Columbia Democratic primaries focus on downtown plan

Foes win House nod, advocates win council nomination

September 17, 2010|By Larry Carson, The Baltimore Sun

Her eyes rimmed with red from emotion and exhaustion Tuesday night, County Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty thanked Howard County Executive Ken Ulman for his strong support in her unexpectedly easy victory over challenger Alan Klein in the Democratic primary.

Klein had a major ally in well-known Del. Elizabeth Bobo, who won her Democratic primary handily Tuesday over challenger John Bailey.

"I want to … I need to thank Ken," Sigaty began. "Who knew eight years ago?" she added to laughter among the hundreds of Democrats packed into Ulman's Columbia campaign headquarters after the polls closed. The joke was that Ulman beat Sigaty by 36 votes in 2002 for the District 4 council seat that she now holds. It was the first bid that either had made for public office.

Sigaty will face Republican Tom D'Asto in the general election. Bobo's opponent is Robert Wheatley.

Democratic voters seemed to disregard the fuss over the downtown Columbia redevelopment plan, renominating Bobo with about 82 percent of the primary vote and Sigaty with 62.5 percent, despite their sharply differing views. The plan would allow construction of up to 5,500 new residences and nearly 6 million square feet of retail and commercial space in the town center area over three decades.

Sigaty, a proponent of the redevelopment plan, received 3,741 votes in the unofficial count. Bobo, who opposed the project, got 3,729 votes.

Still, the war of words over the redevelopment plan continues.

Klein said voters "didn't know what the issue was" and often "didn't know Liz [Bobo] was backing me."

He said he does not see the election result as a rejection of his argument that the downtown plan would bring too much development to Columbia. He vowed to continue his role as spokesman for the Coalition for Columbia's Downtown as the project moves ahead.

Emily Lincoln, who heads a group called Bring Back the Vision, which backs the downtown plan, disagreed.

"The voters were well aware, could not escape, the Klein-Bobo attacks on the downtown plan," Lincoln said. "Alan will no doubt keep talking, but the people have spoken. The people approve the county plan."

At the post-election gathering, Sigaty, Ulman and Bobo sounded a call for unity. Klein did not attend, saying, "At this point, I'm exhausted and I'm with the people I want to be with."

Sigaty told the crowd that her roller-coaster political career has made one thing clear.

"That experience eight years ago shows that we are working toward common goals," Sigaty said. "We will still have our differences. It's really about us all working together."

Klein had called to concede and to wish her well, she said.

Ulman had his own message going forward.

"This was a race I felt strongly about," the county executive said. "I feel very strongly about the work we've been doing for this county, and Mary Kay was right in the middle of that. I wanted to send a message to folks that have been with us that I'm going to work hard for them. I'm not going to leave them hanging."

The Democrat mounted a major effort for Sigaty, including phone banks, joint literature and mailings. On the day of the primary, Ulman campaign workers waved Sigaty signs at motorists throughout the district, which stretches from Ellicott City to Fulton and from Columbia's Town Center to River Hill. Even District 3 Councilwoman Jennifer Terrasa, who had no opponent in the Democratic primary, donned a Sigaty T-shirt and manned polls for her colleague.

Given that effort, a Sigaty loss would have been a political black eye for the 36-year-old county executive, who some say would like to be governor one day.

Bobo pledged strong support for all Democrats in the general election, but especially for Gov. Martin O'Malley in his fight against Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich. Jr. She said she has no plans to be quiet about her doubts on the downtown Columbia plan.

"I intend to work as hard as I can for Democrats in November," Bobo said. "I will continue to address issues I expressed opinions on in the campaign. I would have liked to see Alan win, and he didn't," she said. "I thought he had a reasonable chance."

Republican D'Asto said he'd like to pick up votes Nov. 2 from unhappy Democrats in his race against Sigaty, though he doesn't see the downtown plan as a live issue anymore.

"The bottom line is, the council voted on it. The vote is done. It's law," D'Asto said. He said the issue now is electing "a leader strong enough to enforce it."

Democratic Party Chairman Michael C.A. McPherson called for Democrats to close ranks.

"We need to be unified coming out and taking on our enemy, the Republican Party," he said.

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