Sigaty and Klein battle for support

Fight for Democratic nomination for County Council heats up

May 30, 2010|By Larry Carson, The Baltimore Sun

Whom do you trust:

Mary Kay Sigaty, a 60-year-old woman who lives between The Mall in Columbia and the Wilde Lake Village Center and has spent decades doing community volunteer work topped by two years on the county school board and four on the County Council — including preparing new zoning for what she believes will be central Columbia's revival?

Or Alan Klein, a 56-year-old man whose family was involved in Columbia's first years, who says he's imbued with the values that James W. Rouse espoused and who says the zoning for Columbia's town center redevelopment is a sell-out to master developer General Growth Properties — an example of elected officials being co-opted instead of standing up for constituents?

Both are liberal Democrats who are normally more inclined to agree rather than disagree.

"It takes a lot to call me out to this sort of thing. I am not a political animal," Klein told about 40 supporters Monday as he announced his candidacy for County Council in front of "The Hug" statue of a man hugging a girl near Columbia's lakefront. Klein and several supporters said they've backed Sigaty before, but no more.

"To challenge an incumbent from my own party, particularly one whom I supported in the past and one who initially appeared to be a like-minded ally, was not an easy decision to make," Klein said. The councilwoman, he and others have concluded, simply hasn't represented their views.

Philip Kirsch, a Wilde Lake resident who is also the village's representative on the Columbia Association's board of directors, said the same thing while at Klein's event.

"My wife and I have known Mary Kay for years. We worked for her four years ago. We're not going to work for her this time," he said.

But Sigaty has her fans, too.

"I think people will assess the work Mary Kay has done, not just the last four years, but on the school board and volunteering. She's well-rounded and the best candidate," said Joan Lancos, a former county planning board member and former Republican council candidate in District 4 who works for the Hickory Ridge Village Board.

Cathy and John Stefano, also of Hickory Ridge, said they haven't followed the downtown debate carefully, but they like Sigaty because of the attention she has paid to their church's opposition to rezoning for a funeral home next door.

"She sat down with the people and listened to their concerns," Cathy Stefano said.

Still, the downtown rezoning appears to be the main issue.

Critics of the plan to remake central Columbia may have lost their battle over rezoning, and lost again in trying to petition the issue to referendum, but now they can vote against Sigaty in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary to express their discontent.

Sigaty, who garnered strong endorsements from County Executive Ken Ulman and all four District 13 state legislators, including state Sen. James N. Robey and Dels. Shane Pendergrass, Frank Turner and Guy Guzzone, at her May 20 fundraiser at the Melting Pot restaurant in Wilde Lake, said she takes Klein seriously.

"I believe the district is going to have a clear choice. I'm looking forward to the campaign," she said.

Both say they want to see new life in a redeveloped downtown Columbia, but they disagree on how much and on the level of development restrictions.

Klein accuses Sigaty of abandoning the goals of his Coalition for Columbia's Downtown that she signed on to support when the rezoning process began. Those goals included about 1,600 new homes, devoting 20 percent of each lot to open space and building height limits.

"My opponent has all too often either acquiesced to or actively promoted positions or policies which are furthering the decline of Columbia and of Howard County," he said, noting that the enacted bills call for up to 5,500 homes, 20-story buildings and devoting 5 percent of each lot to open space.

Sigaty acknowledged that she signed on to the original goals but considered those a starting point for a discusssion, not an unchangeable list.

"She accused Klein's group of being too rigid. His idea that she simply signed on to sponsor a GGP-written bill is "completely false," she said, given the 92 County Council amendments. The council put limits on commercial buildings and increased open space requirements, she said.

The 5,500-home figure is a limit, a potential maximum intended to balance the commercial and retail componants, she said.

Sigaty's supporters say Klein's followers are obstructionists, clinging to the Columbia they recall from decades past. The downtown plan must be flexible enough to allow General Growth to obtain financing and move forward, they insist, and protections were woven into the legislation.

Klein's supporters say Sigaty, Ulman and the rest of the County Council have been misled by GGP and have left their communities unprotected against potential congestion, high infrastructure costs and poorly conceived amenities.

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