Baltimore County is a political hotbed this year. At least five of the seven council seats will soon be occupied by new faces, and the county executive's race between Kevin Kamenetz and Ken Holt looks to be surprisingly competitive.
For me, however, the most interesting race is the contest for the Fifth Councilmanic District between Perry Hall's David Marks and Towson's Mike Ertel, because it seems to be the only general election contest in which two Republicans will be facing each other.
In all fairness, Ertel is the Democratic nominee, having defeated Bill Paulshock and Gordon Hardin in the primary. So, he is the Democratic standard bearer of record.
But, some of his past writings call into question Ertel's allegiance to the Democratic party, and to some of its local leaders.
In a 2002 letter published in Patuxent Publishing newspapers titled, "Neighborhoods around Towson must fight like other areas do," Ertel had some nasty things to stay about the Democratic establishment, as well as nice things to say about Republicans.
In his polemic, Ertel argues that Towson's best interests have not been well served, blaming this phenomenon on the "weak help" the community received "from its elected representatives and the iron fist of a short-sighted county executive." He then accuses the Ruppersberger Administration of granting Owings Mills, White Marsh and Northern Baltimore County preferential treatment by funneling "development and new tax dollars" into these communities while ignoring others.
"Expect more of the same if Jim Smith gets elected," Ertel warns, "(as) he thinks Baltimore County is encompassed by Reisterstown to Parkton to Owings Mills."
Ertel urges readers to embrace change by voting for Republicans Helen Bentley (then challenging Dutch Ruppersberger for the 2nd District congressional seat he now occupies) and Doug Riley (Jim Smith's 2002 opponent for Baltimore County Executive). "(M)ake sure at the voting booth that you show Dutch and his hand-picked successor, Jim Smith, the door," Ertel concludes.
Ertel seems to have undergone something of an ideological conversion since that letter was published. He now wants to join the Democratic establishment headed by Congressman Ruppersberger and County Executive Smith.
Does Ertel now believe that Jim Smith brought about "more of the same"? Is he sufficiently over his past issues to the point that he can now comfortably and credibly run with other members of the County's ruling Democratic establishment? Will he now seek campaign funding from a man he once thought deserved "the door"?
Stay tuned. Having grown up in the Towson and Timonium areas, I can tell you that Baltimore County politics is frequently fractious, but rarely dull.