County Council District 2 Interviews

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Questions for County Council District 2 Candidates

  1. Why did you decide to run and what are your credentials?
  2. Highlight/explain three of the most important policies in your platform.
  3. What is the most pressing unmet need in your district and how do you plan to address it?
  4. What policies or programs would you support that would benefit the Jewish community?
  5. Why should residents vote for you? How do you stand out from your opponents?
  6. Reflect on County Councilwoman Vicki Almond’s two terms. Which of her policies do you support and/or would you expand upon if elected?
  7. What would you have done differently?

DISCLAIMER: Some responses have been edited for content and clarity.

REPUBLICAN MICHAEL LEE

Why did you decide to run and what are your credentials?

I’m not pleased with the way Baltimore County is currently governed. I think the Council should be providing more oversight, more accountability and creative solutions to stop bad development deals like Towson Row and horrible ‘band-aids’ like the school system computer fiascos.  As co-owner of an international sales, marketing and finance business I have experience in budgeting, strategic planning and see firsthand what our children will be competing against in the future.  Not only is my common sense business experience a plus, I’m not a career politician or government employee.  I love my job, but I think I can help make Baltimore County the most desirable county to live and work.

Highlight/explain three of the most important policies in your platform.

Education is #1. We must provide a check and balance to the Executive and the School Board, by working to open-audit the books and question contracts and expenditures. We have to help them re-appropriate monies and extend the school year, receive more supplies and improve/rebuild schools, without focusing on band-aid solutions.

Public Safety is #2. We need more officer training, more camera/sound and traffic systems and more coordination between first responders and those systems. We also need more gun safety incentives and trained professionals who can diffuse situations without violence.

Technology is #3. I would work to propose public/private partnerships to offer high speed internet to the County (like Google currently does throughout the U.S.)  It will pay for itself and provide services to the County like enhanced communication, public safety, job opportunities and transportation.

All of these would make Baltimore County the best county in Maryland and increase property values (and hopefully remove the need to increase taxes).

What is the most pressing unmet need in your district and how do you plan to address it?

My international experience has led me to believe that we aren’t adequately preparing our children to work and compete in the global workplace. We must address school oversight first, including offering enhanced foreign language opportunities, financial literacy, appreciation of nature and culture, as well as STEM and robotics. We should work to improve schools so they are “year round” institutions of learning. The school year has remained unchanged since I was in school, but the world is much more global.

What policies or programs would you support that would benefit the Jewish community?

I believe we all want the same basic things: education, safety and a great quality of life. Jewish, Christian, Islamic, Buddhist or agnostic. We want to be free to learn, talk, visit, shop, eat and play.  My policies are to promote those basic rights.  I also believe that Baltimore County needs more open cultural events, and I would look into proposing and working with local leaders to establish cultural exchanges and events.

Why should residents vote for you? How do you stand out from your opponents?

You should vote for me, 1) because I have the creative business experience to make change happen. 2) I am the only candidate not accepting any developer monies, which I think goes against the very basic concept of County Council members’ responsibilities. How can candidates accept money when they control land use (pay to play)? 3) My diverse international background allows me to understand where our county is coming up short and how to fix it. 4) I have no motivation to keep this job besides being a servant to the residents and businesses. I am done after four or eight years and will never seek another office. Government work is supposed to be public servitude, not a self-serving grift of tax payers. Lastly, I’m donating 50% of my annual compensation from this position to Baltimore County schools.

Reflect on County Councilwoman Vicki Almond’s two terms. Which of her policies do you support and/or would you expand upon if elected?

I have no ill will towards Vicki, but I think the fact that we didn’t push further to audit and expand the council’s role in school decisions is terrible. Dallas Dance and Verletta White situations were also under her ‘watch’, as is the current low income housing indecision fiasco and the Towson Row tax payer funding bailout.

I think her stand on keeping guns out of under 18 year old hands is good, but should be stronger, like instituting insurance policies on weapons, perhaps).

What would you have done differently?

I think Vicki has a good sense of how to network, but I think she sees the county’s trajectory as different than me. I believe we are headed for a day of reckoning if we continue electing the same people, not just because Baltimore City problems are moving our way, but also the basic lack of fore-thought being spent on how to improve our county over the next two decades, instead of the next two terms.  Because I want no other office, I will tirelessly work to improve our schools, our public safety and our quality of life, without any self-interest.

 

DEMOCRAT IZZY PATOKA

Why did you decide to run and what are your credentials?

I believe that I will be a very effective council member.   I have spent my entire life working to strengthen, improve and protect communities.  Over the years, many community leaders have suggested that I run for office some day.

The best predictor of the future is past performance. I have an unparalleled track record of fighting for communities that will allow me to hit the ground running on Day One as a trusted community advocate for residents of the 2nd District.

I have extensive experience in strengthening communities and have served in these key leadership positions:

  • Director of Community Development for LifeBridge Health
  • Executive Director of the Governor’s Office of Community Initiatives
  • Director of the Governor’s Intergovernmental Affairs Office
  • Founding Director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhoods
  • Deputy Director for the Baltimore County Department of Planning
  • Chief of Capital Budgeting for the Baltimore County Department of Planning
  • Division Chief for Capital Budgeting for the Baltimore City Department of Planning

I believe that community engagement is essential to community strength. As a community leader, my efforts have included:

  • Sudbrook Park Community Association Board Member
  • George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology Parent Committee
  • Pikesville Precinct Police Community Relations Council
  • Franklin Precinct Police Community Relations Council
  • Pikesville Chamber of Commerce
  • Northwest Chamber of Commerce
  • Pikesville-Greenspring Community Coalition
  • Reisterstown-Owings Mills-Glyndon Coordinating Council
  • Central Baltimore County Democratic Club
  • The Greenmount School Board of Trustees
  • Greater Pikesville Recreation Council Youth Basketball Coach
  • Wellwood Baseball
  • Reisterstown Baseball
  • Neighborhoods United Board Member
  • Pimlico Community Development Authority
  • Liberty Road Business Association Board Member
  • Dickeyville Community Association Board Member
  • Forest Park Little League Youth Baseball Coach
  • Randallstown Gateway Park Committee

Highlight/explain three of the most important policies in your platform.

Public safety is my No. 1 priority. I have knocked on more than 9,000 doors of 2nd District residents and overwhelmingly the concern for a safe 2nd District is the primary topic of discussion.  I am saddened when I hear, “I am not opening my door for anybody, for any reason” after knocking on a door.  No one should be afraid to open their front door.  I will work with all law enforcement entities and leadership from neighboring jurisdictions to drive down crime.

The 2nd District is complex and faces many development pressures. It has great beauty in its suburban and rural character.  Development needs to be done right with respect to the environment, with respect to the community and with respect to Main Streets (small business).  We have an Urban-Rural Demarcation Line.  Inside the URDL is higher density development. Outside the URDL is much lower density.  So the idea is to have growth where you plan to have growth.  I will hold that line where it is and work to revitalize Pikesville and Reisterstown.

I will work to have a robust capital budget for county schools. For the first time, the Baltimore County will have a hybrid school board that includes elected members from each council district. I look forward to working with the 2nd District School Board Member to help improve our schools across the county.  I will work with State legislative partners to increase school funding.  Funding needs for Maryland schools have changed since the Thornton Commission, and Baltimore County needs to address those changes. The Kirwan Commission has made recommendations that are fundamental to improving education in Maryland, including universal pre-K, highly qualified teachers who are compensated appropriately, effective technical education and increased resources for at-risk students.

What is the most pressing unmet need in your district and how do you plan to address it?

There is insufficient green space and recreation resources to address the growing needs of the Greater Pikesville Recreation Council and the Reisterstown Recreation Council.   I also believe that we need to provide adequate senior centers and aging in place programs.  The needs of our youth and our older adults will have significant impact, especially since these two age cohorts are growing dramatically in the 2nd District.

What policies or programs would you support that would benefit the Jewish community?

As I mentioned earlier, the best predictor of the future is past performance. I have a track record of bringing resources to our Jewish community.  During my time in the Governor’s Office, I helped steer $25.9 million to Jewish facilities across the state of Maryland ($15 million to the Baltimore region.)

Additionally, I have been endorsed by the Teacher’s Association of Baltimore County (TABCO) despite answering their questionnaire in the following way.

As a County Council member, are you in favor of allocating public funding to home and privately schooled students?

___X___             Support                                                                                                                _____   Oppose

My answer:

Baltimore County Schools should be fully funded. Baltimore County’s 2nd District has an extremely high number of students that utilize non-public education.  Currently, there is insufficient educational infrastructure (number of classroom seats) for public schools to address the acute needs for thousands of families and students in the 2nd District.  Therefore, I support a reasonable allocation of resources to non-public schools.

I am running to represent a district that includes a large Orthodox Jewish population — a population that believes that sending children to religious schools is not a choice, but a necessity, in order to comply with religious tradition. Many in this community face similar economic challenges as the rest of Baltimore and rely on government assistance in order support their families. I embrace the responsibility for representing everyone. The State of Maryland can and should provide the resources it needs to support our public schools while also reasonably supporting families who are struggling economically and who believe they have no choice but to send their students to private schools.

Why should residents vote for you? How do you stand out from your opponents?

I believe that I will be a very effective council member.   I have spent my entire life working to strengthen, improve and protect communities.

Aside from the basic functions of a legislative body, the Baltimore County Council has broad authority in four significant areas (land use, budget, constituent services and contract review): In each of these areas, I have broad and comprehensive experience.

  • Land use – I am a land use professional and served as the Deputy Director of Planning for Baltimore County.
  • Budget – I am a good fiscal steward. I was recruited to Baltimore County to be Chief of Capital Budgeting.  Eight months into the job, I was promoted to Deputy Director of Planning for Baltimore County.  I not only prepared a $1 billion capital budget, but I also prepared the operating budget for 4 county agencies.  My budgets were always balanced.
  • Constituent Services – I employ relentless follow up on constituent services. I know both sides of community concerns because I am active in my own community.  I serve on the board of my community association, Sudbrook Park and I coach basketball for the Greater Pikesville Recreation Council, just to name a few.
  • Contract Review and Approval – I was a senior advisor to the Governor of Maryland for 8 years in the review and approval process for large contracts that were presented to the Board of Public Works (Governor, Comptroller and Treasurer).

No other candidate has this level of experience.

Reflect on County Councilwoman Vicki Almond’s two terms. Which of her policies do you support and/or would you expand upon if elected?

Councilwoman Almond attends many community meetings. I think that she should be recognized for this, especially since it is the best way to understand community needs.  I also think that her efforts to implement the School Resource Officer program has helped to keep our schools safe.  I will continue or expand on both of these efforts.

What would you have done differently?

I will appoint a design professional to represent the 2nd District of the Planning Board.

 

DEMOCRAT RICK YAFFE

Why did you decide to run and what are your credentials?

The 2nd District needs a business leader that can find solutions to the difficult challenges we face, and not another career politician who has never worked in the private sector and doesn’t understand the important role that businesses play in our local economy. I have been involved in small businesses for my entire life, as well as a volunteer community advocate. I presently serve as a Trustee for CCBC and a member of Baltimore County Planning Board and Landmark Preservation Commission. I am also a member of the Pikesville and Chestnut Ridge Volunteer Fire Companies.

Highlight/explain three of the most important policies in your platform.

Seniors – They are the gem of our district. Keepings Seniors engaged with more activities and amenities. Providing all the resources needed for aging in place and addressing issues regarding isolation and depression. Help with finance, medication, transportation etc.

Economic Development – establish a Business Ambassadorship program to help promote new and established business expand and grow. Improve the tax base to keep property values in check without having to raise taxes.

Public Safety – community policing, high quality training, addressing substance abuse along with modern technology. All of these will all play a part in keeping the residents of our communities safe including schools.

What is the most pressing unmet need in your district and how do you plan to address it?

Public Safety is the most pressing need. As an active member of 2 local volunteer fire companies, everyone needs to feel safe. Community policing, high quality training and modern technology along with addressing our collective failure to adequately addressing substance abuse will help improve our Public Safety.

What policies or programs would you support that would benefit the Jewish community?

Transportation for nonpublic, parochial and independent Jewish schools and seniors.

Aging in place and tax relief for seniors and revitalizing the Pikesville area.

Why should residents vote for you? How do you stand out from your opponents?

As a Democrat, I am a strong community advocate, approachable, responsive and transparent. I am also a business leader that finds solutions to problems. I am different from my opponents as I don’t subscribe to O’Malley politics of tax and spend (I think we have seen enough of that in our area). Unlike my opponent I won’t promise what I can’t deliver.

Reflect on County Councilwoman Vicki Almond’s two terms. Which of her policies do you support, and/or would you expand upon if elected?

I support her economic development program. We need to improve Pikesville and Reisterstown.

Unfortunately, not enough has been done to Pikesville area over the past 8 years.

What would you have done differently?

I would have engaged every willing business owner, the Pikesville Chamber of Commerce, The Baltimore County Planning Department, outside redevelopment advisors and our state representatives for a comprehensive master plan for Pikesville. One that considers, seniors and senior living, public safety, traffic, businesses and recreation & parks.

 

DEMOCRAT HARLAN K. ZINN

Why did you decide to run and what are your credentials?

I bring a wealth of academic training (doctoral degree in counseling psychology, graduate programs in psychology, gerontology and management/computers) , organization and services/management expertise (National Institutes of Health), community service leadership (Velvet Valley Neighborhood Association and Bowleys Quarters Community Association) and a compassion for people to a potential role on the County Council. Furthermore, I have served as a leader for 20+ years in two community associations and the coordinator of the community association network (CAN) comprised of over a hundred of community associations throughout Baltimore County.   My professional roles have included leading change, directing people, stressing accountability and continually improving an organization’s effectiveness in the field of mental health counseling, research development, program delivery and public policy on a national and state level.  I additionally possess professional membership in several national organizations while serving in local professional organizations and a regional land preservation program (Valleys Planning Council).

Highlight/explain three of the most important policies in your platform.

The most important policies in my platform include enhancing and enriching the quality of life in Baltimore County in the areas of education, housing, managerial accountability, jobs, elimination of fraud, improved communications and aging services.

Education – reducing class sizes; eliminating bullying and violence in schools by requiring mental health assessments as part of annual physical exams for all students; rotating mental health counselors throughout all schools; developing alternative schools for special needs students; and assuring adherence to geographic boundaries for school admission.

Housing – reducing the density of housing and creating expanded and new recreational / open space; increasing availability and options for senior housing; and encouraging and updating aging neighborhoods.

Jobs – supporting additional business and community resources to include centers of excellence for cyber security, senior housing and services, business incubators and alternative career centers.

Aging – developing a pioneering comprehensive educational / communication program using national research / services expertise to address aging issues and effectively communicating this information via specialized 24/7 networks (online, lectures, reading materials, tv series, etc.)

What is the most pressing unmet need in your district and how do you plan to address it?

Housing and Zoning – reduce the density of housing and create expanded and new open space; increase availability and options for senior housing; eliminate the planned unit development process and variation of standards criteria in the zoning code; assume compliance with environmental policies and protect the rural land located outside of the urban rural demarcation line; and expedite processing of variance and zoning appeals while ensuring consistency and accountability of judicial decisions.

What policies or programs would you support that would benefit the Jewish community?

All of issues identified in question 2 have a direct impact on our Jewish community in significant ways.

Why should residents vote for you? How do you stand out from your opponents?

My campaign slogan defines me as “councilman for the people.” My sole objective is to attempt to improve, enhance and enrich the quality of life for residents of the 2nd district.  Through all of my endeavors professionally, communicably and personally, I have been acknowledged as a “team builder and strategic thinker” with my accomplishments reflecting that perspective.  I intend to bring these same skills, abilities and personality to a role on the County Council.

I stand apart from my opponents in that I present creative and collaborative solutions to the myriad of challenges facing Baltimore County. Before investing in a posture on a situation, I undertake extensive research on issues from a multitude of dimensions including long and short-term implications, impact on constituents, returns on investment, transparency and strategic impact.  In all situations, I am committed to applying innovative approaches to challenges regardless of political party.  Where conflicts with colleagues arise, collaboration and consensus will prevail with my input.

All of my experiences and expertise enable me to evaluate issues, propose clear and representative solutions and successfully implement popular positions of critical concern to my constituents.   I have demonstrated ability to build teams, develop strategic solutions for both the short and long term, and generate trust among peers – essential to addressing the many challenges currently and in the future facing Baltimore County.

Reflect on County Councilwoman Vicki Almond’s two terms. Which of her policies do you support and/or would you expand upon if elected?

Vicki Almond’s two terms on the County Council has resulted in some key initiatives that have served constituents well – school safety, breakfast program for needy children, banning of synthetic drugs in convenience stores, development of Foundry Row. I would support her earlier programs but would expand the school safety initiative with dedicated mental health counselors to rotate through schools for support and intervention as well as require mental health exams every year when students undergo physical exams to attend schools; provide additional child development training and intervention strategies for school resource officers; expand community development programs with updating and upgrading existing neighborhood shopping centers; etc.

What would you have done differently?

In the realm of community development, I would support additional business and community resources to include centers of excellence for cyber security, senior housing and services, business incubators, alternative career centers, student internships, etc.; discontinue sprawl development and prioritize the improvement of the infrastructure; and designate more enterprise zones with tax incentives for emerging businesses.   Within the realm of government enhancement and accountability, I would add specified consequences and penalties for non-compliance within the ethics review process – training + penalties for infractions; and explore through a referendum a collaborative decision making process between the County executive and the county Council with quarterly meetings to set priorities,  determine budgets and review ongoing initiatives.

The Primary Election is June 26. Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. Early voting runs June 14 through June 21 at early voting centers from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m.

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