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5 Questions With Councilmen on District 1 Vacancy

Patch editors asked the six current members of the Anne Arundel County Council about their division over filling the District 1 vacancy.

Each Anne Arundel County councilman was asked the same five questions regarding the District 1 vacancy and the state of the council. The final candidates are  and . 

Some were reached by phone, and some by email. Their answers are provided here.

John Grasso (R-2nd District), of Glen Burnie:

Contacted by phone

What makes Wagner the better choice for you over Smith?
There are two simple reasons. Wagner's lived here way longer than Smith. Smith has been here, what? Five years? Wagner's been here for infinity. I've been here for 50 years and there are still parts of the area I don't know. So imagine how much of the area he doesn't know after five years. The other thing is Wagner is a guaranteed conservative vote and we won't have a budget being passed like the last time. We're not going to increase property taxes. If Wagner increases property taxes he'd be increasing taxes on all of his properties.

If I was picking someone to run the quarter-mile or do pushups I would choose Smith all day.

I'm not saying how Smith would vote. I'm just saying I don't know. With Smith you can't control the dice. On the flip side, the three pushing Smith are pushing him because of color. One is pushing him because of color and the other two is pushing them because they know if he gets in he's gong to vote conservative. My [Republican] colleague has voted 29 of the past 32 times with the Democrats and against his party. He's a swing vote. The other one and Wagner don't like each other, so that's why he's for Smith. For the last 14 months my colleague has been a swing vote. ... The Republicans have been a minority on the council. Republicans bring business sense to government because that's what the government is a big business. 

What would it take to change your vote?
Nothing will change it. I'd rather have a guaranteed response from someone versus, "You don't know." With Wagner we've got a real good idea. I'm not big about recycled politicians by any means. My colleagues have shoved it up the Republican's kazoo. Mr. Smith is a good man. He asked me why I can't just trust his character. And I can. But I trusted one of my other colleagues, but you see what happened. The only way I would change is if all of [the Republicans for Wagner] agreed to change. None of us want Jones back.

If Jones comes back, we're nailed again.

We're all crossing our fingers that Jones doesn't get back in there.

If Wagner drops out, would you support Smith?
We'd have no choice. I like Smith. I called him last week and talked to him for 10 or 15 minutes. That first night I pulled him aside and talked to him. He knows everything, and he knows the truth. I like the guy whole-heartedly. If we get Wagner, we're in good shape. If we stay like we are, we're in good shape. It would force my colleagues to compromise.

Some might say the folks in District 1 ... are having taxation without representation. That's the biggest crock of crap. It's six people all working for them. They're getting six bangs for their buck. They're getting away with the devil in this deal.

I called Linda Harris [legislative assistant for District 1] and left her a voicemail and told her if anyone [in District 1] wants to talk to me they can give me a call. [If the seat stays open] we save the taxpayers $35,000 a year. People shouldn't be frustrated [the seat is still open]. The only ones that have something to squawk about are the people in District 1.

But in reality it's the people in District 1 that voted a criminal in. It's not our fault.

What does the continued stalemate say about the County Council and its ability to make decisions?
It's business as usual. We don't need that vote. I think we've come more together now, other than choosing a replacement. Now we have to reach out and find out what other people think.

It's better for the people this way, and if they don't understand, they need to call me directly and I'll explain it to them.

And if they still don't understand, they just don't want to understand. 

Do you think the council can make it through budget season without a District 1 representative?
We'll make it through fine. We have to ability to negotiate now. I personally believe that this budget is going to be one of the best. 

Derek Fink (R-3rd District), of Pasadena:

Contacted by phone

What makes Wagner the better choice for you over Smith?
I am very impressed with Wagner’s experience and length in office. He has represented folks before for quite some time. He has been with representatives in his district for many years as well. He knows the area very well; he knows the people and he has represented them before. That is an aspect that is very important at this time.

We are getting ready to face the budget and he has been there before; he has dealt with the state budget before.

He knows the leaders in the community because he has worked with them before and he is the perfect fit for somebody who needs to come in and serve out the rest of the term and then turn it over to whoever wins in the next election. He isn’t interested in making a new career out of politics and serving for a 10- or 11-year term. I think he is great. He brings experience on the state level as a delegate and senator.

What would it take to change your vote?
I don’t know, a lot of discussion is going on now between the six guys on the council trying to see what it will take to get somebody to change something, but at this point I am just really with the person who I think is the best candidate. At this time I am still stuck on Mike Wagner because I think he is the best candidate. I don’t know if that will change for me at all.

If Wagner drops out, would you support Smith?
If Wagner were to drop out, then Smith would be the last man standing, so it’s not really like we can put somebody else in—it is just over at that point.

What does the continued stalemate say about the County Council and its ability to make decisions?
I don’t know that it says anything. It shows that we have six people that are divided on the issue. When you look at legislature in general, on a fairly regular basis there’s not always a unanimous decision on anything. We just happen to have six people, so it is a big issue. If we had seven members on the council, honestly this wouldn’t even be a stalemate. It is a big deal now because there are six of us and it is a stalemate. I don’t know that is says a whole lot. It says we don’t all agree on the subject.

It is very unfortunate, and we are all concerned by it because we all do believe we need to have somebody representing District 1.

It is just a matter of how we get there.

Do you think the council can make it through budget season without a District 1 representative?
Well I certainly hope we don’t get to that point. The budget is one of the most important things we do as a body.

District 1 definitely deserves representation when we go to do that process.

I am hoping next Monday we are able to get the fourth vote and we can move on. If not next Monday, hopefully by the beginning of April. And again we are hoping it is a done deal come the end of March, because it would be difficult having no one represent District 1.

Jamie Benoit (D-4th District), of Crownsville:

Contacted by email

What makes Smith the better choice for you over Wagner?
Peter represents the future of Anne Arundel County. He represents progress. He is a combat-decorated veteran, family man and speaks to the great virtues of the young, smart and dedicated people who want to serve.

What would it take to change your vote?
I will not change my vote.

If Smith drops out, would you support Wagner?
I believe I would, but I am certain Peter will not drop out.

What does the continued stalemate say about the County Council and its ability to make decisions?
It says more about the corrosive effects of self-interests in government than anything.

Those on the other side of this debate are being influenced by other Republican politicians who have their eye on the County Executive's seat.

They themselves have acknowledged that Peter Smith is a strong candidate but cannot bring themselves to do the right thing out of fear that Peter will not further their political interests. That's sad.

Do you think the council can make it through budget season without a District 1 representative?
Yes.

Dick Ladd (R-5th District), of Broadneck

Contacted by phone

What makes Wagner the better choice for you over Smith?
He's got more experience over a longer period of time over a wider range of economic conditions and time in the legislature.

He's run a business and you can debate on whether it is big or small.

He brings that breadth of experience that I think is important.

What would it take to change your vote?
I can't even speculate on that.

If Wagner drops out, would you support Smith?
Yes.

What does the continued stalemate say about the County Council, and its ability to make decisions?
Nothing.

Do you think the council can make it through budget season without a District 1 representative?
Yes, it wouldn’t be pretty.

Is it desirable? No. I’m not sure that putting a seventh person in there will be any easier.

Except for the chances of not becoming deadlocked.

Chris Trumbauer (D-6th District), of Annapolis:

Contacted by email

What makes Peter Smith the better choice for you over Mike Wagner?
From the minute I first met him, I was impressed with Mr. Smith. He has the drive, the willingness to serve, the experience and the demeanor to be an excellent councilman.

His attachment to the military will serve the area well as we deal with the challenges and opportunities associated with [Base Realignment and Closure]. His integrity and character cannot be challenged.

His experience as a resource manager will help him understand the budget. Mr. Wagner has had a long and successful political career. I am grateful for his service to his community. However, with everything going on in Anne Arundel County right now, I don't think we need an established politician with deep-rooted political ties to various interests as much as we need some talented new blood to pivot away from scandal and get back down to business.

What would it take to change your vote?
I feel very strongly about my preference for Mr. Smith to fill the vacancy. I can't imagine a scenario where I would change my vote.

If Smith drops out, would you support Wagner?
Yes.

What does the continued stalemate say about the County Council and its ability to make decisions?
Unfortunately, I believe some members of the council are using this vacancy for political reasons—specifically their own agendas in the upcoming budget.

I don't think the constituents of District 1 should be used as leverage for other councilmen's political agenda.

Also, this is a partisan appointment, and I am disappointed that more deference is not given to the two Democratic councilmen.

Do you think the council can make it through budget season without a District 1 representative?
I think it would be extremely undesirable to have a vacancy on the council during budget. Major policy changes could be implemented without a majority of the council. I find this possibility very troubling.

Jerry Walker (R-7th District), of Gambrills:

Contacted by email

What makes Smith the better choice over Wagner?
Senator Wagner is a former politician who was drafted by the County Executive to serve; Peter Smith has no political connections and volunteered to serve. Mr. Smith honorably served his country overseas as a Marine and now seeks to serve his community as a local citizen raising a young family in the first District.

What would it take to change your vote?
In my mind the decision is easy and the choice is clear. ... For that reason there is nothing that would change my vote.

If Smith drops out would you support Wagner?
I have spoken to Mr. Smith and asked him to not bow out due to the pressure of the north county political machine that wants to have their buddy Mr. Wagner on the council.

The north county machine wants a political insider for the joint purpose of advancing their personal agendas and supporting their candidate should the County Executive seat become vacant.

What does the continued stalemate say about the County Council and its ability to make decisions?
This vote highlights the need for seven members and for a revised replacement process should another vacancy occur.

Do you think the council can make it through the budget season without a District 1 representative?

We can make it through, but I have a feeling it will be difficult to get to four votes on many of the budget changes without a seventh person.

But some of my colleagues have been quoted in the press as saying that is exactly what they want. The people of District 1 don’t just deserve a representative, but they deserve the best representation and someone who will be accountable for his votes in the next election.

Severna Park Patch editor Leslie Hunt, Glen Burnie Patch editor , Odenton Patch editor , Greater Annapolis Patch editor , Edgewater Patch editor , and Pasadena Patch editor  contributed to this story.

Mike Daley March 17, 2012 at 08:07 AM
Amy, this is about two things, control over the budget and making Schuh the county executive. They will do anything to make this happen even if it means making the GOP look bad. They know this Smith guy is the the better fit, but Wanger has promised them his vote. Pure politics. It is just to bad that people are not represented because they want to serve themselves.
Lynn Tanis March 17, 2012 at 08:52 PM
Hey Patch, why wasn't the abusive slur at the end of the Lisa Carr comment edited?
Leslie Hunt March 18, 2012 at 01:36 AM
I've deleted a comment from Lisa Carr that violated the portion of our terms of use prohibiting offensive posts. In particular, the last two words. http://severnapark.patch.com/terms
Leslie Hunt March 18, 2012 at 01:39 AM
Lisa- We have no way of editing comments before they are posted to the site, however, once they are, we do monitor them. Thank you for pointing this one out.
Marie Bailey March 18, 2012 at 09:15 PM
Mr. Wagner has served AACo. for many years and done a fine job - he is now retired and should remain so. Let the younger man have a chance to make his mark. I've been reading about the council deciding on the replacement District One for months now and it seems very unfair to the residents of that area not to be represented. If the other council members cannot make an informed choice then they should turn it over to the central committee or some other political entity to choose! Political jockeying at the expense of the citizens is just uncalled for.

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