Council campaign cooking

3 Democrats vie in District 4: west Columbia and Fulton

Maryland Votes 2006


Wearing a white campaign T-shirt, black shorts and tennis shoes, with a water bottle and a satchel of campaign materials slung over one shoulder, a determined Mary Kay Sigaty is again on the election trail -- her third effort in four years.

"I've been to many of these houses before," Sigaty, 56, recalled, setting out for some door-knocking in a Clemens Crossing neighborhood one hot July afternoon. Sigaty is one of three Democrats, along with Joshua Feldmark and Jeffrey L. Underwood, running under the name of UNcommon, who are competing for their party's nomination in the District 4 County Council primary.

"I definitely feel better known than I was last time," she said. "I am going to try to hit every part of the district."

Sigaty, a silver-haired, energetic optimist, lost her first bid for County Council four years ago to current District 4 Councilman Ken Ulman by a nail-biting 36 votes. But she came back to win a seat on the county school board two years ago. Now, with Ulman running for county executive, she is trying again for the council in what appears to be another tough race.

If she wins, she will resign her school board seat, which would be filled by executive appointment. Her current board term expires in 2008.

Feldmark, 31, a goateed, voluble environmentalist and former chairman of the Columbia Association board -- and a neighbor of Sigaty's in Wilde Lake -- has won endorsements from Ulman, county teachers and police unions, the local Sierra Club and the Columbia Democratic Club. Underwood, a real estate broker who filed on the last possible day under the name UNcommon, is also running.

Republican Tom D'Asto will face the winner in Howard's Democrat-dominated District 4, covering west Columbia and Fulton.

Underwood, 48, is using the first name of his real estate company, UNcommon Realty, on the ballot, and despite filing July 3, is not campaigning daily. Last week, he said he had no campaigning scheduled, though he hopes to appear at several candidate forums and is getting together yard signs and campaign literature.

The choice of a council member for District 4 voters could be vital to Columbia's future, because the area includes Town Center, where planning is under way for thousands of new dwellings, office and retail buildings.

Lloyd Knowles, a former county councilman who is married to west Columbia Del. Elizabeth Bobo, said he, like others worried that development may overwhelm central Columbia, is waiting to see more specifics from the candidates.

"I'm still waiting for them to become more definitive about their ideas about downtown," Knowles said, though Sigaty issued an 11-point list of suggestions after a recent traffic study predicted traffic congestion if no road improvements are made.

Feldmark, who grew up in Wilde Lake, has said some good, if general, things about keeping development at a level to help, not hurt, Columbia, Knowles said. Sigaty has called for remaking the county-sponsored study group that is examining the situation, enacting height limits to prevent more buildings like the 22-story high-rise planned for the lakefront, and more mass transit and required affordable housing.

As candidates, they both have advantages, Knowles reasoned.

"She has a track record," he said about Sigaty, a longtime Columbia resident with decades of community involvement. "He has the resources of Ken Ulman and the Ulman ticket."

Ulman said he endorsed Feldmark because he considers Josh and his wife, Jessica, "like part of the family." Jessica is Ulman's special assistant on the council. Despite that, Ulman said he is concentrating fully on his campaign for county executive.

Feldmark is encouraged by the endorsements.

"Obviously, endorsements don't win or lose elections, but to me, it feels like these different groups feel I'm the most qualified and the best [person] to put forward their ideas," he said.

"I feel like we're doing well," he said, acknowledging that "we're not doing any polls or anything so there's no way to tell until Election Day."

Feldmark may have the union and environmental endorsements, but Sigaty has some strong backers, too -- including former District 4 Councilwoman Mary C. Lorsung and Joan Lancos, the 2002 Republican candidate for the seat.

"My belief is if I, as a Republican, couldn't win in the district, then a Republican can't win in the district. I live here, and I want the best representation possible, and that's Mary Kay," said Lancos, a former county Planning Board chairman.

"I think her years of service on the school board have shown she really has the best interest of the whole community at heart," Lancos said.

For Sigaty, an hour's solitary door knocking in Clemens Crossing netted her just one sure vote, from Catherine Snider, who knows Sigaty through her work on the Wilde Lake Middle School PTA.

Several other residents she encountered seemed oblivious to local County Council races, though one, Joel Shaivitz, said his vote already was promised to Feldmark.

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