A policymaker in city and state political circles for the past three decades, Israel C. “Izzy” Patoka will soon launch his campaign bid for Baltimore County Council for the 2nd District. The Baltimore native is director of community development for LifeBridge Health.
Patoka hopes to win the seat currently held by County Councilwoman Vicki L. Almond, who is running for Baltimore County Executive.
A Democrat and longtime ally of former Gov. Martin O’Malley, Patoka served as executive director of the Governor’s Office of Community Initiatives and as director of the Governor’s Intergovernmental Affairs Office. In addition, he was the founding director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhoods in Baltimore City.
Patoka earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Towson University, both in geography and environmental planning.
Jmore recently spoke with Patoka, who belongs to Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and lives in Sudbrook Park with his wife, Denise, and their 16-year-old son, Rory.
What has best prepared you for the County Council?
I’ve spent my entire lifetime looking to strengthen, improve and protect communities. I’ll hit the ground running as an advocate for the 2nd District. The County Council is a legislative body, but it also has broad authority in four different areas — land use, budget, constituent services and contract review and approval. I have comprehensive experience in each of these areas.
For example, I’m a land use professional. I was deputy director of planning for the Baltimore County Planning Department. In budget, I’ve been chief of capital budgeting for Baltimore City, and then I was recruited to be chief of capital budgeting for Baltimore County. Eight months into that job, I was promoted to deputy director of planning for Baltimore County.
For both jurisdictions, I have prepared real and planned capital budgets totaling more than $1 billion over six years. I also have broad experience preparing operating budgets for different departments, including the zoning commissioner’s office.
When it comes to constituent services, I’m relentless in follow-up in my efforts to strengthen, improve and protect communities. I know the community side because I’ve gone to literally thousands of community meetings. And I know the government side and how to get government to respond to community needs.
For contract review and approval, I spent eight years as a senior staff member for former Gov. O’Malley, reviewing contracts that came before the Board of Public Works of the State of Maryland.
Who have been your greatest influences?
Professionally, Larry Reich, who was planning director for Baltimore for 26 years, was my mentor from the first day I walked into the city planning office. He continues to be a source of inspiration. Another mentor was David Fields. He was director of planning for Baltimore County, as well as director of the Office of Community Conservation in Baltimore County. Both Larry and David believed in getting out of the office. They always said you couldn’t plan if you sat in your office. You have to get out and go to evening community meetings, walk in neighborhoods, know who the community leaders are, what the streets look like.
I’ve also been inspired lately by Teresa Moore, [interim director] of the Valleys Planning Council [a Towson-based land use and preservation nonprofit serving northwestern Baltimore County].
Do Jewish values play a role in your life?
To me and to my family, Jewish values are extremely important. The fact that I’m Jewish is really important to me. I’m the son of Holocaust survivors, and I want my son to understand his heritage. My mom and my dad were from what is now known as Ukraine, and they met in a Displaced Person’s camp in 1951. My father remains with me every day.
Your plans for public safety?
My team and I have knocked on 6,000 doors in Baltimore County, always asking, “What is most important to you?” Overwhelmingly, the answer was public safety, decreasing violence in Baltimore County. Crime needs to be driven down on both sides of the city and county lines. So I’m proud to state that James Johnson, former Baltimore County chief of police, has said, “I’ve known Izzy for over 20 years. … Izzy is a great partner for public safety.”
If elected, I plan to work closely with police precincts in the county and the city. I’ll also work closely with Baltimore City Councilman [Isaac “Yitzy”] Schleifer. I’m going to fight crime on the county side and on the city side.
Your second highest priority?
Education. My father always wanted me to further my education. He used to say, “You can have everything taken away from you, but they can’t take away your education.” This was coming from a man who had everything taken from him, and a man who never had any education other than a few grades of school. I will work to have a robust capital budget for county schools. For the first time, the County Council will include an elected school board member, and I look forward to working with that person to help improve our schools across the county.
Other top priorities?
Protecting the environment. The 2nd District has great beauty in its urban and rural character. Development needs to be done right with respect to the environment and with respect to the community. I plan on keeping the integrity of the Urban-Rural Demarcation Line, which was established in 1967. Inside the URDL is higher density development. Outside the URDL is much lower density. So the idea is to have growth where you plan to have growth. This demarcation line is a model for the state and the entire nation in terms of how to plan for good development. I will hold that line where it is.
For information, visit izzypatoka.com.
Peter Arnold is an Olney, Md.-based freelance writer.