The candidates vying for the District 6 seat on the Baltimore County Council went head-to-head on the issues at a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters on Tuesday, October 2. Republican Ryan Nawrocki and incumbent Cathy Bevins (D) answered questions issued by audience members that focused on a number of local issues such as education and schools, crime prevention and public safety, and the County’s infrastructure.
During opening remarks, Bevins said in her eight years on the Council she has advocated for “efficient government and strong constituents service” along with more transparency in the government and developmental process.
“I have fully funded both public safety and education every single year since I’ve been in office and I was the first to ask for an independent audit of the Baltimore County school system,” said Bevins.
Nawrocki, a small business owner and former employee of the Ehrlich and Hogan administration, said he was motivated to run following the murder of a 13-year-old near his home in Middle River last year.
“Being in this district my entire life, I’ve seen a lot of good things and I’ve seen some things change,” said Nawrocki. “We’re heading in a direction that’s not so good.”
He said issues such as a growing crime rate and a lack of space in area schools need to be addressed.
The candidates were then asked what their main priorities will be as a County Council member.
Bevins said she would advocate for funding for two new Police Athletic League (PAL) centers, one in Middle River and one in Rosedale. After speaking with the police chief, she said she learned that seven out of every ten crimes are committed by youths and that PAL centers would help strengthen the relationship between officers and the community through after-school programming. She added that she’d also like to get funds to build another school in District 6.
Nawrocki said his biggest concerns would be “quality of life issues” such as preventing all types of crime by making sure the County’s police department has all the resources it needs. He also called for more officers patrolling the streets and for code enforcement to be “more aggressive” in tackling issues that impact the overall health of the community.
On tackling the opioid crisis, Bevins said the County needs to have more beds and shelters and medical facilities for those seeking treatment along with better ways to educate families on how to spot addiction and the risks of opioid use.
Nawrocki agreed that more treatment options were needed and that, following treatment, former addicts needed opportunities to get into meaningful employment and not fall back into a cycle of drug abuse. Ending the opioid crisis also involves taking violent offenders off the street, he said.
Continuing on the topic of crime prevention, Bevins said that the County Council doesn’t oversee the BCoPD but it has fully funded the police and that crime is down 21% county-wide in the first half of 2018.
Nawrocki said that this decrease doesn’t mean much, as Baltimore is coming down off the “historic highs” of crime rates in 2017.
“It doesn’t mean we’re in a good spot,” he said.
After crime, education was one of the most frequently discussed issues.
Referencing overcrowdedness in schools such as Perry Hall High, Nawrocki said he would work closely with principals and the newly elected school board to better meet the District’s educational needs with more schools and smaller class sizes.
“I advocate for dollars every single day, whether it’s for a roof repair or it’s to get a new gymnasium floor or turf field,” said Bevins.
She said that the situation at Perry Hall High would be mitigated by redistricting expected to happen next year. However, she stressed that the Council only approves the education budget and cannot tell the Department of Education what to do with that money.
“At the end of the day, they do what they want within their agency,” she said.
One audience-submitted question asked the candidates how they would stop the “pay-for-play politics” involved in development.
“I think this is an absolutely big deal inside Baltimore County,” said Nawrocki, who added that he believed it was a bipartisan issue. He said development should be moved forward based on the needs of the residents and whether an area’s infrastructure could handle it.
Bevins said that she receives as much money from community members as she does from businesses and that she helped pass Bill 36-17 during the 2017 legislative session, a resolution that barred Council members from receiving campaign donations during a Comprehensive Zoning Map Process (CZMP).
Nawrocki then spoke about a 325-unit apartment complex planned for White Marsh and expressed concerns that it would overcrowd the already over capacity Forge Elementary School.
Bevins defended the complex saying that the 2020 Masterplan calls for this kind of growth in Middle River-White Marsh. She also said that during the 2016 CZMP process, nobody protested the proposal and that this type of development was what the area needed to grow and bring in more families and jobs.
“We know that everybody doesn’t like change, but nobody wants their taxes raised as well.”
When asked about their endorsements for Governor and County Executive, Nawrocki was quick to put his support behind the Republicans, Governor Larry Hogan and Al Redmer for County Executive saying they both support “common sense” and “business-friendly” practices.
Bevins did not make an endorsement for Governor.
“I’m still trenched in my race and focused on my race,” she said.
Although she said that Vicki Almond was her first choice, she said she is fully behind the Democratic candidate for County Executive, John Olszewski, Jr.
“If you think that things are good in Baltimore County...then I’m absolutely not your person. I’m the person that wants to bring change to this district,” said Nawrocki in his closing statement.
Bevins retorted by saying, “We can always do better. There’s always room for improvement” and added that many of the decisions discussed fall under the discretion of the County’s executive branch and not the County Council.
The League of Women Voters is a non-profit and non-partisan organization that does not make any endorsements or support any candidates or party.
The 2018 Maryland General Election is Tuesday, November 6.