With the election of just one new member, the dynamics of the Columbia Council has changed significantly.
Jud Malone paved the way for a new majority, new council leadership and what some say is a new philosophy for the 10-member policy-making group.
"The people in Columbia have been waiting for a long time for the balance to shift from the pro-corporation side to the pro-resident side," said Alex Hekimian, president of the watchdog group Alliance for a Better Columbia. "So I think it's a milestone. I think a lot of good things can come out of that."
Malone, 53, who runs an Internet portal service from his home, did not start out to claim the Town Center seat with such a weighty ambition. He just wanted to make a difference, as an individual.
With the independence his home-based job offered and realizing that important issues were rising -- sharply increasing annual fees for property owners and proposed significant residential development in Town Center -- Malone thought it was time to get involved with the council and attempt to bring accord to the group that also acts as the Columbia Association board.
"I wanted to do what I could to contribute to a more harmonious board," he said. "And I think, so far, I feel good about my efforts in that regard."
Before April's election, the council had been evenly split on a significant issue -- state legislation that would limit the revenue the Columbia Association can collect from skyrocketing real estate values.
During his campaign, Malone advocated reining in increases in annual charges the association imposes on property owners. The charges are based on property values, which increased by a third on average in east Columbia last year and by nearly one-half in west Columbia this year.
With Malone's election, association board members supporting the assessment-cap legislation gained a 6-4 advantage. The General Assembly approved the cap this year.
Town Center resident Helen Ruther predicts Malone will be a consensus builder for the council.
"There have been two factions all the time, and I think he'll bring a new look ... without a lot of heated exchange," said Ruther, who represented Town Center on the council from 1974 to 1977.
Already, Malone has had success. While campaigning, he repeatedly challenged the board's policy of allowing members to vote by proxy, allowing another director to cast a vote in his or her absence. This month, the board directed its policy committee to examine the issue and agreed not to use proxies in the meantime.
"I feel really good that I think the board is probably going to move toward eliminating proxies," Malone said. "But I don't want to take full credit for it."
Malone's campaign also breathed new life into Town Center's elections. The village had not held council elections since 2000 because the races were unchallenged.
"This was really very invigorating," Ruther said. "People were interested [because] somebody was interested enough to challenge, and you don't find that very often, in any of Columbia's elections."
Malone moved to Columbia 10 years ago from Atlanta with his wife, Christina, and his two stepchildren, Melania, 22, and Javier, 24.
They chose Columbia primarily because of its proximity to their jobs. But as a multicultural family, they quickly appreciated Columbia's diversity, stemming from developer James W. Rouse's vision that people of various races and economic backgrounds should live in the town.
"It was apparent that it was an open and accepting community right from the beginning -- the amount of interracial couples, the kids hanging out together," Malone said. "You didn't see the usual groupings along racial lines."
Malone knows a pivotal point is coming in Town Center's future, as Rouse Co. petitioned Howard County to increase Columbia's residential density with the goal of building 1,600 residential units in Town Center.
Malone supports the county Zoning Board's denial of the petition because board members wanted the developer to craft a more detailed plan. While Rouse needs to get a return on its investment, Malone said, the process of adding more than 2,000 residents to Columbia's downtown should allow for greater public awareness and involvement.
"It needs to happen with a great plan, not just in a happenstance kind of way," he said. "And I think everyone can contribute to that plan."
Concern for future
Malone plans to retire in Columbia, so he has a vested interest in what Town Center will look like in the future. After living primarily in the South, he said he wants to stay in Columbia because of its diversity, open space and strong sense of community.
"My wife and I have had the opportunity to travel quite a bit ... and we have yet to find any other place that really is what you get here in Columbia," he said.