A history of Howard County Council redistricting, part 12

6 minute read

Part 11 of this series took us through the 1990 party primaries for the second election year featuring county council districts; in this part we see how the results of the 1990 general election compare to those of 1986.

October 1990. Now that the primaries are over the candidates position themselves for the general election. Republican Charles Ecker faces an uphill fight in his campaign for county executive, at least on the money front: Reports out in late September for fundraising through August 31 show him trailing Democratic incumbent Elizabeth Bobo in terms of attracting major donors (contributing $200 or more), raising under $6K from thirteen major donors versus Bobo’s total of over $60K from 184 major donors. Undaunted, Ecker channels Ronald Reagan as he asks Howard County voters Are you better off now than you were four years ago and accuses Bobo of killing Route 100. Bobo in turns accuses Ecker of hypocrisy on the matter of county spending: He asked me to spend the money [when Ecker was deputy superintendent of schools]. … Has he changed his mind?

In the county council race in District 1 (Elkridge, Savage, North Laurel, and southeast Columbia), Republican challenger candidate Dennis Schrader accuses the county government of being socialistic and tinkering in the marketplace when it comes to planning for county growth, and notes that incumbent Shane Pendergrass’s support for a growth cap means There’s going to be a lot of kids [who] don’t have toys at Christmas …

In District 2 (Ellicott City), Democratic incumbent Angela Beltram finds voters know what they care about (whether or not Old Frederick Road and Route 108 get connected via Gray Rock Drive) and less about who’s running for council: a voter asks Who’s that running against you, a voter asks, and Beltram responds jokingly, I’m not going to tell you. Challenger Darrel Drown hopes to fix that problem by pounding the pavement with campaign literature to hand out and a voice recorder with which to record voters’ names, addresses, party affiliations, and concerns, despite the danger of being mistaken for a Jehovah’s Witness or a door-to-door salesperson.

In a battle between newly-minted politicians in District 4 (west Columbia), recently-appointed council member Paul Farragut and his Republican challenger, recently-elected CA board member Michael Deets, spar over how closely Farragut is tied to Elizabeth Bobo (I wasn’t [Bobo’s] first choice [for county council], points out Farragut) and find that even though planning decisions have already been made for Columbia, voters in their district are still concerned about growth elsewhere in the county: They have to fight people coming down [Routes] 29 and 32, Deets notes.

(Big money favors Bobo, Columbia Flier, September 27, 1990, p. 31; Ecker, Bobo trade a few jabs, Columbia Flier, October 4, 1990, p. 34; Growth is focus of race, Columbia Flier, October 18, 1990, p. 30; With nothing for granted, Beltram keeps on running, Columbia Flier, October 18, 1990, p. 32; Drown looks past 1986 defeat, Columbia Flier, October 18, 1990, p. 33; Growth divides contenders, Columbia Flier, October 25, 1990, p. 35.)

November 1990. As the county executive campaign enters its final days, Elizabeth Bobo maintains her lead in fundraising over Charles Ecker (raising almost $150,000 by October 21 compared to less than $67,000 for Ecker). However Bobo’s money proves for naught as Ecker rides a wave of anti-incumbent sentiment (says one voter, I have a strong desire to vote anyone in office, out of office, except for [governor William Donald Schaefer]) to a narrow victory over Bobo to become Howard County Executive. Darrel Drown rides the same wave to a convincing 58%-42% win over Angela Beltram, and Shane Pendergrass barely escapes an upset by Dennis Schrader. This is beyond my wildest dreams, exults county Republican chair Carol Arscott, as Republicans also triumph in races for two House of Delegate seats, a state senate seat, and the Clerk of the Circuit Court position.1

Democrats win a 3-2 majority on the Howard County Council, as Vernon Gray runs unopposed, Paul Farragut wins by a comfortable margin, and Shane Pendergrass barely defeats Dennis Schrader. On the Republican side incumbent council member Charles Feaga wins easily and Darrel Drown defeats Democratic incumbent Angela Beltram.2

The election highlights the continued divisions between Columbia and the rest of Howard County: Bobo won in Columbia precincts by an overall 58%-42% margin, but lost in the rest of the county by margins of 20% or more, with Ecker winning 2-1 in western Howard. Part of the Republican strategy was to minimize the potential impact of Columbia’s voters by not running anyone against C. Vernon Gray: Why turn those voters loose in his district? comments Charles Feaga, who goes on to note I’ve gotten along very, very well with Vernon.3

(Democratic incumbents fall to Ecker, Drown, and McCabe, Columbia Flier, November 8, 1990, p. 26; The county’s divided loyalties, Columbia Flier, November 8, 1990, p. 28; GOP reaps victory, Columbia Flier, November 15, 1990, p. 32.)

December 1990. As the Democratic county council majority gets cut from 4-1 to 3-2, speculation is rampant about how the changed composition of the council will affect its relationship with the county executive and its position on growth-related issues, with both proponents and opponents of growth seeing cause for optimism. Given C. Vernon Gray’s frequent clashes with Elizabeth Bobo and his often siding with Charles Feaga on issues, Angela Beltram makes a prediction: I think [the next council chair] is going to be Vernon. That prediction is borne out as the council unanimously elects Gray as chair, in a vote preceded by consultation among the remaining Democrats on the council, who then informed Charles Feaga and Darrel Drown of their choice.

(Gray seen anchoring council, Columbia Flier, November 22, 1990; Gray elected to chair county council, Columbia Flier, December 6, 1990, p. 25.)

In part 13 of this series we’ll see how the new political landscape translated into controversy and contention between the county council and the county executive over the next round of council redistricting.

  1. The Clerk of the Circuit Court position was won by Margaret Rappaport in her first run as a Republican. As noted in a previous post, in 1986 she was elected a Judge of the Orphans’ Court running as a Democrat. Rappaport has now served as Clerk for over twenty years, as did her predecessor in the position.↩

  2. The unofficial 1990 general election results for the county executive and county council races were as follows (incumbents are marked with an asterisk):

  • County executive: Charles Ecker (R), 25,637 (50.2%); Elizabeth Bobo (D) (*), 25,393 (49.7%).

  • District 1: Shane Pendergrass (D) (*), 5,313 (51.3%); Dennis Schrader (R), 5,028 (48.6%).

  • District 2: Darrel Drown (R), 7,633 (57.6%); Angela Beltram (D) (*), 5,610 (42.3%).

  • District 3: C. Vernon Gray (D) (*), 5,694 (unopposed).

  • District 4: Paul Farragut (D) (*), 5,623 (66.2%); Michael Deets (R), 2,863 (33.7%).

  • District 5: Charles Feaga (R) (*), 6,429 (62.2%); Susan Scheidt (D), 3,906 (37.7%).

(Results are from the Columbia Flier story Unofficial election summary, November 8, 1990, p. 26.)↩

  1. Compare this strategy to that in the 2010 general election, when Republican Reginald Avery stepped in at the last minute to run against popular Council District 2 incumbent Calvin Ball (the successor to Gray), only to lose by a 2-1 margin.↩