Activist Mann plans to run against Gray for County Council CAMPAIGN 1994

April 26, 1994|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Sun Staff Writer

Columbia activist Kathryn Adair Fish Mann said last week that she plans to challenge three-term incumbent C. Vernon Gray for the East Columbia seat on the Howard County Council.

Mr. Gray, 55, has yet to announce his plans for 1994, but is expected to seek a fourth term on the council this fall and to run for county executive in 1998.

Since being elected in an at-large race in 1982, Mr. Gray has

become a political force. He ran unopposed in 1990, while raising more money than any other council candidate.

In 1986, the first year council members were elected by district, Mr. Gray won the Democratic primary handily and faced only token opposition from a Republican in the general election.

Most politicians assumed it would cost $10,000 at most that year to run for the council, but Mr. Gray raised more than $45,000 -- far surpassing the war chest of any other council candidate.

"Vernon certainly has acquired some influence" over the years, Ms. Mann, 47, says with a laugh.

"You're not going to see a bunch of elected officials breaking down the barricades to endorse me."

Behind the understatement and self-deprecating humor is a confident candidate. Ms. Mann plans to bring much more than token opposition to the campaign.

"I believe I can win," Ms. Mann says. "You're only talking about 3,000 votes to win a primary. There are a lot of people in and out of politics who look very favorably upon my candidacy."

As assistant manager of the Village of Long Reach -- a nonpolitical, paid position -- Ms. Mann gets many calls, "sometimes under the mistaken assumption that we're the government," she says.

She says that in the nine years she has worked for the village association, county government has not addressed the concerns most important to the village board and to the residents of Long Reach: education, traffic and crime.

"There have been some halfhearted steps, but I want to see these things addressed. We may not be able to solve everything, but at the very least, we need the opportunity to talk about them," she says.

The problem in education, she says, is that Long Reach is one of Columbia's older communities with aging schools and equipment.

"We're not being equitably treated," she says.

As for traffic, the East Columbia district in which she will be running has the most congested roads in Howard County, she contends. Routes 175, 108 and 103 cross the district, as do U.S. 1 and U.S. 29.

"All of the intersections on Route 175 have failed," she says. "There is gridlock all around us. To get to the highways, you have to use residential streets. We are always a day late and a dollar short on roads around here."

On the issue of crime, she says that "people are feeling less connected, less safe as the county grows more urban."

"People are mugged at the mall or robbed at teller machines. . . . We need better security efforts," she says.

"We need more police, not more private security people. We need to get police out into the villages, the mall, Dobbin Center. We need our police to do a better job of getting to know people in the community. We are not so big that we can't try to be better neighbors to each other."

Although she has not held elective office other than on the local Central Democratic Committee, Ms. Mann is no stranger to politics.

"I come from a long line of Republican fathers and Democratic mothers," she says. "My grandparents used to race each other to the polls."

In 1964, at age 16, she joined her Democratic maternal ancestors and worked in the campaign of President Lyndon B. Johnson.

"I have always worked in some degree or another in politics -- stuffing envelopes, knocking on doors, serving as a foot soldier," she says.

She was content with that role until the state savings and loan scandal in the mid-1980s and "an obnoxious zoning case" that occurred in 1985.

What bothered her about the savings and loan mess, which left some depositors without their money for three years, was that government officials were warned of the problem a year in advance, she says.

"People in the know got out and portrayed those who didn't as speculators," she says. "The hypocrisy of it made me madder than anything else."

The zoning case took place at a time when one of her duties as assistant village manager in Long Reach was to call county officials every Monday to find out what was happening that would affect village residents.

No one told her about a so-called "housekeeping amendment" to what was then the recently completed comprehensive rezoning. The amendment allowed a group of movie theaters to be built just beyond the village line.

"[By the time] the village found out, there was no opportunity to oppose the change," she says.

After the publicity she received in the zoning case, Ms. Mann was appointed to the county Planning Board, where she served a term as chairwoman.

In 1990, Ms. Mann won election to the local Democratic Central Committee and was appointed treasurer. Ms. Mann serves on the executive committee of the state Democratic Central Committee and was a state delegate to the Democratic National Convention that nominated Bill Clinton for president. She described herself as "an unpledged add-on."

A native of Pensacola, Fla., and former resident of Northern Virginia, Ms. Mann moved to the Village of Long Reach in November 1974 and began work with the Long Reach Community Association in 1985.

"I plan to do a lot of door-to-door and talk to the other village boards to find out their concerns," she says. "The most important thing you can do is listen to people and use the best of your conscience to get what the community wants done."

Gary Prestianni, a 40-year-old electrician Jessup electrician, has filed as a Republican for the council seat.

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