State employee, 26, files for council seat

Oakland Mills resident seeks post held for five terms by Gray

October 04, 2001|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Calvin B. Ball III is a tall man with a friendly smile, who with his wife, Shani, "always dreamed of coming to Columbia and living the [Rouse] vision."

"We saved our pennies, set a plan and worked it," said the Towson University graduate. A sister also lives in Columbia, said Ball, 26, who grew up in Catonsville.

Now, after two years in the planned town, the Oakland Mills resident is the second person to announce candidacy for the District 2 County Council seat held by five-term veteran C. Vernon Gray. A Democrat and the council's only African-American member, Gray is to leave the office after next year's elections because of a three-term limit approved in 1992.

Community activist Michelle Williams, 50, announced her campaign for the east Columbia-Jessup council seat two weeks ago. Ball and Williams are Democrats and African-Americans.

Ball's youth isn't as unusual as it may seem. Kenneth S. Ulman, 27, is a candidate in District 4, covering west Columbia. And incumbent Councilman Christopher J. Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican, was Ball's age when he began campaigning before the last election, though he joked recently that he's not planning on nurturing young Democrats, whatever their ages.

In Columbia, a black candidate doesn't need to run in a majority black district to win - as evidenced by Gray's success over the years. The redistricting plan submitted to the council last week by a citizens commission would continue District 2 as having the highest concentration of black voters in the county at 22.9 percent.

"A lot of things about Columbia seem to be different from any other place," said J.T. Thornton, a Democrat and the only black member of the Howard County Council Redistricting Commission. "We don't need a super-majority in Howard County" to see a black candidate elected in a mostly white district, he said.

`Open' to minorities

David Marker, chairman of the commission, said Columbia's history of support for racial tolerance and integration means that "people are more open to minority candidates."

Ball is a supervisor in the Consumer Protection Division of the state attorney general's office, teaches part time at the University of Phoenix, and does consulting on human relations. He said he plans to take a leave of absence from the attorney general's office, starting in December, to campaign and raise money. He said he hopes to raise at least $25,000.

"It will be a challenge, a great opportunity," he said. "I have a history of being successful in things I'm involved in."

"Right now, the council is where I can do the most good for my community," he added. Being a councilman "sounds just like my job now. People call me whenever they have a problem."

Ball said he helps find amiable resolutions to disputes. "I think I can use those skills" as a councilman, he said.

His vision for the district is similar to the views propounded by Gray over the years.

"I want to foster an inclusive county," he said. "I don't want it to be District 2 vs. the rest of the county. I want to let people know this is the jewel in the crown of Howard County."

As part of that, he wants to find ways of "energizing" the area's economic base to save local merchants - especially in Oakland Mills Village Center, where a gas station and a supermarket have closed.

And Ball said he wants the district to be safe, mentioning a "perception that this isn't as safe a district as some others."

Work with young people

He said he wants to work more with young people by promoting juvenile diversion programs, forging closer relations between police and area youth, and by teaching young people how to be more involved in positive business activities.

A 1993 graduate of Woodlawn High School, Ball graduated from Towson in 1997 with a major in philosophy and religion. Two years later, he got a master's degree in legal and ethical studies from the University of Baltimore.

"I've always been interested in helping and effecting change for the better," he said.

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