When the race for the Harper's Choice seat on the Columbia Council was decided by a mere two votes, it was a sign that the community is deeply divided over whether the Columbia Association should limit the revenue it collects from soaring real estate values, says the unsuccessful candidate.
Kathleen Larson, who lost to incumbent Wolfger Schneider, 277-275, in Saturday's election said she would not call for a recount. She said she only wishes she had made her position clearer on whether the Columbia Association should be subject to a 10 percent annual limit on property assessment increases.
"This is an expression of the division of understanding in our village," Larson said. "There are people who value our amenities a great deal, and they voted for me. And there are some who misunderstood my position, and they went out and voted for Wolf."
Property values grew by one-third on average in east Columbia last year, and by nearly one-half in west Columbia this year, leading many residents to call for an assessment cap in Columbia.
While Larson favors a 10 percent ceiling on the annual charge the Columbia Association imposes on property owners, based on property values, she did not support state legislation - which the 2004 General Assembly approved - that will impose the cap. She believes it is unconstitutional.
Schneider supported the assessment cap and the legislation.
"[Schneider] took advantage of that, my ambiguity on that one," said Larson, 62, a writer who chaired the association's budget committee for the past two years."
Larson also faced a third candidate, Arna Clark, 32, a dishwasher and food preparer at Popeye's in The Mall in Columbia who described herself as a communist. She only garnered 11 votes.
The council - whose members also act as the Columbia Association board of directors - is the policymaking body of the homeowners association, which provides recreational amenities and manages open space for more than 96,000 residents.
Larson said the close vote margin shows that the election is not a solid victory for the Alliance for a Better Columbia (ABC), a citizens watchdog group to which Schneider belongs. There are now six council members whose views are usually supported by ABC.
"This is not a mandate for ABC," she said.
Schneider, 63, a staff engineer at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, said the narrow victory "sends a message that the other side worked very hard and that maybe like the rest of the country, we're pretty much split."
In Hickory Ridge, the incumbent also won. In a 189-118 vote, Miles Coffman, 54, a vice president at M&T Bank, beat challenger Fred Franklin-Campbell, 31, an adjunct history professor at Howard Community College.
But in Town Center, incumbent Donna L. Rice lost to her challenger by 157 votes and is still distressed about the outcome.
She accused winner Jud Malone - who defeated her, 215-58 - of running a negative campaign that called into question her character.
"He did a good job of trying to smear me," said Rice, 59, who runs a boutique and two businesses from her home. "I think there were definitely character assassinations."
Rice was particularly upset with Malone claims that she frequently missed council meetings and voted on matters by proxy - allowing another council member to cast her votes in her absence.
Malone said Rice's feelings are unfortunate, and he commends her for the many years of service she dedicated to the community.
"I tried to point out what I thought a was serious problem of governance and a problem of the use of proxies. She is certainly not the only member who has used proxies," he said. "I felt it was a valid point to make, and I'm very sorry that she feels that way."
Malone, 53, who operates an Internet portal service from his home, said he was surprised by the large margin by which he won, but he said Rice should not take it as a "personal affront."
"It sends the message to me that the residents of Town Center definitely want a fresh approach, and... that they have high expectations," he said.