Challengers Say Victories Reflect Voter Dissatisfaction

April 29, 1992|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff writer

Challengers who defeated Columbia Council members Saturday say theirvictories show that voters want the Columbia Association to rein in spending and be more responsive to city residents.

In Wilde Lake, voters defeated two-year council member Michael Deets, 303 to 219, and returned 58-year-old social studies teacher Norma Rose to the Columbia Council seat she held 18 years ago.

In Hickory Ridge, 73-year-old Charles Ahalt, a retired railroad conductor, defeated two-year council member James Loesch by five votes, 160-155.

"It's the beginning of a revolution in Columbia. The residents are going to be taking control of the governing process, and not just leaving it to the CA and the Rouse Co.," said Alex Hekimian,president of the Alliance for a Better Columbia.

Ahalt and winning Kings Contrivance village board candidate Chuck Rees are members ofthe alliance.

While Rose is a former council member, Ahalt is also no stranger to council proceedings. He has been a persistent criticof the council and the association it governs. He charges that a number of association policies violate Columbia's property covenants.

"It's not going to be any love feast. I don't owe anything to those people, and they owe me a lot. I bought a house here with a covenant and a contract, and I expect them to live up to it," Ahalt said.

Hekimian said what others see as Ahalt's coarseness is just his style,which may be needed to make the association more responsive to residents.

"Sometimes it takes a brick between the eyes to wake up a mule," he said.

And style can work two ways, said Loesch, who blameshis loss in large part on Clemens West neighborhood residents' dissatisfaction with his handling of a proposed "family fun center."

The plan for the center, which was to include batting cages and miniature golf next to the new community, was defeated only after angry residents spent months lobbying against it.

"I would say that it was amatter of style more than anything else.. . . I wanted to listen to all the arguments and then make up my mind," Loesch said.

What theresidents of Clemens West wanted, he said, is someone who sides withthem from the moment they voice their complaint.

Ahalt thought the surprising turnover was largely due to voters' general dissatisfaction with leadership on all levels, from the president of the United States on down.

Rose said both she and Deets mounted aggressive campaigns, but Deets was overwhelmed by a large contingent of longtime Columbia residents who feel they are left out of association decisions.

"I think most of my support came from people who have been here for many years and are disappointed in CA," Rose said. "I think for most people, it's not the cost issue so much as priorities and process."

Rees, a 53-year-old attorney who became known as an advocate for restructuring and reducing the association's annual property charge, agreed.

"I perceive many of our representatives as being critical of residents and serving CA when they should be just the opposite,"Rees said.

He won one of two available seats on the Kings Contrivance village association board with 300 votes, 125 votes ahead of fellow winner Ed DiCarlo and 195 votes up on loser John McLaughlin.

Deets said he felt "a little disappointed that partisanship played a role in turning out the vote." Deets was the 1990 Republican challenger to County Councilman Paul Farragut, D-4th.

Former county executive M. Elizabeth Bobo and former County Council member Lloyd Knowles, both Democrats, helped Rose campaign. Rose said she did not believe their help affected the outcome.

Ahalt targeted the neighborhood ofClemens West, which Loesch says probably cost him the election. Ahalt and Clemens West resident Roger Lawson mailed out their fliers together, and Lawson won by three votes.

In fact, the margin of victory was so tight in Hickory Ridge that there was only a 10-vote difference between five of the eight candidates. Incumbent Miles Coffman wasone vote short of retaining one of the five board seats.

In KingsContrivance, Chuck Rees estimates that he, his family and friends distributed his campaign fliers along with a survey on assessments and Columbia governance to about 2,300 homes.

By contrast, ABC member Walter Collopy was unable to campaign because of illness and ended upthe only loser in the Harper's Choice village board contest.

Other results of village board races (* indicates incumbent):

* Dorsey's Search, Long Reach, Oakland Mills, Owen Brown and Town Center uncontested.

* Harper's Choice winners: Hope Sachwald*, 138; Heather D'Amore* 130; Peter Weickgenannt*, 126; Laura Waters, 123; Clem Aquilea*, 118. Loser: Walter Collopy, 98.

* Hickory Ridge winners: Phil Berman*, 195; Mike Rethman*, 194; Rita Siprak-Weill, 173; Roger Lawson, 171; Bob Hixson*, 169. Losers: Miles Coffman*, 168; Robert O'Brien, 163.

* Wilde Lake winners (does not include 67 corporate votes added to winners automatically): Janet Mason*, 387; Gregory Siracusa*,354; Michelle Alexander, 315; Elizabeth Alexander*, 304; Howard Feldmesser, 261. Losers: Verna Lawes, 255; Gene F. Collins, 240.

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