Businessman and Civil Servant Vie for 2nd District Council Seat

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With a seat open for the taking in Baltimore County Council District 2, Republican Mike Lee, who ran unopposed in the June primary election, and Democrat Izzy Patoka, who beat out two fellow Dems to reach the general election, are running head-to-head on whose background has better prepared them for the council and how they would address some of the district’s pressing needs.

Lee, running as “The Democratic Republican,” has a degree in electrical engineering and a career at PTC International, Inc., an international sales, marketing and finance company, which he co-owns. He said his oversight and accountability “for the livelihood of the entire company” has given him good skills to use toward running a county.

“It’s a holistic view of the dollars and cents, what strategies make sense, why are we doing this and who are the right people to man those different strategies,” Lee said. “My goal in running is to make sure that our county council is the most ethical council than it can be. That means that it adheres to a real responsibility to the communities, too. Whether it’s Pikesville, Owings Mills, Reisterstown, Glyndon.”

As a longtime civil servant, Patoka’s undergraduate and graduate degrees are in environmental planning. He said his background in constituent services, planning and budgeting are strong suits that will dovetail with the demands of a councilman. He is currently director of community development at LifeBridge Health.

“The council has broad land-use authority and I think it’s important to have someone who is a trained land-use professional,” he said, adding that he worked in planning and budgeting at the city and county level.

In his primary election interview for the JT, Patoka said, “No one should be afraid to open their front door,” begging the question, how do you make people feel safe?

Patoka said it’s important to take seriously the idea that “crime does not go down by itself, that it needs to be driven down. And you have to have the political fortitude to work with the appropriate partners to drive it down.”

He said his strategies as a councilman would be working with Baltimore City, the Pikesville police precinct, the two adjacent city precincts and using technology such as additional license tag readers to flag open warrants or stolen vehicles. He said communication is paramount, citing his monthly visits to police community relations council meetings.

On public safety, Lee has called for “more gun safety incentives and trained professionals” to defuse situations without violence.

Hiring more police officers and training them better would help, he said, “and hiring more professional, strategic people who can defuse a situation is really important. We’ve had bad outcomes.”

He cited the case of an armed woman shot by police during a standoff at her Randallstown home, whose family received $38 million in compensation from the county, which he said could have been used for other public safety initiatives.

“It’s making sure that we have the proper team, the proper administration, the proper police officers, proper training and technology,” he said. That would include camera systems on major streets such as Reisterstown Road, Falls Road and Greenspring Avenue to track vehicles and people.

The issue of whether public monies should support private schools is a hot topic in District 2, where there are many private schools, including those serving the district’s large Jewish population.

Patoka, who is Jewish, has been endorsed by the county teachers’ union, which does not support public funding of private schools. Yet Patoka does.

“I’m running to represent a district that includes a large Orthodox Jewish population that believes sending their children to religious school is not a choice, but a necessity,” he said. “There are economic challenges for many of the families to make this happen, so I feel like there should be a reasonable allocation of funds to allow families to send their kids to private schools.”

Two of Lee’s children attend private schools. He believes it’s important to provide “basic incentives” for private schools such as tax credits, although not necessarily one-for-one vouchers.

“Private schools provide a really good learning situation for kids that a lot of times are left behind by public school or don’t want to go to a public school,” he said. “So why should we penalize those parents who are taxpaying constituents and say, ‘You can’t get any benefit, even though you pay all the tax, too?’”

Both Patoka and Lee said campaigning at the street level and knocking on doors has been invaluable. Lee said constituents are concerned about corruption and party politics in local government. “It takes a really high moral fiber to say, ‘I’m going to stand up for the county, not for the people who give me money,’” he said of candidates accepting contributions from developers.

Patoka talked with a resident curious about “jobs of the future,” such as service-oriented jobs, health care, education, trades, technology and cybersecurity. “I learn something every day with every door knock,” he said.

The public definitely has a good selection to choose from depending on their political philosophy. — Mark Stewart, ROG president

At a recent Reisterstown- Owings Mills-Glyndon Coordinating Council (ROG) meet-the-candidates event, residents turned out to ask Lee and Patoka about their concerns, said ROG president Mark Stewart. Those included funding for Main Street improvement projects in Reisterstown, favorable commercial and residential zoning during the 2019 Comprehensive Zoning Map Process, how to better handle the district’s homeless population, air conditioning and support for county schools and teachers, and addressing vacant properties.

“We have a few vacant businesses that have been there quite a while and they’re looking pretty sad. It makes the neighborhood look bad,” Stewart said, adding that both candidates came across as impressive and knowledgeable. “The public definitely has a good selection to choose from depending on their political philosophy.”

singram@midatlanticmedia.com

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