Candidates, residents rub elbows

Office seekers a third of crowd at pre-election forum


April 05, 2001|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

Retail politics came to Columbia last night in a form that was more like a mom-and-pop shop than a Wal-Mart.

Candidates for the seven open Columbia Council seats met with residents not just face to face, but sometimes one on one, at a meeting organized by a group called Vote 01.

About 50 people gathered at The Other Barn in Oakland Mills - about a third of them the candidates. All but a few of the 17 candidates attended.

Because the crowd was small, residents could do more than press the flesh with council hopefuls; they pressed the issues, too.

Two residents spoke at length with Linda Odum, one of three candidates running from Long Reach, expressing their concern that a land annexation plan rejected by the council last year might resurface. Odum has not taken a position on the plan.

"I think she's selling them a house," one observer joked, as Odum, a Realtor, chatted with the two people for about a half-hour.

Nearby, another Columbian grilled Hank Eigles, one of five Wilde Lake candidates, about a campaign pledge to act cooperatively and professionally with council colleagues, if elected.

"You think if everyone talked sweetly to each other, all our problems would go away?" asked the resident, Henry Shapiro of Wilde Lake.

Eigles said he could disagree with fellow council members without being contentious.

There was plenty of time for that kind of follow-up question, and for follow-ups to the follow-ups, during the 90-minute meeting.

Vote 01, which organized the program, is a group of residents who recruited several candidates and are pushing for greater participation in Columbia elections. Elections will be held April 21. Polls also will be open April 20 in Kings Contrivance, which decided under Columbia's unusual voting rules to have two days of voting.

Emily Lincoln, one of the organizers, told the crowd that this was a particularly important election, because nearly the whole council - seven of 10 seats - could change. After Lincoln's opening remarks, the candidates moved to assigned tables around the room. Residents traveled from table to table to meet the candidates.

One of the busier residents was Arie Eisner, who was trying to meet candidates from Wilde Lake, Oakland Mills and Hickory Ridge. He owns property in all three villages, and Columbia's voting rules allow him to cast ballots in all three races.

Traffic was light at Ed Stern's table, because he is running unopposed to succeed Adam Rich in River Hill. He wandered over to chat with candidates from Oakland Mills during a lull.

The other uncontested race is in Dorsey's Search. Village board Chairman Tom O'Connor, 49, is running unopposed to succeed Robert Conors, who is not seeking re-election.

In Wilde Lake, a record five candidates are vying for the seat being vacated by Vincent Marando.

They are Eigles, 64, a retired federal Health Care Finance Administration lawyer; Randy Clay, 29, a University of Maryland graduate student; Joshua Feldmesser, 25, a training director for Environmental Citizenship, an environmental group; Mary Kay Sigaty, 51, a jewelry designer; and Helen Sutusky, 49, coordinator of the Howard County Office of Substance Abuse Impact Services.

In Long Reach, three candidates are competing for the seat being vacated by Cecilia Januszkiewicz. They are Odum, 59; Shelby A. Tucker King, 43, former general counsel for the Columbia Association; and Deborah Tolson, a longtime community activist.

In Oakland Mills, two candidates are challenging incumbent Barbara Russell, 60, a senior administrative analyst for the Howard County Council. They are Patti Boyd, 41, a legal specialist with a Baltimore law firm; and Earl Jones, 66, a retired federal General Services Administration official who lost by seven votes to Russell last year.

In Kings Contrivance, incumbent Kirk Halpin, 30, a real estate lawyer, is challenged by Steven Pine, 48, a database administrator.

In Hickory Ridge, incumbent Miles Coffman, 51, a project manager with Bank of America, faces a challenge from Robert E. O'Brien, 67, vice president of the Columbia chapter of the National Association of Retired Federal Employees. In October, O'Brien was convicted of misdemeanor assault on a senior Columbia Association official.

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