With more than two dozen candidates running in county and state races in districts that cover the core of Jewish Baltimore, the Jewish Times conducted email interviews with all candidates in state legislative Districts 11 and 41 along with County Council District 2.
With so many candidates we wanted to focus on what made candidates stand out, as well as their views on support for the Jewish community they will serve if elected. Responses have been edited for length or context highlighting each district.
COUNTY COUNCIL DISTRICT 2
Three Democrats and a Republican are vying for the seat vacated by two-term Councilwoman Vicki Almond, who is running for county executive.
Republican Michael Lee is a Pikesville businessman who wants more gun safety incentives “and trained professionals who can diffuse situations without violence.” He supports Almond’s initiative to keep guns out of minors’ hands, but said it could be stronger, perhaps with insurance policies on weapons.
He sees preparing children to compete in a global economy as the district’s most pressing need and wants to position schools for “year-round” learning. “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,” he said.
He said his policies to promote basic rights, including education, safety and quality of life would benefit the Jewish community. He would work with local leaders to establish cultural exchanges and events.
A community advocate and planning and community affairs professional, Izzy Patoka, a Sudbrook Park Democrat, wants to revitalize Pikesville and Reisterstown. “Development needs to be done right with respect to the environment, with respect to the community and with respect to Main Streets (small business).”
He said the district needs more green space and recreation resources. “We need to provide adequate senior centers and aging-in-place programs,” he said. “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.”
He said his track record includes steering $15 million to Jewish facilities in the Baltimore region when he worked in the governor’s office. He supports “a reasonable allocation of resources to nonpublic schools.”
For Owings Mills resident Rick Yaffe, a Democrat, founder of Butler Medical Transport and a volunteer fireman, the “gem” of the district is its senior population, which needs more engagement with “activities and amenities” and resources for aging in place, including help with finances, medication, transportation and addressing isolation and depression.
“Community policing, high-quality training and modern technology along with addressing our collective failure to adequately address substance abuse will help improve our public safety,” he said.
He supports programs that would benefit the Jewish community, including transportation for nonpublic, parochial and independent Jewish schools. And while he supports Almond’s economic development program, he said Pikesville has not seen enough improvement and that more engagement is needed with public safety, traffic, businesses and recreation and parks.
Reducing housing density, increasing open space, eliminating the Planned Unit Development process and protecting rural land are some of the district’s pressing needs, said Owings Mills Democrat and mental health professional Harlan K. Zinn.
Education priorities include class-size reduction and student mental health assessments to help eliminate bullying and violence. He said improving education, housing, jobs and addressing senior issues will “have a direct impact on our Jewish community in significant ways.”
He said some of Almond’s key initiatives have served constituents well, including school safety, breakfast programs for needy children, banning synthetic drugs in convenience stores and development of Foundry Row. However, he would support additional resources, including cybersecurity centers, senior housing and services, business incubators, alternative career centers, student internships and would discontinue sprawl development.
LEGISLATIVE DISTRICT 11
A Pikesville attorney with 20 years in Annapolis under his belt as a delegate and senator, Zirkin said he has “a lot more work to do.” His accomplishments include strengthening laws against drunk driving, domestic violence, cyberbullying and human trafficking and supporting marriage equality, gun safety measures and the Justice Reinvestment Act. He facilitated the transfer of Rosewood Center to Stevenson University, sponsored a major crime reduction package and advocated for education funding, stronger child abuse laws and banning fracking.
His top priorities: protecting children, public safety and the environment. “Maryland’s cyberbullying law, although better than most in the nation, is in need of reform, including a focus on protecting children from bullies and predators with changing technologies such as social media,” he said.
The district’s education and recreation needs will be boosted, he said, when Stevenson redevelops the former Rosewood property. As head of the Pikesville Armory commission, he said future prospects include recreational, cultural and arts uses.
Zirkin worked with the Baltimore Jewish Council on bills including child abuse, education funding and anti-BDS legislation. “I am further proud to have sponsored and assisted in funding critical initiatives including, but not limited to, Jewish Vocational Services, the Talmudical Academy, the Gordon Center and programs at Sinai Hospital,” he said.
Laskin, also a Pikesville attorney, began his career representing migrant and seasonal farmworkers in Florida and initially came to Baltimore to work with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He worked in private practice and as assistant attorney general and for the past 20 years was counsel for the Multistate Tax Commission.
“I will use my expertise in state taxation to help modernize and simplify Maryland’s tax system,” he said.
His top priorities: livable wages for workers, affordable healthcare, public education and public safety.
“All workers deserve a livable wage indexed to inflation and reasonable protections, including paid sick leave,” he said. “Maryland should move towards single-payer health care to eliminate the role of for-profit insurance in health care financing.”
Laskin said his Jewish values of “community, fairness and pursuit of justice” guide his campaign and will guide his work as a state senator. “Jewish communities benefit from a society where every member is treated fairly and with respect and dignity, including marginalized communities like immigrants — indeed most American Jews, including me, are descended from immigrants,” he said. “In my social justice work both with Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and with Jews United for Justice, I have met and worked with members of many segments of the very diverse Jewish community.”
Meanwhile, six Democrats and a Republican have entered the delegate race.
Amy Blank of Owings Mills was spurred to run for delegate following the losses of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic majority in Congress. She’s running with hopes that state legislatures can stem the tide.
“As a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood, the Baltimore Jewish Council and Advocates for Children and Youth, I have been our community’s advocate in Annapolis, and in coalition with others, we never lost a piece of legislation I was responsible for,” she said.
She has worked as an educator and campaigned for U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and marriage equality. Her priorities are education reform, public safety and health care. She supports full education funding and recommends “increasing its scope to provide vocational training, entrepreneurship programs and fire, police and EMS academies for non-college-bound high school students.”
Owings Mills attorney Jon S. Cardin wants to return to a delegate seat in the 11th, where he served from 2003 to 2015. He said he is “charged” to serve again because politics have become more polarizing since he left office.
His priorities are equal rights and protecting families and the environment. “No matter your race, gender, religion, nationality, disability, sexual orientation or identity — you deserve an equal opportunity to fulfill your potential and succeed in our state,” he said. That includes funding education and fighting discrimination in reproductive health, allocations for underserved communities and voting rights.
Jewish and community issues he has supported include Iran divestment, anti-BDS legislation, business equity for kosher wine, full funding of the Developmental Disability Administration, campaign finance reform, criminalization of revenge porn and reducing cyberbullying.
Del. Shelly Hettleman of Dumbarton just completed her first term as delegate, where she worked on issues including student loan debt, access to family planning, statewide standards for police rape kits and minimum wage increases.
Her priorities are education, healthcare and fairness and equity. “I supported legislation to provide voting rights to individuals who were formerly incarcerated, served their sentences and were transitioning back into the community,” she said, adding that she sponsored legislation to improve state employee sexual harassment training.
Hettleman supports BOOST (Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today) funding for scholarships for low-income students at Jewish day and other private schools and advocates for the safety, security and infrastructure needs of Jewish institutions. She supported anti-BDS legislation and helped secure funding to support the JCC of Greater Baltimore, Bais Yaakov of Baltimore, Bnos Yisroel of Baltimore, Talmudical Academy, Jewish Teen Advancement Program, Hatzalah of Baltimore and Ner Israel Rabbinical College, she said.
Del. Dana Stein, running for a fourth term, lists recent achievements including funding for Pikesville Volunteer Fire Co. and Hatzalah of Baltimore, sponsoring climate change legislation and environmentally friendly agriculture practices and working for a fracking ban and offshore drilling protections. His priorities include stabilizing Maryland’s health care exchange, enacting Kirwan Commission education funding recommendations and cleaning up the bay.
Overcrowding at Summit Park Elementary School is a key concern in the district. “Just as I advocated for the retrofit/renovation of Pikesville High School, I will be a strong advocate for a new building for Summit Park Elementary and Dulaney High School,” he said, adding that his capital requests have benefited the Jewish community, including funds for Hatzalah of Baltimore, Ner Israel, the Gordon Center and the Pikesville Volunteer Fire Co.
Republican Jonathan Porter of Brooklandville is running unopposed as a delegate in the 11th and decided to save his ink for the general election. Democratic candidates Kate Skovron of Pikesville and Linda Dorsey- Walker of Owings Mills did not respond to emails.
LEGISLATIVE DISTRICT 41
Former delegate now Sen. Jill P. Carter and newcomer J.D. Merrill are going head to head for the Senate seat in the district that just saw Sen. Nathaniel Oaks resign amid corruption charges. The 41st has an all-Democrat field of two senatorial and 11 delegate candidates.
Carter was recently appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan to complete Oaks’ term. Previously a long-serving District 41 delegate, she resigned last year to lead the mayor’s civil rights office. After 14 years as a delegate championing social justice, Carter said she’s ready to lead Maryland to becoming “one of the most progressive states in the U.S.” Her priorities are education, public health and safety and housing and economic development.
“Every child in Baltimore city has the right to an equitable and quality education and the opportunity to realize his/her full potential in life,” she said. She cites addressing massive addiction, lead poisoning and mental health needs as key to improving public safety.
“The biggest unmet need in the district is the lack of support for community-owned businesses,” she said. She wants improved investment from Pimlico Race Course and the Preakness Stakes into the community.
She said the Jewish community understands that if social issues and injustice is not addressed it “will have a negative impact on everyone. My fight for social justice does not just impact those who are being hurt by oppressive systems but will begin to divert investments in prisons and police that ultimately take away from community development efforts in the Jewish community.”
The son of Baltimore Symphony Orchestra musicians, J.D. Merrill grew up in North Baltimore and taught at Baltimore City College. Witnessing the impacts of underfunded city public schools led him to run for the Senate. His priorities are public education, public safety, full employment and living-wage jobs.
“That means a statewide $15 minimum wage, supporting unions and expanding collective bargaining rights and expanding the availability of quality job training and apprenticeship programs,” he said. “In the last 40 years, workers’ share of profits has fallen by 10 percent. We need to reverse that trend.”
He said historical underfunding of city schools is a critical unmet need and improving the effectiveness and accountability of city police will make communities safer. “Every child deserves access to a great school, regardless of zip code, race or religion,” he said. “This means that the state should continue its support of public and nonpublic schools so that the needs of all learners can be met.”
Meanwhile, 11 men and women are vying for the three delegate seats.
Del. Sandy Rosenberg was elected to the House of Delegates in 1982 and said he still has lots of work to do, including ensuring that “the Preakness remains at Pimlico, with the site becoming an economic and community development attraction for Northwest Baltimore.” He wants city public school education improved, while preserving state nonpublic school funding.
He advocated for a $1.5 million increase in BOOST funding, helped create a “textbook aid” program and supports “scholarships, facility upgrades, or resource sharing, because every child in Baltimore deserves the best education possible.”
His priorities also include affordable and safe housing. Public safety is the most pressing unmet need, he said. “We should get guns off the street. We should target the serious offenders. We should address the conditions that breed crime,” he said, adding the failure of witnesses to appear was addressed by his HB 1023. He supports the Northwest Citizens Patrol and Shomrim of Baltimore and sponsored the bill that made hate crimes, such as the bomb threats against the JCC, a felony in Maryland.
Del. Angela Gibson was appointed last year to fill Oaks’ delegate seat when he moved to the Senate. She advocates toughening hate crime laws and wants “to keep fighting for Baltimore working families, children and seniors.” She wants gun laws strengthened and more attention on the opioid crisis.
She led legislation to reduce hours at a “problem” liquor store in the community and for $250,000 in improvements to the historic West Arlington water tower. She also co-sponsored a $250,000 bond bill for upgrading Bnos Yisroel’s gym.
Her priorities include education funding, reducing vacant housing, increasing affordable housing and redeveloping Pimlico Race Course. She said crime is the district’s most pressing issue and that police and community relationships need rebuilding, starting with body cameras on all patrol officers.
Baltimore City assistant state’s attorney Dalya Attar said community leaders requested she run, seeking “diversity, fresh voices and new ideas in the legislature.” As an Orthodox Jewish woman she would “bring greater diversity and understanding to the legislature.” She is concerned about an anti-Semitic mentality she said is emerging and supports an independent redistricting committee for better Orthodox representation in Annapolis.
Reducing crime, education and jobs and the economy are her priorities. “I support the casino lock-box to bring more funds to Baltimore City schools, but I also know that we have to have stronger accountability and responsibility with education dollars,” she said. She supports universal pre-k and skills training in high schools, as “not everyone can or must go to college, but they should have opportunities to earn high wages.”
Better community connection with Annapolis is Tony Bridges’ goal in running for office. His priorities are public safety, education and economic disparity. He said the most pressing need in the district is Pimlico redevelopment and retaining the Preakness as a community economic engine.
“The economic disparity between race and geography needs to be acknowledged and addressed so that we can have substantial community development and economic equality throughout our city and state,” he said, adding needs include increasing minimum wage to $15 and hour, new affordable housing, promoting financial literacy and better linking of public transportation to job centers.
He supports CHAI and its relationship with Park Heights Renaissance, where he was former director of human services and operations. Most of his career has been spent in public and community service.
Physician Richard Bruno said he cares every day for the city’s uninsured and low-income residents, which compelled him to seek office. “When we address poverty directly, we can end its symptoms: violence, a failing education system and a lack of healthcare,” he said. “Violence and the closely related problem of drug trafficking spring directly from conditions of poverty. It’s time we worked together to end poverty and fully value black lives.”
His priorities include healthcare for everyone and improving city schools. He said the Jewish concept of tikkun olam informs his medical practice and his politics. “For me this means helping to author and pass legislation to lower prescription drug costs and to work with community organizations to ensure all our citizens have access to the care they need,” he said.
Joyce J. Smith is a longtime Democratic State Central Committee member, secretary of the Howard Park Civic Association and serves other community committees. She’s seeking office to take her grassroots community involvement to “a higher level.”
Her priorities include early childhood education initiatives to keep children “from falling through the cracks,” economic and community development and housing resources for the homeless and seniors.
“I would try to provide incentives to bring more quality businesses to the community with the expectation of better wages leading to less crime and more community pride,” she said. “The state could partner with the city to offer some kind of financial incentive to hire and train locally.”
She supports the BOAST (Building Opportunities for All Students and Teachers in Maryland Tax Credit) and BOOST funding.
Sean Stinnett, an administrator for the Maryland Department of General Services and president of West Arlington Community association, said leadership change is needed for the 41st to become a “thriving and livable district.”
His priorities include expanded funding for public school vocational programs, economic development, public safety and livability. “Small businesses are critical to the strength of the community, providing local, accessible living wage jobs, opportunities for advancement and ownership and wealth that remain in the community,” he said.
He said he has helped foster better relations between the black and Jewish communities through Boy Scout programs and CHAI’s Northwest Neighbors Connecting program. “The last three years I have trained young scouts on outdoor maintenance (lawn mowing and snow removal) in the Fallstaff, Cheswolde, Mt. Washington and Glen communities.”
Del. Bilal Ali and candidates Tessa Hill-Aston, Walter J. Horton and George E. Mitchell did not respond to emails.
The primary is June 26. Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. Early voting runs through June 21 at early voting centers from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. For more information, elections.maryland.gov