Club hears council pitches

Democratic hopefuls talk politics with Columbia group

March 14, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

For a group of first-time candidates, the six Howard County Council hopefuls who came to impress the Columbia Democratic Club at Jeffers Hill Community Center last night seemed pretty savvy.

No one said they favor higher taxes, all favor more mass transit, stronger schools and neighborhoods, and everyone - from the two in their 20s to the single retiree - remembered to stress their qualifications, political connections and community involvement.

Still, some differences were clear.

Michelle Williams, an experienced county school and community activist running for the east Columbia District 2 seat, sat next to 27-year-old rival Calvin B. Ball III and said she has lived in Columbia 18 years: "I did not just show up." She said she wants parents more involved in their children's schooling.

Ball said he is a leader, teacher and former supervisor in the Maryland attorney general's office who wants to narrow school achievement gaps and strengthen the Long Reach and Oakland Mills communities.

David A. Rakes, a retired federal employee and the third Democrat vying for the nomination from that east Columbia-dominated district, said he came to Columbia nearly 30 years ago because "this was a new way of life, in line with what Dr. Martin Luther King said" in his "I Have a Dream" speech a decade earlier. Now, as Columbia nears completion, he said, "we must take control of the pieces and bring people to the table. That is not happening."

Two Democrats competing for the west Columbia District 4 seat showed their varying qualities - longtime Wilde Lake activist Mary Kay Sigaty and 27-year-old Kenneth S. Ulman of River Hill.

Ulman, a lawyer and Columbia native with strong family support and political experience, told the club, "It wasn't that long ago that this county was thought of as a Republican county. Now it is a Democratic county." He sported a professional-quality campaign brochure featuring his family, his former boss - Gov. Parris N. Glendening - and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. He said he is glad to see some backing away from the standardized Maryland school test scores, which often hurt the reputation of good schools in older neighborhoods.

Sigaty said she and her husband moved to Columbia right after college 30 years ago, and after years of teaching, small business and being a community and school volunteer, "the time is right and now to give this opportunity my full-time commitment." She said the County Council may not make school policy, but it should hold school officials accountable for what they promise.

Lynne Bergling, a Democrat running for the District 1 seat, representing Ellicott City and Elkridge, also spoke, concentrating on zoning, her specialty.

The club's forum is one of a monthly series this year for Democrats running for a variety of offices. Last night was County Council candidates' turn. The club will vote on endorsements for the September primary election in July.

Only one of the three council Democrats is running for re-election - Guy J. Guzzone, whose District 3 includes North Laurel, Savage and part of Columbia. Chairman C. Vernon Gray of east Columbia is planning a run for the state Senate, while west Columbia's Mary C. Lorsung is retiring.

The loss of those two incumbents has created the most active primary election contests, with three Democrats and two Republicans so far vying for Gray's seat, and two Democrats and Republican Joan Lancos, the longtime Planning Board chairwoman, running for Lorsung's seat.

Republicans Allan H. Kittleman, from the western county, and Christopher J. Merdon, of Ellicott City, appear firmly entrenched for a re-election bid.

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