Candidate Profile: Owen Bailey

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Owen Bailey, Ward 1 candidate

Owen Bailey – This is one in a series of profiles of candidates for the Ward 1 seat on the Chestertown Town Council. Three candidates are running for the seat, currently held by Councilwoman Liz Gross. The election is Nov. 7 at Chestertown Firehouse with voting open from 7 a.m. to 8: p.m.

Candidate profiles are based on an interview plus submitted biographical material.  See the Spy’s report on the Nov 2 Candidate Forum at Heron Point with a 22-minute video of all three candidates responses.  —  Editors

Owen Bailey was born and raised in Chestertown.  He attended local schools, then studied for two years at McDaniel College before returning home to graduate from Washington College in 2007, with a degree in American Studies. Two years later he completed a Masters in English Literature. While in grad school, Bailey worked part-time for the Rose O’Neill Literary House on the college campus, where he worked with visiting writers and helped with student publications.  The job became full-time when he completed his degree, adding on work with the English Department’s Sophie Kerr program. He also worked at the Compleat Bookseller. He manages the Easton office of the Eastern Shore Conservancy. He and his wife live in Chestertown. Over the years, he has been involved in the Chestertown Book Festival; he is the secretary for the Friends of the Library; he works on the Chestertown Environmental Committee, and he has been a board member of Colchester Farms.

Bailey said he has always wanted to be involved in the town. His mother, former Mayor Margo Bailey, still lives in the same Washington Avenue house where he grew up.  Following his parents’ example, Bailey said, “I’ve always believed in public service; it’s important for people who have the ability to give back to the community to help strengthen it.” He said he has been thinking about running for the council for a couple of years, describing it as “a perfect first step.” He said his knowledge of the town from growing up and attending college here also gave him an interest in becoming more closely involved in government. He also credited retiring Ward 3 Councilman Sam Shoge with inspiring him and offering an example for young voters to get involved, when many people his age appear to be complacent or apathetic about government. “There’s a lot more we need to fight for,” he said. He said the council would benefit if members represented a mixture of ages and experience.

Issues Bailey identified as important include jobs and keeping young people and families in town. “I say that because, with all the great things Chestertown has going, all the wonderful things Chestertown has to offer, I feel like it’s missing a huge opportunity to recruit the next generation to come live here, to be active in the community, to volunteer for events, to send their kids to the local schools.” He said lack of opportunities was the main reason for the underrepresentation of youth in the town population. He noted that he commutes to Easton because he can’t find a job in town. His wife works in Chestertown at  Benchworks. The long commute takes away the time for someone to volunteer in the community or take part in other activities, he said. A lot of younger people he knows ended up moving out of town because their spouse couldn’t find a job, or because they feared the school system isn’t good enough. “We’re losing out on a lot of good people who could make this town much better,” Bailey said.

He said there are a couple of things the town could do to retain those young families. “It could be something as simple as investing in the alternative transportation infrastructure,” such as bike and walking paths, he said. For some parts of town, it’s not easy to walk to the downtown – whereas  it’s “a huge freedom for somebody to live in town and not have to drive to the grocery store or a restaurant.” Some kind of basic local bus service would also serve this need, he said, perhaps going down High St and Washington Ave and out Morgnec Road. All these would help both locals and tourists and reduce some of the congestion on the streets. He said the town might survey its residents to see what level of support there might be for such a project.

Another important issue is the town’s relation to the college, he said. Many residents say the town should be happy the college is here, while others say the college should make some kind of payment for the services it receives from the town. “I’m sure there’s some kind of middle ground,” he said. “I feel I have a good understanding of just how much the two rely each on the other.” There should be some kind of town-and-gown committee to create trust and relationships between the two, he said. “It’s important for the town and the college to thrive together,”

If he could get any one thing for the good of the town, he said the improved transportation system would be at the top of his list. “That could help out almost every demographic within Chestertown.” But, working as he does for an environmental nonprofit, he said he would also love to see an improved stormwater containment system to reduce the town’s portion of pollution to the Chester River.

“I have somewhat of a unique perspective, having seen the town change so much in the last 30-plus years,” he said. “But I’d like to hear from as many people as I can” about things the town needs; “I consider that very important.”

Bailey has received endorsements from Councilwoman Liz Gross, the incumbent Ward 1 representative, and from Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot.  Click here to see Liz Gross’s letter endorsing Owen Bailey for First Ward.

Candidate profiles are based on an interview plus submitted biographical material.  —  Editors

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