Critical Columbia elections

Watershed?: Voters in four of Columbia's village centers can give the city new leadership

April 11, 2000

RECENT TURMOIL in the Columbia Association could produce a real turnout for this weekend's elections in six of Columbia's 10 village centers. It should.

Only four of the six villages have contested races, but the outcomes there could change the balance of power on the Columbia Council. And even if that change does not occur, a strong turnout could signal a new understanding among Columbians that the council matters.

Voters have sometimes ignored these elections - in which representatives to the council are chosen - imagining they didn't much matter. The county takes care of the roads and the schools and zoning, leaving a few amenities to be managed by the council (the city's governing body) along with the Columbia Association.

But that attitude appears to be changing - partly in response to recent actions taken by the council and by Deborah O. McCarty, president of the Columbia Association. The association, the council and Ms. McCarty run the city. As currently constituted, the 10-member council has been supportive of Ms. McCarty, giving her 7-3 votes on most matters of importance.

But many rank-and-file voters are not pleased. When Ms. McCarty recently asked for the resignation of all six association vice presidents, a number of citizens organized a grass-roots effort to get voters to the polls. Many of the organizers hope a large turnout will show their displeasure with Ms. McCarty's leadership and the council's support.

Voters can make an even more focused difference: Joseph Merke, a McCarty ally who represents Town Center, is not seeking re-election. In two villages - Harper's Choice and Hickory Ridge - McCarty backers have opponents. In Oakland Mills, a leader of the anti-McCarthy faction also has an opponent.

The outcomes, though, may not be as important as the turnout. Columbia needs to take a collective step toward a more responsive and professional government.

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