vacant grocery store into the Liberty Center, focused on work force development. Oliver said he often visits schools in his district and blames most problems on the lack of parental involvement.

"I go to the high schools because the students need to see someone, other than a teacher, who is concerned about their education," he said. "But what can I as a councilman do to pull parents to a PTA meeting?"

Jack Becker

Becker, 75, of Reisterstown, said he would bring vast business and education experience to the job. The retired owner of a TV and video store taught in Baltimore City schools for 28 years.

"What has Oliver done here?" he asked. "The crime rate is higher and the school test scores are lower. He should be much more involved in the community."

If elected, Becker said he would lower the council salary and would not accept the generous pension given public officials.

"People here know me and trust me as a good businessman," he said. "I think we can revive Owings Mills Mall and together, we can figure out what is stalling the library and community college we are supposed to get."

Antonia Fowler

Fowler, 53, of Reisterstown, is an intensive care nurse at Johns Hopkins Bayview. She said she saw the council as a good place for a committed environmentalist. She realizes that she is not a politician and cannot give her full attention to campaigning, "but I thought I would put my name in the hat."

"I know people are more comfortable with the status quo," she said. "But sometimes you need someone different."

She is championing more jobs, better schools and land preservation, she said.

"We have limited resources and must show care in how we use them," she said. "That includes our students who are our future workers. There are huge issues to address but we have to start small."

Kristy Herring

Herring, 42, a Rockdale resident, teaches English as a second language in Baltimore city. Her experience in her community association prompted her to file for the council seat, she said.

"People are saying their voice is not heard in the political process," she said. "There are frustrations about everything from development to speed bumps that they find out about after the fact."

She wants to address the growing sprawl that creates constant congestion on the area's arteries.

"People want to stay in this community to work, live and play," she said. "But there are few jobs and no high-end stores or restaurants. If people will only buy into this community, we will draw business."

Leronia A. Josey

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