Activist from Long Reach declares for council seat

Williams seeks slot that Gray will vacate

Howard County

September 20, 2001|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Like many other east Columbia Democrats, Michelle Williams thought someone would surely come forward to run for the County Council seat that five-term Democrat C. Vernon Gray is slated to leave next year - but no one did.

So the Long Reach school activist and former school board candidate said she has decided to be that person.

"This is the gem of Howard County," she said of the east Columbia-Jessup district. "I'm committed to run."

Williams, 50, is the first candidate to declare for Gray's seat, despite general knowledge for three years that next year's District 2 race will have no incumbent. She is also the second parent active in Howard's recent school equity debate to announce for the council. Mary Kay Sigaty of Wilde Lake is running for the District 4 seat occupied by Mary C. Lorsung, who plans to retire.

Gray, the council's only African-American member, is prohibited from seeking re-election because of a term limit law passed in 1992.

Two other political novices, both Democrats, are considering entering the District 2 race - Calvin B. Ball III, 26, and Cameron E. Miles, 39, though neither has made a decision, they said. They, like Williams, are African-American.

Williams, a former Jeffers Hill Elementary and PTA Council member, ran for the school board last year amid concern that schools in older county areas, such as Long Reach, Oakland Mills and Owen Brown, were becoming stigmatized because of their lower standardized test scores, older buildings and equipment and higher minority enrollments.

She finished sixth - two behind the four winners - with 6,010 votes among 18 school board candidates in the nonpartisan primary held in March last year.

Williams said she did well in Columbia and expects to work on building a core of supporters among school and community activists and among her colleagues in the Columbia Democratic Club.

"I ran for the school board more out of frustration," she said, because she felt problems were not being addressed. Now, after several intense reviews by citizen committees and action by Superintendent John R. O'Rourke, Williams said, the county has at least made a "start" at progress.

Her goals have broadened, she said - to help revitalize the older, struggling village centers in Oakland Mills and Owen Brown, to keep improving county schools and to provide more activities for youths who sometimes attract police notice.

"The revitalization and upkeep of Columbia is very important," she said, despite the robust county real estate market this summer that has seen even older townhouses snapped up in a day. "I think that shows Columbia is still a desirable place to live."

A Baltimore native, Williams has lived in Columbia for 18 years in Sewell's Orchard, off Oakland Mills Road, with her self-employed husband, Anthony, and their 15-year-old daughter, a student at Mercy High School. For 12 years, they also raised a nephew, and both children attended Jeffers Hill Elementary School and Owen Brown Middle School.

An insurance claims examiner, Williams is pursuing a master's degree in negotiation and conflict management at the University of Baltimore. She said she expects to hold her first fund-raiser before Thanksgiving.

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