Howard County

Maryland Votes 2006

October 19, 2006

Three decades after the founding of Columbia, Howard County's farmland feel has largely given way to a slickly modern suburbia. Fittingly, a complete turnover of county government offices seems certain to bring to power a new generation of political leaders.

Most telling has been the tightly waged county executive race between two talented and ambitious candidates who differ more in nuance and approach than policy. The best choice of the two is Republican Council Chairman Christopher J. Merdon, largely because he has more management and government experience than Democrat Ken Ulman, but also because he seems more sensitive to the concerns of county residents who feel shut out of land-use decisions. Mr. Merdon was the only council member to vote against the "Comp Lite" legislation that allowed some properties a shortcut to rezoning, feeding a growing distrust in government that may take some years to overcome. Particularly with the anticipated arrival of thousands of federal military workers to the region, the county must be clear in advance about how much growth it will accept and where it will draw the line.

Council District 1: Democrat Courtney Watson is ideally suited to join the council. As chairman of the elected county school board, she gained valuable knowledge about the needs of the schools and helped restore confidence in the school administration. But her primary interest is controlling growth in her Ellicott City district.

Council District 2: For this east Columbia seat, the nod goes to Republican Gina Gabrielle Ellrich, a businesswoman and civic activist who would bring to the job more sophistication and know-how than the appointed Democratic incumbent, who has served only a few months.

Council District 3: In this Laurel-area district, voters often feel overlooked, says Republican Donna Thewes, a longtime civic activist who is determined to make sure the voices of her neighbors are heard. Working hard to overcome a Democratic advantage in the district, she appears to have the energy and spark to make good on her promise.

Council District 4: For west Columbia, the clear choice is Democrat Mary Kay Sigaty, who narrowly lost the post to Mr. Ulman four years ago and has become a leading critic of the "Comp Lite" process that he supported. She is positioned to serve as a watchdog over the redevelopment of the Columbia Town Center.

Council District 5: Republican Greg Fox is an easy choice for this west county seat. He would bring to the council his perspective from volunteer work on the county public works board and a task force on child care. He is also determined to resist any proposed extension of water and sewer facilities that would open the rural west to development.

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