Incumbents prevail in Columbia

April 25, 1994|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Sun Staff Writer

The three Columbia Council members involved in contested elections Saturday defeated challengers, ensuring that the 10-member governing board for the Columbia Association will remain virtually intact for the next year.

The continuity will be an asset, said Councilwoman Hope Sachwald, who defeated Laura Waters, 170 to 132, to retain the Harper's Choice village seat.

"I think we had a really good year this year," she said. "We did a lot of innovative things. Next year, we'll do even more."

Gary Glisan, who beat Neil Noble 246 to 156 in the Oakland Mills village contest, will be the only new representative on the council. He'll replace Council Vice Chairwoman Fran Wishnick, who is stepping down after three years.

Council Chairwoman Karen Kuecker of Owen Brown village foiled Barry Blyveis' upset bid, 219 to 182, to win her third term. Councilwoman Norma Rose of Wilde Lake village defeated Michelle Alexander, 271 to 183, to earn her third consecutive term. She served on the council in the mid-1970s as well.

Two incumbents who had no opposition -- Mike Rethman of Hickory Ridge village and Suzanne Waller of Town Center -- also will return for another term.

The four other council members were not up for re-election this year.

The council sets policy and the capital and operating budgets -- $37.6 million for 1994-1995 -- for the private, nonprofit Columbia Association. The association charges Columbia property owners an annual fee to manage the unincorporated city's recreational facilities, community programs and open space areas.

The new council takes office May 1.

This year's election could have changed the tenor of council debate, had voters elected Mr. Noble or Mr. Blyveis, who are members of Alliance for a Better Columbia, a citizens advocacy group. Both candidates emphasized changes, such as increasing the association's accountability, cutting costs and incorporating Columbia, which now functions much like a large homeowners association.

Mr. Noble said some of his opinions about the Columbia Association were perceived incorrectly as "negative" and "divisive."

"I simply want to raise questions, raise the public's consciousness," he said.

Mr. Glisan, a village board member, said Mr. Noble's opinions and campaign literature may have struck the wrong chord with voters because they seemed "a little more on the negative side, a little more accusatory. I tried to be a little more positive."

Mr. Glisan attributed his victory partly to "support from people in the community who are very well thought of," including Ms. Wishnick and fellow village board members.

The voter turnout on the sunny spring day was light -- but about par for Columbia Council and village board elections. Owen Brown and Oakland Mills, for example, each drew about 12 percent of households.

Predictably, residents of villages that had no contested council or village board elections found other things to do. Less than 2 percent of the households turned out to vote in Long Reach and Dorsey's Search.

Ms. Kuecker agreed that the current council has worked well in reaching compromises, but couldn't identify the key to her victory.

Mr. Blyveis said he could, noting that Ms. Kuecker has been more active in the community and has a wider network of contacts than he has. Still, he said he was encouraged that some residents seemed receptive to his message that "too much money is spent on entertainment for the rich rather than the middle class" and that the annual charge should be reduced.

Ms. Rose said voters supported her because she has taken a clear stand on issues and has worked toward cutting the association's expenses, making facilities and programs more affordable to residents, and increasing residents' involvement in community governance.

"I think people like that I bring new ideas to the table and try to keep in view the old ideas of what Columbia was all about," she said. "People who voted for me on the whole feel I'm asking the right questions and like having a representative who exercises independent judgment."

Ms. Sachwald said she's "probably put in more hours than almost anyone on the council" in the past year on committees and learning the association's operations.

"Experience counts," she said.

Ms. Waters conceded that "maybe being an incumbent helps." She said she campaigned hard, but discovered "it's hard to get people to come out and vote because there's no issue."

In the contested village board races:

* Newcomer James Terry Edmonds and incumbent co-chairmen Peter Weickgenannt and Heather D'Amore won seats in Harper's Choice, while Melvin S. Weinstein lost.

* Incumbent Chairwoman Donna Rice and newcomer Virginia Richards edged incumbent Linda Wengel for seats in Town Center.

* Newcomers Kevin Wilson and Joseph Suter and incumbent Dina Michels earned seats in the developing village of River Hill, beating incumbents Elliott Cowan and Bruce Riegel.

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