Josh Kurtz: 20th Century Comes to Baltimore County

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The first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives was Jeannette Rankin, a Republican from Montana. That was in 1916.

The first woman elected to the U.S. Senate was Hattie Wyatt Caraway, a Democrat from Arkansas. She was appointed to replace her husband, the late Sen. Thaddeus Caraway, in 1932, but won a full term later that year, and served until 1945. The first woman elected to the Senate outright, without first succeeding her husband, was Republican Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, in 1948 (though Smith had been appointed to succeed her late husband in the House several years earlier).

Ninety years after women’s suffrage, and 54 years after first adopting its current form of government, Baltimore County appears poised to elect its first woman to the County Council in decades.

In the 2nd District, which Councilman Kevin Kamenetz (D) is leaving after 16 years to run for county executive, three women appear to be the frontrunners in next week's Democratic primary to succeed him: Vicki Almond, a former top aide to state Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D), Sherrie Becker, a former president of the Pikesville Chamber of Commerce, and Timmy Ruppersberger, an attorney and cousin of U.S. Rep. (and former County Executive) Dutch Ruppersberger.

But that's not all. In the 4th District, Leronia Josey, a lawyer and management consultant, is running a spirited Democratic primary challenge to politically wounded Councilman Ken Oliver, and could wind up prevailing. So the county could see two of its seven Council districts represented by women.

Welcome to the 20th century, Baltimore County.

OK, maybe that's a little unfair. But it does underscore the undeniable fact that this year's election is going to bring unprecedented change to Baltimore County government. And that may be a very good thing.

The current Council is VERY senior, to put it mildly. Councilman Vincent Gardina (D) was elected in 1990, and all the other council members save Oliver, the newbie who was elected eight years ago, also took office in the 1990s.

With Gardina and Councilman Sam Moxley (D) retiring, and Kamenetz and Councilman Joe Bartenfelder competing in the county executive primary, the council is guaranteed to have at least four new members. Add Oliver's vulnerability into the mix -- he copped a plea to charges that he pocketed campaign money for personal use -- and it's not unreasonable to say there will be five new members. And of course, with Jim Smith (D) prevented by law from seeking a third term, and trying to figure out what he wants to do with the rest of his life, there will also be a new executive in Towson.

The council has been nothing if not insular, the province of white males (save Oliver) for almost its entire history. Compared to some of its cousins around the state, the council has also seemed insular for other reasons. It has at times been hard for Baltimore County to forge an identity of its own, overshadowed by the brawling city it surrounds and marked by its diverse communities (from horse farms to factories to predominantly Jewish and African-American suburban neighborhoods, and so much more) rather than any one unifying theme.

Many of the council members truly seem like products of the communities they come from and represent, rather than visionaries who see the big picture. There is, for example, no politician who epitomizes the industrial areas of the east county like Councilman John Olszewski (D) -- the "Johnny O" nickname is perfect for his constituency.

That's one of the reasons why it's been so hard to get a read on the Kamenetz-Bartenfelder contest. Both suit their districts well but don’t have much of a profile beyond that, and even this late in the game it's hard to predict how each will play around the rest of the county. The alliances they're attempting to forge, the endorsements and contributions they're pulling in, offer some clues, but not enough to call the race with any level of confidence.

In the same way, it's hard to say what the next council will look like. Who will be the homers and who will be the visionaries? It's hard to even figure who the frontrunners in each of the races are right now -- except for the near-certainty that Johnny O and 3rd District Councilman Bryan McIntire, the council's lone Republican, will be back.

In the 1st District, where Moxley is retiring, financial planner Tom Quirk (D) seems like the leading candidate almost by default. He's got the backing of the Smith machine, so that should help. But in the Catonsville area, you have to ask: could Republican Steve Whisler be competitive in November? He'll be helped by the presence of hometown favorite Bob Ehrlich (R) up the ballot.

In the 5th District, it looks like any of three Democrats running to replace Gardina -- community activist Mike Ertel, Planning Board member Gordon Harden, another Smith favorite, and Bill Paulshock, owner of popular Bill's Seafood -- all have a shot. Paulshock may be hurt, though, by the fact that his opponents are ridiculing him for claiming his crab shack as his residence for campaign purposes.

All three Democrats in the race to replace Bartenfelder also seem viable -- Cathy Bevins, a former Smith aide backed by the Smith crowd, state Del. Todd Schuler, and Stephen Verch, a promising young pol with the support of powerful former state Sen. Mike Collins (D).

Baltimore County voters may be forgiven if they find all this political churn confusing and unsettling.

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at .

Previous Center Maryland columns by Josh Kurtz:

Primary Colors

Murphy the Smurf

A Gene for Public Service

No Agnew Here

The Full Montgomery

Shock and Tawes

Uly's Gold

Death and Deadlines

Bad News for Democrats From Washington to Washington County

Mr. Smith Goes ... Where?

End of the Line for Vallario?

Mission: Control

Post Plays Favorites

Red Storm Rising

Michael & Me

Wanted: Fresh Blood

Taylor-Made

Black and Blue?

Slugfest

Take Me Back to Old Virginny

The Political Lives of Peter Franchot

Bob and Weave

How to Make Prince George's County King

Kane is Able

To Be Frank

Gay Rights and Political Wrongs?

The Washington Post Goes to War

Snow Job

Unsolicited Advice for Ehrlich — Wait Till 2014

The Early Bird Gets the Worm?

Wayne's World May Be Another Planet

Miller Time Comes Early

Owings Owes an Explanation
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Josh Kurtz has been writing about Maryland politics since late 1995. Louie Goldstein, William Donald Schaefer and Pete Rawlings were alive, but the Intercounty Connector, as far as anyone could tell, was dead.


But some things never change: Mike Miller is still in charge of the Senate. Gerry Evans and Bruce Bereano are among the top-earning lobbyists in Annapolis. Steny Hoyer is still waiting for Nancy Pelosi to disappear. And Maryland Republicans are still struggling to be relevant.


The media landscape in Maryland has changed a lot, and Kurtz is happy to write weekly for Center Maryland. He's been writing a column for the website since it launched in January 2010.


In his "real" job, Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily down on Capitol Hill. But he'll always find Maryland politics more fascinating.


Kurtz grew up in New York City and attended public schools there. He has a BA in History from the University of Wisconsin and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University. He's married with two daughters and lives in Takoma Park, Md. He hopes you'll drop him a line, or maybe go out for a meal with him, because he's always hungry -- for political gossip.