Columbia Council chairman Mike Rethman was ousted by a newcomer who has never held public office, and longtime Columbia Association critic Alex Hekimian easily won re-election despite vigorous opposition from his opponent in council elections over the weekend.
Hekimian got more than twice as many votes as Gary B. Glisan -- 388 to 139 -- to return to the council to represent Columbia's Oakland Mills village.
By a 74-vote margin, residents in Hickory Ridge village selected Jean Friedberg over Rethman to represent them on the 10-member council.
Another newcomer, Cecilia Januszkiewicz in Long Reach village, will join incumbents from Town Center and Dorsey's Search village on the council that takes office May 1.
The Columbia Council monitors the homeowners association that collects residents' liens and manages their parkland and recreation facilities.
In this year's elections, eight council seats were at stake but only five races were contested. In each of Columbia's 10 villages, residents could also choose new village board members.
In each village, far fewer residents voted than were eligible -- barely 10 percent went to the polls overall. In River Hill, Columbia's newest and smallest village with about 2,400 residents, just 84 cast ballots, said village manager Sunny McGuinn.
One of the most contested council elections was in Oakland Mills village, where Hekimian defeated longtime rival Glisan for the second year in a row.
More residents -- 546 -- cast ballots in Oakland Mills than in any other village. The larger turnout was likely the result of recent activism in the village sparked by the announcement that the Giant supermarket in the village center will close in June.
Hekimian won last year by just 16 votes and this year by 249.
"This is a tremendous victory," said Hekimian. "It just goes to show that people really did appreciate the representation that I provided for Oakland Mills and that they do want to see some changes at the Columbia Association."
`I have no sour grapes'
Said Glisan, "This was not a small segment of the community. This was a four-to-one margin. It is obvious that the people of Oakland Mills feel more comfortable with his perspective than mine. I have no sour grapes.
"Frankly, I wasn't as hurt by my loss as by Mike Rethman's. He was attacked for doing an extremely credible job as chairman."
Rethman, who had been on the council for four years, said he was not surprised he was defeated by Friedberg for the council seat representing Hickory Ridge village.
He acknowledges he is outspoken; opponents have called him abrasive.
"There were a few people who were offended by how I handled things at a meeting or two," Rethman said. "There was a bid by some people against me and it was successful. I thought I could help Columbia move in a sturdier fashion into the 21st century, but the people who voted apparently feel differently."
Newcomers Friedberg and Januszkiewicz have yet to publicize their opinions on some of the major issues before the council. Their stands on such key issues as debt reduction, strategic planning and two controversial athletic facilities could forge a new council majority in the coming year.
"I'm the new person," said Friedberg, who was president of the Jewish Federation of Howard County in the 1980s.
"I've got to get there and learn and listen -- that's probably the number one priority," he said. "Once I get to know the other members of the council better, then I can better assess what I think the other priorities should be."
Januszkiewicz, who defeated Roy T. Lyons for the Long Reach council seat 103 to 79, said she wants the council to take a position on the fate of the 300-acre Smith farm that borders her village.
She hopes it will be converted into parkland. The farm is now in probate and some fear it could be sold to developers.
"I will be more vocal on behalf of Long Reach than Roy [Lyons] has been," she said. "This is not so much a shift in focus as maybe a shift in energy."
Lyons said he would not "venture a guess" on why he was defeated.
He also said he probably would not apply for the open seat on the village board that will be filled by appointment.
In Town Center, incumbent Joseph Merke defeated Suzanne S. Waller 106 to 72.
Waller, who has served on the council before and was defeated last year by Merke, said she will probably run for council again next year.
"It is likely," she said. "I think Mr. Merke will do a good job but I would do a better job."
Residents in Town Center also voted to change the term of its council representative from one year to two. The change will take effect in next year's election, a village official said.
Merke said he might apply to be council chairman, a position that must be filled within two weeks of new members' taking office.
"I think I have a lot to offer that position," he said.
In Dorsey's Search, incumbent S. Kenneth Puckett was re-elected over Dana Pescosolido 186 to 33.