Candidates in 5th District Debate Fate of Towson, Parkville

… Ertel, Marks face off in general election …

By Raven L. Hill, The Baltimore Sun

8:52 PM EDT, October 25, 2010

Baltimore County’s 5th Council District includes some bustling suburban commercial areas, such as Perry Hall, but the two candidates seeking to replace Councilman Vince Gardina said they are concerned about growth prospects in older neighborhoods, including the county seat of Towson.

Both Democrat Mike Ertel, 44, and Republican David Marks, 36, have led community organizations — for Ertel, the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations and for Marks, the Perry Hall Improvement Association. And both hope to apply the experience they gained with those organizations if elected.

Marks describes himself as a moderate Republican with a history of working across party lines. He said his background in transportation and planning would help to revitalize Towson.

“I bring qualities to this race that would be very important to Towson — a strong transportation and planning background,” he said. “I think that approach and experience would be valuable on the County Council.”

Ertel, however, said he has more experience dealing with the problems that aging communities such as Towson face. Ertel grew up in Baltimore and saw problems with crime and schools creep into the neighborhoods.

“The biggest issue is keeping our neighborhoods and district middle-class and taking care of problems. The next councilman is going to have to be more proactive than in the past in order to preserve the way the communities have always been,” Ertel said. “If we don’t address some of the small problems that have started to pop up, then things will change and probably not for the better.”

Ertel said he would work to boost the Harford Road business corridor near Parkville and on tying together the massive growth in Perry Hall.

Marks said there’s a clear need for economic development, particularly in downtown Towson, and better transportation options.

“Towson is an economic engine for the county,” he said. “Building better relations between the university and center of Towson can infuse new life into that area.”

Marks said he would like to see more mixed-use development, particularly residential units near downtown commercial areas. He’d like to enhance dining and shopping options, and do more to get Towson University students and their parents to patronize those businesses. Marks said he would also explore using a percentage of parking revenue to support economic development efforts. In addition, he’s interested in creating a shuttle service and business improvement district.

“Towson deserves to be a lot better,” Marks said. “It clearly has unlocked potential. We need to do whatever we can to promote economic renaissance in Towson.”

While Towson neighborhoods are thriving, Ertel agrees the downtown business district needs to be more vibrant. He believes that building a “restaurant row” through a public-private partnership would help to increase foot traffic and lead to more retail options.

“A lot of things in Towson will be baby steps that we build up to a much more vibrant economy,” Ertel said. “I think we need something to kick it off. Because we don’t have a lot of restaurants, we don’t see a lot of people on our streets.”

He said that the lack of free parking garages is a stumbling block and would like to work with garage owners to offer discounted or free rates at night.

However, both candidates said it will be tough to achieve some goals if the economy doesn’t improve.

The county must step up efforts to land new industries with an aggressive marketing plan and business-friendly processes, Ertel said.

“It doesn’t seem like job creation has traditionally been in their realm,” he said. “The reality is that we’re in changing times.”

But even in a rough economy, the county can take steps to instill greater public confidence, like implementing term limits, Marks said, and pointed out that the current council only has one Republican out of seven members.

“I’m a step toward more checks and balances,” he said.

Gardina announced last fall that he would not seek re-election after serving an unprecedented five terms.

Copyright © 2010, The Baltimore Sun

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