Single-gender cast on the council could end

Political Notebook

December 11, 2005|By LARRY CARSON

The chances of at least one female member being elected to the all-male Howard County Council increased significantly last week, with announcements from school board members Courtney Watson and Mary Kay Sigaty that they plan to seek two different council seats next year.

Watson and Sigaty, both Democrats, are running for seats in District 1 - Ellicott City and Elkridge - and District 4 - covering west Columbia. They join Republican Donna Thewes and Democrat Jennifer Terrasa, who are competing for the District 3 seat - covering the southeastern county.

There are no guarantees of a break in the single-gender cast of the council, however.

Watson and Sigaty will face Republican opposition, and months remain for more candidates to enter the races. But chances appear good that Howard's five-member council will have some female participation next term. Tony Salazar, a Republican former congressional candidate, has declared for the District 1 seat Watson is seeking, and Tom D'Asto of Clarksville has said he will seek the west Columbia District 4 seat, opposing Sigaty.

And Democrat Joshua Feldmark has said he plans to run for the party nomination against Sigaty.

Still, the slate of female candidates cheers former County Councilwoman Angela Beltram, who served during the late 1980s when the council was majority female.

"Balance is good," said Beltram, though in Howard County "most men are sensitive to social and education issues" that women often focus on.

East Columbia Democrat David A. Rakes is the only incumbent council member who has said he plans to seek re-election.

Partisan politics

Although new County Council Chairman Christopher J. Merdon has talked about keeping partisan politics to a minimum in his Republican campaign for county executive next year, don't put county GOP Chairman Howard M. Rensin in that category.

Rensin, in an e-mail comment on Merdon's victory in becoming chairman Monday night, hailed vital support from Rakes, who is African-American, as a sign that Republicans are making inroads among black voters. That will help Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele win a U.S. Senate seat, Rensin said.

"This is yet another example of how thinking voters who are African-American are seeing that the Democrats have lied to them over all these years and do not deserve their continued support," Rensin said. "This is another signal that the time is right for Michael Steele. ...

"If the Democrats lose the African-American vote, which is clearly in the wind, they are rapidly heading to the ash can of history."

Rakes said that although he supported Merdon for council chairman, he will not support him for county executive next year and is not abandoning his party.

Privately, some Republicans say they feel Rensin's rhetoric is too extreme. The county's Democratic Party chairman agrees.

"I think it's taken things to a level where we don't need to go," said Wendy Fiedler. "His style seems to be to throw out insults and derogatory comments. We can certainly have a discussion about politics without going in that direction."

Although Merdon replaced Democrat Guy Guzzone as council chairman, Guzzone is now in charge of another body - the county Zoning Board. Councilman Ken Ulman, the former board chairman, is now vice chair, while Rakes, whose vote was crucial in Merdon's becoming chairman, remains council vice chair and chairman of the county liquor board.

District 13

The Rev. Rick Bowers, 47, of Long Reach, kicked off his uphill campaign last week for a District 13 seat in the Maryland House of Delegates.

Although the district's state senator is a Republican, all three delegate's seats have been held by Democrats for years, and Democrats outnumber the GOP in registered voters by 37,524 to 24,004, with 15,625 independents.

A Republican, Bowers is chairman of Defend Maryland Marriage, a group working to amend the Maryland Constitution to define marriage as being limited to a union between a man and a woman. But he said that issue is not the primary one on which he is running.

A self-described "midlife pastor" who turned to religion full-time after working in white-collar sales and business management jobs, Bowers said he is concerned about government overspending and about making sure every child in Maryland gets the same quality education.

Anne Arundel County Del. Donald H. Dwyer, Jr., a conservative Republican pushing the marriage-definition issue, helped Bowers start his campaign at an Other Barn gathering in Oakland Mills last week.

In an interview, Bowers said his experience as a pastor "gives me a unique perspective into the lives of others. What I'm trying to do is put a fresh look back into government."

Bowers, pastor of the Living Stone House of Worship in Pasadena, said his is not a message of hate.

"I have great compassion for all people. I cannot hate people and be a good pastor," he said, adding that his support for Dwyer's effort is "not about the person, it's about the activity."

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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