Klein to challenge Sigaty for Howard council seat

Primary battle sparked by Columbia rezoning

May 18, 2010|By Larry Carson, The Baltimore Sun

A prominent critic of the Columbia downtown rezoning will challenge Howard County Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty, who led the council to a unanimous approval of the two measures Feb. 1. Both are Democrats.

Alan Klein, 56, a resident of Harper's Choice and spokesman for a group called the Coalition for Columbia's Downtown, said he plans to formally announce Monday his candidacy in the District 4 County Council primary. He would face Sigaty, 60, of Wilde Lake, who is seeking re-election after one term on the council. Republican Tom D'Asto is also running.

Klein, a thoughtful, introverted, self-employed consultant, had said earlier that he did not see himself as a candidate for public office, despite rumors that he might challenge Sigaty, but he changed his mind, with plenty of persuasion, he said.

"It became clear that there wasn't going to be anyone else," he said.

The downtown rezoning, which opened the way for a 30-year redevelopment plan that would urbanize Town Center with up to 5,500 new homes and roughly 6 million square feet of new retail, office, hotel and cultural building space if it goes as planned, will be the major issue, Klein said. He and his group consistently opposed the rezoning proposed by General Growth Properties as too intense and requiring too much public investment in infrastructure, though Klein said some redevelopment is needed.

"That is certainly what doctors call the presenting complaint," Klein said about the rezoning, though there are others he plans to outline at his Monday announcement. "It's basically that the views of this community are not being adequately represented. There's a lack of trust."

The biggest concern about the zoning, he added, is that "I don't think there are adequate controls."

Sigaty said having a primary rival in the district, which covers west Columbia and Fulton, is not really surprising — or unusual.

"I've had a primary opponent for the last two council races. It's nothing new," she said.

Sigaty lost to the current county executive, Ken Ulman, by 36 votes in the 2002 Democratic primary, then beat Ulman ally Josh Feldmark in 2006, when she won the council seat. Sigaty also served two years on the school board before winning the council election.

She, too, sees the election as a mini-referendum on the Columbia rezoning, but added that she hopes voters keep in mind her support for other issues, such as education, village center renewal and health.

She called the Columbia zoning "good, positive legislation" and said, "I hope the voters will see that." The zoning contains protections for the community, she said, in "clear phasing and checkpoints" that limit growth until certain milestones are reached.

Both candidates are working to raise campaign cash, though, as both also said, the district is normally characterized by low-budget grass roots campaigns.

Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a political force in west Columbia, said she would not openly take sides, though "it's no secret that I agree with [Klein] on this."

However, "I helped Mary Kay a great deal four years ago," she added.

Councilman Calvin Ball, an east Columbia Democrat, spoke up for Sigaty and against Klein.

"Mary Kay is a hardworking public servant," he said. "I've only known [Klein] to be in opposition to everything. I've never heard him be positive."

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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