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Brochin targets developer influence in County Executive bid

Sen. Jim Brochin

State Sen. Jim Brochin will begin his formal campaign for Baltimore County Executive with a kick-off celebration on Thursday. Ask him why he wants the job, and you’ll hear a lot about developers, politicians who bend to their contributors’ will, and the need for more open space.

“Somebody needs to stand up to these developers and say No. And it’s a culture that goes beyond my competitor [Councilwoman Vicki Almond] that goes back 30 or 40 years in council after council — it’s just not new to this county council,” he said.

“They feed campaign contributions to council people, country club memberships to our County Executive and previous ones, and say, OK, we’re going to develop wherever we want and we’re going to tear up as much open space as we want, and then we’re going to go to our homes, wherever they are, and all of you are stuck with the results.”

Towson residents are likely familiar with Brochin’s opposition to a new Royal Farms gas station at the corner of York Road and Bosley Avenue. The location is supposed to be a “gateway” to Towson and follow certain design principles — principles that are not compatible with the gas station plan. Zoning at the site also does not allow for gas pumps.

Proposed Royal Farms

Councilman David Marks, who represents the area, submitted a PUD (Planned Unit Development) to allow Royal Farms and developer Caves Valley to proceed despite the zoning issue. He later decided the gas station was unworkable and submitted a bill in the council to kill the PUD.

But Almond, who will announce her candidacy for County Executive next month, and the other Democrats on the council voted down the PUD revocation. Council President Tom Quirk is now leading negotiations between Caves Valley and opponents of the gas station to try to find a compromise solution.

Brochin called the Royal Farms project an abomination” last September and said “it’s insane that anyone could support this unless they’ve been influenced by campaign contributions.”

But to call him the anti-development candidate would be wrong, he said.

“I’m not anti-development; I’m anti-tearing-up-open-space and developing open space,” he said. 

“Under my administration there will be a lot of opportunities for developers. Anybody who lives around Towson — whether you’re in Anneslie, Stoneleigh, Rodgers Forge, West Towson or East Towson — knows that we need to redevelop Towson, and we need to adhere to a master plan.”

He said he’d like to work with developers to turn Towson into a “beautiful, walkable area and … turn it into something nice rather than the hodgepodge that is right now.”

He also said other areas, including the Reisterstown Road and Liberty Road corridors, need better restaurants and grocery stores — and fewer liquor stores and check-cashing spots.

“There are going to be a lot of redevelopment opportunities,” he said.

Almond, whose district includes the western portion of Towson, said in an interview that she’s not afraid to stand up to developers, and noted that Royal Farms developer Caves Valley opposed her candidacy in 2014 after she rebuffed their development plans in Owings Mills in favor of the Foundry Row project by Greenberg Gibbons.

Campaign finance reports show that Almond has received at least $6,000 from entities related to Caves Valley since the start of 2014.

Vicki Almond

She said in the case of the Royal Farms, there were negotiations underway between County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, Caves Valley and Council President Tom Quirk that Brochin was not aware of.

“I believe any time you can negotiate or compromise, it’s worth the time,” she said of her vote to allow the project to move forward.

“I think I’ve proven that communities are at the center of what I do, and I believe I’ve made decisions based on that. We do need development to have sustainable communities,” she said. “I think my record stands on its own and I don’t think I have anything to prove.”

John Olszewski Jr., state delegate from Dundalk, is also running in the Democratic primary, which will be held in June.

Maryland Insurance Commissioner Al Redmer and  state Del. Pat McDonough — who has been dubbed the Donald Trump of Baltimore County — have both gotten into the race on the Republican side. Democrats outnumber Republicans in the county by a 2-to-1 margin.

Brochin, who is 53, won his first State Senate race in 2002. He has become known as an independent voice who does not always adhere to the party line. He was against repealing the state’s death penalty; he filibustered with Republicans against then-Gov. Martin O’Malley’s budget plan; and he voted against the Dream Act that gives in-state tuition rates to undocumented students.

Both O’Malley and Kamenetz supported Brochin’s primary opponent, Connie DeJuliis, in the 2014 election. He won the primary with 69 percent of the vote and went on to win the general election, against Republican Tim Robinson, with 51.6 percent of the vote.

Brochin, an insurance broker who grew up in Pikesville and now lives in Cockeysville with his daughter, Katherine, sat down for an interview this week in advance of his formal campaign announcement. Some of the other issues he discussed include:

Education
My constituents, who are smarter than me and educate me very well, took me to Dulaney [High School] about a year ago and showed me the AVID program where they’re plucking these kids out of middle school, IDing them and saying This kid has an interest in college has the ability to go to college, but maybe their parents didn’t go and maybe they don’t know a whole lot about it. Maybe they don’t have good study skills or organizational skills. And we’re going to put them all together in first period starting in high school in ninth grade and they’ll all for four years going to be in first period together, we’re going to teach them these skills, bring in motivational speakers, take them to colleges so they can see colleges, show them how to fill out a college application. And it’s working. …

So one of the things I want to do is [increase] the school budget to the point where we can have this AVID program for every kid who wants to go to college and doesn’t have the means right now or the understanding of what it takes.

Likewise, we need to do the same type of program … for kids who don’t want to go to college but want to learn a trade. We need to partner with apprenticeship programs whether it’s [plumbers or steamfitters or auto mechanics]. … So we need to work on both those tracks.

His support of new buildings for Dulaney and Towson high schools, and where Towson students might be housed during construction
I was one of the people that pushed very hard to get the addition at Stoneleigh Elementary, and we got it and it was very interesting the way they did it [busing the students to the old Carver High building before it was demolished]. And the principal was great. They made it into like a game and it was really cool how they did it and they really did a nice job of educating parents and students as to what they were going to do.

I don’t have anything specific but I know we need to do something like that and make it seamless. Look, you’re going to have to invest a year or two years — or a year and a half — of inconvenience in order to have these beautiful schools and hopefully … creative minds will prevail and we’ll figure something out. But there are a lot of buildings, and a lot of opportunities, and I think we’ll find something.

Raising taxes to support schools
I don’t think we need to. I look at this county and I follow the budget process very closely as a state senator from Baltimore County. And you have to have a 5 percent rainy day fund so you hang on to your triple-A bond rating. We do.

And every year for the last seven years we’ve had surpluses between $235 million and $310 million. The question is, Where is that money going, and are there cuts in other non-essential agencies where we could even have more money and shift it to growing needs?

Environmental issues and his opposition to the stormwater management fee (“rain tax”) 
I would tell you that I’m probably one of the greatest people in the Senate. I have a higher-percentage voting record with the League of Conservation Voters than half of the senators in Montgomery County. I have a 91 percent voting record over 15 years in the legislature. …

I voted for Ehrlich’s flush tax and the reason I did is it was uniform across the state of Maryland. It was upgrading every wastewater sewage treatment plant in the entire state. Even if you were on septic you were going to be charged in your water bill. It was straight across the board and you knew where the money went. … 

RELATED: Vicki Almond, running for County Exec, talks Royal Farms, school construction and more

When they sold the rain tax years later, there was supposed to be a similar uniformity. And when I watched the implementation, I watched, you know, Prince George’s County buy two street sweepers. I watched Baltimore County by a street sweeper and then they used money for something else. So I’m watching implementation in different places [and I’d talk to a small-business owner who] shows that a property tax bill would be $6,000 and then his rain tax bill will be $7,000. And this wasn’t one or two people; this was happening over and over … I thought it was onerous and I thought it was unfair and I thought it should have been repealed.

Is he too much of an independent to win the Democratic primary for County Executive? 
First of all, I don’t think the Democrats of Baltimore County are liberal; I think they’re moderate. I grew up in Pikesville and … I think most Democrats in Pikesville are fiscally conservative like I am. And I would also tell you they’re probably split on the death penalty.

But I think I think the answer to the question is — or the irony is the question is — that I’m running on the most liberal platform, which is the environment and open space, and the one area that I’m wildly liberal … whether it’s the Healthy-Air act, fracking, oyster sanctuaries, et cetera et cetera. So I think that my platform is a pretty liberal platform and fits well with Baltimore County. [Brochin co-sponsored legislation to ban fracking in Maryland.]

I don’t think I made the wrong vote when I voted not to raise the sales tax, the income tax or the corporate income tax. I believe in fiscal responsibility. I think the Achilles heel of the Democratic Party is raising taxes. I think it’s cost the Democrats statewide and nationally a few elections that they probably shouldn’t have lost. And I think the government should live within its means and I don’t think that saying in a county that has surpluses of an average of $250 million a year for almost the last decade that we’re not going to raise taxes is fiscally irresponsible; I think it’s fiscally responsible. … But I’m running on more green more parks more ball fields more rec centers and less cutting down trees and a better quality of life. I think that’s a pretty Democratic issue. And I think it’s a pretty liberal Republican issue, if I’m lucky enough to get the general [election].

Drug addiction
We have this huge opioid epidemic in the state and in this country. I want to build up a state of the art treatment center in Baltimore County. And then I want to emulate what Anne Arundel County’s doing — And this County Executive should have done that — with the Safe Streets program where when you’re ready for treatment you can turn yourself into a police station or fire station. We will get you a case worker we’ll bring you into into our facility. We’ll figure out a treatment plan for you. We will give you treatment on demand. And it’s a win win.

Homelessness 
I want to emulate what Columbus, Ohio, has done in regards to their homeless population. They have made a decision, and it’s a smart decision, it’s something we should all come to grips with: You can’t serve the homeless while they’re homeless.

Are you really going get them signing up for SSI, put them on Medicaid, give them life-skills training help them with resume building, and then when you do all that, the next day … they’re back on the street and they got mugged or something happens or they had a psychotic break down or somebody stole their stuff, which is possible, or they got assaulted.

We need to start a pilot program in Baltimore County, and I will do this if I’m elected, where we find housing for the homeless. Our number in Baltimore County is manageable; it’s about 500. And we need to start this pilot program. Getting the homeless people off the street who want to get off the street and giving the services that I just talked about, in a safe secure setting, so they can become taxpaying citizens again. And so they can turn their lives around. And we owe that to them as as human beings.

And in Columbus the recidivism rate has gone down significantly, and there is no reason we can’t do that in Baltimore County.

-Kris Henry,
The Towson Flyer

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