Towson, the hub of Baltimore County government, is getting a new councilman.
Democrat Mike Ertel, a longtime Towson community activist, is campaigning against Republican Antonio “Tony” Campbell, a Towson University political science professor who rallied protesters against early pandemic-era orders that restricted schools and businesses, to represent Towson, Parkville and Rosedale as the 6th District councilman.
Baltimore County is assured to get two new council representatives in the 6th District and southwestern 1st District after November’s election. The County Council’s two longest-serving Democrats, Cathy Bevins and Tom Quirk, are forgoing bids for what would have been fourth terms.
Republican Councilman David Marks, who has represented the Towson area for a dozen years, was bumped out of the 6th District when boundaries were redrawn in March.
Despite their political affiliations, Ertel, an insurance broker who’s worked with some local developers, and Campbell, who formerly coordinated the State Highway Administration’s bicycle and pedestrian program, converge on many issues.
Campbell and Ertel, both 56, say county leaders must pivot from building new, high-occupancy subsidized housing to create enough low-income and accessible units to meet the county’s federal obligation to build 1,000 more units by 2027.
“We have existing housing stock, we just need to put money into actually doing it [redevelopment] and making that housing stock livable,” Campbell, a Glendale/Glenmont resident, said.
Ertel said the problem stems from developers’ financial incentives to build.
“If you’ve got to provide 1,000 more units in the county, why can’t we just make 1,000 more vouchers available?” Ertel said. Nationwide, voucher holders have languished on wait lists for available housing.
Ertel and Campbell oppose the prospect of a light rail line from Towson to Baltimore City, which some residents protested as the Maryland Transit Administration sought public comment this fall. Transportation officials say the transit line project would create 38,000 jobs in Towson and give minority residents in the Loch Raven-area better transit access. The candidates say the project is a political nonstarter.
As dozens of local community organizations seek to add four more council seats, Ertel and Campbell support adding two more; they recommended the change to the Charter Review Commission throughout the last decade as the county’s population has swelled to 852,000.
Campbell said he would introduce legislation to add the question to the 2024 ballot.
The opponents agree the county’s inspector general should have more resources to investigate possible public fraud, waste and abuse. Campbell wants the IG to have authority over County Charter requirements.
And they say the council can be more aggressive addressing low student achievement and compelling school officials to openly communicate.
“Baltimore County has had more issues than we’ve ever had,” Ertel, a West Towson resident, said. Campbell agrees.
Campbell said he would first tackle “long-term issues of the failure” of Baltimore County public schools, which lack resources for technical training in trade professions.
And in the aftermath of pandemic school closures, Campbell, whose daughter is a fourth grader in county schools, said schools needs more mental health professionals to help students adjust to in-person schooling after years of disruptions kept them at home.
Ertel notes more than half of county students are eligible for free and reduced-price meals — a March report from the Maryland State Department of Education shows nearly 54% qualified for the program last school year.
The increased number of households qualifying for subsidized services, combined with many county students’ poor state test scores, are part of a larger web of “complex social issues that we have to deal with,” Ertel said.
“You can’t function as a county forever if a big chunk of your population is slipping into poverty,” he said.
To Campbell, who has taught American history and political theory in graduate and undergraduate programs at Towson since 2004, education “is a civil rights issue.”
“I’m only here because I had access to a good public education system growing up,” the Pittsburgh native, who is Black, said. On top of a bachelor’s degree, Campbell has earned a doctorate of ministry and master’s degrees of social science and divinity.
Where they split
Ertel’s and Campbell’s outlooks narrow on public safety and their motivations for running.
Campbell blames ineffective law enforcement by Baltimore City Police and State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby for violent crime in the 6th District. He emphasizes regional cooperation between the city and its surrounding suburbs to reduce crime.
Between January and September this year, three people have been killed in the central county district, according to data in a Baltimore County Police Department report; the number of people who have been killed in western and southeastern districts exceed the number of murders in the 3rd, 5th and 6th districts — five homicides — combined.
“There’s no repercussions of criminal activity” in the city, Campbell said.
He supports Baltimore County’s decision to ban chokeholds, but said the county should work harder to improve police morale, which he said has led to the shortage of county officers.
Ertel, meanwhile, said there should be more focus on community policing initiatives and investment in technology to develop a downtown Towson camera system and a system to detect firearms discharges.
Campbell said his run was motivated by local executive orders closing in-person schooling and businesses, which he said were unconstitutional and enacted with little forethought of repercussions.
But Campbell said he’s now more concerned with “unintended consequences” of the restrictions, which have eroded students’ mental health and made it more difficult to run a small business.
“There’s a reason for checks and balances in our system of government,” he said.
Campbell has been a staffer for two former congressmen in Pennsylvania and Maryland. He lost a bid for U.S. Senate to incumbent Democrat Rep. Chris Van Hollen. He enlisted as a U.S. Army chaplain on the heels of the Sept. 11 attack in 2001.
Campbell “has an impressive resume,” Ertel said, but council members should be those “who know where the issues already are.”
Ertel, a Hamilton native, said his decades as a community advocate lend him “vast knowledge” of school construction and land-use concerns in the district.
He represented 30-odd neighborhoods as president of what’s now known as the Towson Communities Alliance for two nonconsecutive terms. He helped organize a committee to resolve community complaints about disruptive Towson University students.
Ertel has worked with Towson residents and Democratic Del. Cathi Forbes, who endorsed him this election, on solutions to school overcrowding. He has advocated for and against land-use changes proposed during the county’s quadrennial rezoning process.
Campbell contends he’s been active in the district since he moved to Baltimore County in the early 2000s, noting his appointment to the Charter Review Commission in 2017 and service as vice chair of the Baltimore County school board nominating commission.
Last year, he was a program specialist for the Saratoga WarHorse Foundation in Cockeysville, which uses horses in a therapeutic program to ease veterans’ symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Mike’s neighborhood activism is fine,” Campbell said, but “you need somebody on the council who understands county government and what it should be doing.”
Among Ertel’s endorsers are County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., who previously backed Ertel’s primary opponent; the Maryland State Education Association; and The Baltimore Sun.
Campbell and Ertel are running the most aggressive council campaigns, according to their spending.
Ertel leads with $41,800 cash on-hand as of Oct. 28, compared to Campbell’s $25,700. The Republican spent more than five times what Ertel spent in the reporting period, largely on campaign advertising and telephone canvassing, according to campaign finance reports.
Campbell’s efforts have paid off — he raked in more than $35,500 between Aug. 24 and Oct. 28, supported by sizable donations from Sen. Chris West and 3rd District County Councilman Wade Kach, and $6,000 from the Maryland Republican Party, campaign filings show. Marks and Republican Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford have endorsed him.
Ertel in the same timeframe collected $25,400, including from the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4 and other labor unions and heavyweight developer David S. Brown Enterprises Ltd.
Olszewski’s administration was admonished in an inspector general report for failing to end a decade of special treatments afforded to chairman, Howard Brown, as his company built out the Metro Centre at Owings Mills.
Democratic state Del. Pat Young is running for the open council seat in the southwestern 1st District that includes Catonsville, Arbutus and parts of Woodlawn. Young, a Catonsville native, is running against Republican Al Nalley, a Catonsville retiree and former small-business owner.
A win by Campbell or Nalley would tip the scales of the council in Republicans’ favor; Democrats currently hold a majority by 4-3.
And a victory by Campbell or 5th District Democrat Crystal Francis (who is running against Marks) would be historic on the County Council, to which only two Black members have been elected and which has never seen more than a single Black representative serving at one time.
Incumbent Council Chair Julian Jones, a Democrat in the western 4th District, is defending his seat against Kim Bryant, a 57-year-old business owner who is Black.