County’s Sixth District a target for Republicans in 2018
- By Devin Crum -
A little over a month ago, on Nov. 3, Sixth District County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins held a campaign fundraiser in White Marsh in preparation for her reelection campaign over the next two years.
And being just five days before the end of one of the most contentious and polarizing election seasons in recent memory, some may have been surprised to see so many people of mixed political allegiances coming together in the same room to support the second-term Democrat.
Bevins’ fundraiser showcased support from Democrats all over and well outside of her council district, and many others who do not identify as Democrats, either remaining politically neutral or whose sentiments lie on the opposite end of the spectrum from her own.
But Republicans see the district as Republicanizing, making Bevins vulnerable, and are salivating at the possibility of a GOP majority on the Baltimore County Council if they can unseat her in 2018.
Citing recent voting patterns in the Sixth District and in eastern Baltimore County in general, the Maryland Republican Party plans to concentrate efforts on winning the last Democrat-held council seat on the east side, as well as taking the county executive’s office, according to MDGOP Executive Director Joe Cluster.
“If we can win that seat it would give the Republicans control of the council,” he said, adding that “unlike last time,” he believes Republicans will also have a strong candidate for county executive in 2018.
Cluster opined that the other three Republican-held seats on the council will remain in their hands over the next election, with Fifth District Councilman David Marks (Perry Hall) and Seventh District Councilman Todd Crandell (Dundalk) enjoying high levels of public support in their districts.
The Third District (North County) may see a new councilperson since sitting Councilman Wade Kach “probably” will not run again, Cluster said. “But that’s the most Republican district there is in the county.”
While there was no word yet on who might run against Bevins, a source within the party who asked not to be named noted that the councilwoman has campaigned significantly for Democratic candidates for President, U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, and she supported Anthony Brown for governor in 2014.
Her constituents, however, have largely voted against such candidates, particularly for executive offices, according to state voting records.
Going back to 2010 when Bevins was first elected, 55.7 percent of District 6 voters chose Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Ehrlich over Democratic incumbent Martin O’Malley, giving Ehrlich about 4,500 more votes than the Democrat in that district.
Likewise, voters in District 6 decisively chose Republican county executive candidate Joe Bartenfelder that year by a 3,400-vote margin, sending him away with 55.4 percent of the district’s vote.
District 6 overall chose the Democratic candidates for U.S. Senator, U.S. Congress and State Senate by slim margins in 2010, but the House of Delegates seats representing the district more often went to Republicans.
It is worth noting, though, that the Republican candidate for State Senate in the Seventh Legislative District got more votes from county District 6 voters than any Democratic candidate in their respective races that year, and the Seventh District is represented entirely by Republicans.
Bevins only narrowly won her own election with 50.4 percent of the vote, only edging out her Republican opponent by 300 votes, or one percentage point.
The following election two years later saw Democratic candidates enjoy wider margins of support in the district over their Republican counterparts.
But while voters in the county’s Sixth District chose Democrats more often than Republicans in 2012, Democrats did not receive majorities in the races for President and U.S. Senate, taking home only 49.8 and 43.8 percent of the vote, respectively.
Just over 1,000 votes separated the District 6 totals for President Barrack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
Interestingly, the unaffiliated candidate for U.S. Senate that year received about 200 more votes than the Republican in the district. The combined totals from that candidate and the Republican could have easily topped the Democrat’s.
The Sixth District was kinder to the GOP in the 2014 election, which saw Republican Larry Hogan overtake heavy Democratic favorite Anthony Brown for governor. Several other Republican candidates also rode a wave of conservative sentiment to victory across Baltimore County’s east side and the state that year.
In District 6 specifically, despite Bevins throwing her support behind Brown, 66.4 percent of her constituents voted the other way, choosing Hogan by more than 10,000 votes.
And while they tended to prefer Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger (D-2) over his Republican challenger, residents of the jurisdiction living in congressional districts 1 and 3 chose the Republican more often.
Sixth District voters overall picked Democrats for State Senate and Republicans for House of Delegates by similar margins as they had in 2010.
But in the local races they changed their tune from four years prior. Democrat Kevin Kamenetz took home a thin majority - 51.4 percent - of Sixth District votes cast for county executive. And Bevins herself defeated her Republican challenger by 12 more percentage points than she had previously, earning an extra 6 percent of the vote.
Seeking to build on the wave of conservative sentiment from 2014, though, and take advantage of Gov. Hogan’s high popularity, Republicans eagerly awaited the release of this year’s election results, according to Cluster, to see how Baltimore County and Sixth District residents had voted.
Councilwoman Bevins again supported the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, for president. And she was the sponsor of a controversial County Council bill to allow an outlet mall in White Marsh which was the subject of a referendum, appearing on the ballot as Question K. So Republicans sought the results of those votes in particular, Cluster said.
The difference in the 2016 Presidential race was razor thin in District 6, being separated by only 342 votes across the district. But unlike in 2012, the Republican, Donald Trump, held the higher vote percentage.
Trump actually took a nearly identical percentage of the vote as Romney did in 2012. It was Clinton who simply had the lower turnout.
The race for U.S. Senate was also close among Sixth District voters, separated by just 443 votes. Democrat Chris Van Hollen took in a similar percentage to the Democratic candidate in the Senate race four years prior, maintaining a lead over Republican Kathy Szeliga.
But Szeliga managed to secure a haul 20 percentage points higher than the Republican in 2012.
As for Question K, party members had surmised it passed county-wide without much support in District 6 where it would actually have the greatest effect.
Additionally, the unnamed source said that some believe Bevins’ decisions over the last two zoning cycles have made her vulnerable.
Election results show that the ballot measure enjoyed widespread support in Bevins’ district, however.
The question passed with 61.3 percent of the vote in the district. County-wide, the results were slightly closer, with 58.7 percent voting for it.
In fact, of the district’s 35 precincts, the ballot question only failed in two and tied in one other.
Votes for and against the measure were close in many precincts, but ultimately, the vast majority voted in support of it. And the tie came in a precinct that only registered only 10 votes on the issue - five for and five against.
Despite some of the voting trends of her constituents, Bevins said it is her community relations and work on constituent services that has seen her through.
She noted that her background while working under former County Executive Jim Smith was in constituent service.
“For seven years, that’s all I did was problem solve and work with communities,” she said at the fundraiser, adding that it was not about being a Democrat or Republican. “When you called my office I didn’t look you up in the voter registration file.”
Bevins said that when she first ran for office in 2010 people trusted her and thought she would do the right thing. And since being elected, her office has handled more than 4,000 constituent issues, she noted.
“And that’s from researching and responding back to the constituent,” Bevins explained. “That’s a lot of work that everyone in my office does to make sure no one falls through the cracks.”
On top of that, she noted that she has endlessly advocated for new schools and air conditioning in existing schools, bringing the district up from having the lowest percentage of air conditioned schools in the county.
“I work with both Democrats and Republicans on the County Council because that’s what you have to do to get the work done,” Bevins asserted, adding that they have worked together and supported each other on issues such as decreasing development, preserving open space and planning for smarth growth.
She admitted that not everyone likes her zoning decisions and that she cannot please everyone with those. But she said her district is moving forward and being revitalized with respect to building new neighborhoods and creating new businesses.
“That’s exactly what we need,” she said, noting that White Marsh and Middle River are major growth areas within her district.
Bevins said that when she campaigned in 2010 and 2014, people wanted jobs on every level.
“Students, seniors, couples, singles - everybody wants jobs, and I am creating jobs,” she said, pointing to the growth that has occurred along MD Route 43, and the outlet mall planned for MD Route 7 in White Marsh, as well as the planned redevelopment of the Middle River Depot.
“For me, it’s about a balance of business and community, along with also preserving open space,” Bevins said.
She secured the preservation of 15 acres of open space in White Marsh this year through the Comprehensive Zoning Map Process and the use of Program Open Space funds.
But she contended that she works hard for her constituents to address their concerns.
“I’m just going to keep doing what I do,” Bevins told the East County Times. “My office works extremely hard.”