Baltimore County is awaiting results in highly competitive primary races that could shake up the county’s political landscape, and days of counting mail-in ballots are still ahead.
With Tuesday’s returns counted, Democratic State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger was narrowly behind progressive challenger Robbie Leonard in his first primary competition since Shellenberger was elected the county’s top prosecutor in 2006.
And a race for an open County Council seat was a dead heat between two Democratic candidates vying to represent a district that includes Overlea, Parkville, Rosedale and Towson.
In post-primary public remarks Wednesday, candidates across the county emphasized that vote counting isn’t over. Tens of thousands of ballots still need to be tallied.
Elections staff will begin counting mail-in ballots Thursday morning and likely work into the evening, county Elections Director Ruie Lavoie said.
“We are going to canvas very aggressively,” she said. “We’re going to start and we’re going to just keep going. We’re planning on working straight through the weekend.”
According to the latest state figures, more than 70,500 mail-in ballots were sent to county voters. About half had been returned by Tuesday. About 53,600 mail-in ballots were sent to county Democrats and 13,715 to county Republicans.
With all precincts reporting, Leonard was ahead of Shellenberger by 860 votes Wednesday out of more than 49,000 ballots counted so far in that race.
Leonard said Wednesday morning that his team was “just thrilled that so many voters in Baltimore County agreed with our message.” Leonard had criticized Shellenberger’s record on issues ranging from police accountability to sexual assault cases.
“We’re patiently waiting for the mail-in ballots,” Leonard said. “I have no scientific guesses on what’s going to happen, but we’re definitely happy to be leading at this point.”
Shellenberger declined to comment Wednesday.
In the Republican contest for state’s attorney, James A. Haynes was ahead of Deborah Hill.
Meanwhile, the County Council is sure to have at least two new faces, with longtime Democratic members Cathy Bevins of Middle River and Tom Quirk of Oella both stepping down this year.
In the race for the seat being left by Bevins, real estate agent Shafiyq Hinton was up by 15 votes over Mike Ertel, an insurance broker and longtime community activist. Caitlin Klimm-Kellner, a graphic designer and photographer, was in third place.
Hinton was endorsed by County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. and Bevins.
Hinton emphasized there are many votes still to be counted, but said he and his team campaigned hard and were pleased with the results so far.
“I’m excited,” Hinton said. “We left it all on the table, so I’m proud of the work regardless” of the final results.
On his campaign Facebook page, Ertel thanked his supporters.
“Stay tuned,” Ertel’s post said. “This is going to be close!”
Tony Campbell, a Towson University political science professor, was unopposed in the Republican primary.
If Hinton or Campbell is elected, either would make history as the first Black candidate to win a council seat in a district with a majority of white voters. The county’s history of voting along racial lines was at the heart of a federal voting-rights lawsuit brought by residents and civic groups last year after the council’s redistricting process.
In the Democratic council race in the county’s southwest, state Del. Pat Young, a Marine veteran, was ahead of candidates Paul Dongarra, the former owner of an events business, and Danielle Nicole Singley, a county program manager, for the seat held by Quirk.
Republican Al Nalley was unopposed in his primary.
Young had the backing of Olszewski and Quirk.
Four incumbent council members had significant leads over primary challengers in the results available Wednesday: Izzy Patoka, a Pikesville Democrat; Wade Kach, a Cockeysville Republican; and Todd Crandell, a Dundalk Republican.
Council Chairman Julian Jones, a Woodstock Democrat, did not face a primary opponent.
In the race for county executive, former state Del. Pat McDonough was well ahead of five other GOP hopefuls.
Olszewski was beating his lone challenger in the Democratic primary, Adam Reuter, by more than 35,000 votes.
The Olszewski campaign said they’re looking forward to more results coming in.
“We’re overwhelmed by the support that we’ve seen from across the county and just want to let the rest of this democratic process unfold,” said Brad Kroner, Olszewski’s campaign spokesman.
McDonough faces a misdemeanor theft charge after allegations he stole a political sign belonging to opponent Darren Badillo — accusations he called a smear campaign.
“I feel great,” McDonough said Wednesday. “We ran a very strong race despite a smear, despite a lie.”
County voters have not picked a Republican county executive since 1990, when Roger Hayden was elected.
But McDonough said he will still run a strong campaign focused on issues such violence in schools and police officer morale. He wants to increase the number of police officers and replace Police Chief Melissa Hyatt.
“Johnny Olszewski has problems,” McDonough said. “There are people in Baltimore County in large numbers that are concerned about the future of their county.”
McDonough ran for county executive in 2018, but lost the Republican nomination to Al Redmer, then the state insurance commissioner.