A history of Howard County Council redistricting, part 20

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In part 19 of this series we saw that in 1996 the voters by referendum adopted a change to the Howard County charter to have a redistricting commission create proposals for council district lines, as opposed to having this be the function solely of the council. However the council still had the power to influence the commission through its appointment of a seventh tie-breaker member. In this post and the next we review the council elections of 1998, which would determine the balance of power in drawing district lines after the 2000 census.

January 1998. The Baltimore Sun notes that 1998 will see the largest turnover among institutional leaders in Howard’s history, with Padraic Kennedy retiring as president of the Columbia Association after more than 25 years, Dwight Burrill retiring as president of Howard Community College after 16 years, Charles Ecker leaving the county executive position (due to term limits) after 8 years, James Robey retiring as police chief after 8 years (and 22 years on the force), and Darrel Drown leaving the county council after 8 years. Robey plans to seek the Democratic nomination for county executive, with Republican council members Charles Feaga and Dennis Schrader pitched to seek the position as well, leaving no incumbent Republicans on the council.

(The Year Ahead in Maryland, Baltimore Sun, January 1, 1998, 18A.)

March-April 1998. Former county Republican chair Allan Kittleman announces his candidacy for the District 5 council seat of Charles Feaga. The 39-year-old Kittleman touts his long experience in local GOP circles (I’ve been going to Republican events … since I was my children’s age) as the son of long-time state legislator Robert Kittleman (who notes in turn, I’m proud of him. He’s a good kid.). Opposing Kittleman in the GOP primary is Charles Ecker aide and Feaga ally Gail Bates.

In council district 2 former school board chair Susan Cook becomes the latest Republican to go up against C. Vernon Gray in what the Baltimore Sun calls a political kamikaze mission (I am well aware I am the underdog, acknowledges Cook), and in district 4 first-time Republican candidate K. Gregory Fox looks to unseat incumbent Democrat Mary Lorsung. Republicans Kirk Halpin and Wanda Hurt and Democrat Guy Guzzone vie to win the open council seat vacated by Dennis Schrader in District 3.1

Meanwhile the competition between Charles Feaga and Dennis Schrader for the GOP nomination for county executive causes tension within the Howard County Republican party, as some suspect local GOP activists Paul and Margaret Rappaport of favoring Democratic candidate James Robey if Dennis Schrader wins the Republican primary. In response the GOP Central Committee asks all GOP candidates (including Margaret Rappaport, who is running again for Clerk of the Circuit Court) to sign a unity pledge promising to support only Republican candidates in the general election. Paul Rappaport counters: I think the Republicans have a good family and they ought to keep it together. They don’t need a contract to do that.2

(Craig Timberg, GOP scion seeks office, Baltimore Sun, March 9, 1998, 1B; Dana Hedgpeth, Cook to run against Gray, Baltimore Sun, March 17, 1998, 1B; Gady Epstein, Hurt kicks off council campaign, Baltimore Sun, April 9, 1998, 1B; Gady Epstein, Republican kicks off race to unseat incumbent Gray, Baltimore Sun, April 26, 1998, 1B; Gady Epstein, Fox acknowledges an uphill candidacy, Baltimore Sun, April 20, 1998, 12B; Gady Epstein, GOP asks candidates to vow loyalty, Baltimore Sun, April 10, 1998, 1B.)

May 1998. Republican council member and county executive candidate Dennis Schrader finds himself in a bind over whether or not to support the Board of Education’s proposed budget or go with Charles Ecker’s proposal for a tax cut and a smaller increase in school funding. In the end Schrader joins fellow Republicans Charles Feaga and Darrel Drown in approving a compromise budget that adds money to Ecker’s request but falls slightly short of the full Board of Education request. They come under attack not only by Democratic candidates James Robey and Guy Guzzone (Education is the crown jewel in Howard County’s crown, and what they’ve done is tarnish that jewel, charges Robey) but also by Susan Cook and Wanda Hurt, the Republican council candidates in Districts 2 and 3 respectively (Cook: Yes, I am a Republican. However, I am a Howard countian first.).3

However Cook and Hurt aren’t joined by their fellow council candidate (and Ecker aide) Gail Bates, who launches her campaign for a District 5 seat once thought to be hers to lose (If there’s such a thing as earning a position on the County Council, she fits the description 100 per cent claims current District 5 member Charles Feaga) before being challenged by Allan Kittleman.

(Gady Epstein, Candidate in dilemma as vote nears, Baltimore Sun, May 10, 1998, 1B; Gady Epstein, Both parties’ candidates attack school-budget action, Baltimore Sun, May 21, 1998, 1B; Gady Epstein, Bates kicks off campaign today with ice cream social, Baltimore Sun, May 31, 1998, 3B.)

June-July 1998. In District 1 second-time council candidate George Layman faces questions about his commitment to campaigning (You’re running for a part-time position, but you’re expected to run a full-time campaign, he complains), especially in a race against 27-year-old Republican candidate Christopher Merdon, who’s supposedly knocked on 6,000 voter doors thus far. Merdon touts his support of managed growth and his pledge not to accept contributions to developers (unlike Layman). The District 1 field gets larger, as Merdon is challenged by Timothy McCoy. Layman sees another would-be challenger, James Loar, file at the last minute and then quickly drop out, as Loar doesn’t realize the amount of time and money he’d need to mount a campaign (I guess in one week I learned a lot).

Meanwhile Susan Cook and Wanda Hurt reap no benefit from their dissent from the local GOP’s stance on school funding, as the Howard County Education Association votes an (almost) straight Democratic ticket, including an endorsement of Guy Guzzone, Hurt’s opponent in District 3. (Hurt is not surprised: The teachers union always endorses Democrats, period. Republicans need not apply.) Guzzone’s bid, along with that of James Robey, is seen by Democrats, including Guzzone himself, as key to their retaking control of the county government from Republicans: Even if my opponents happen to be good on the education issue or any other issue, the bottom line is they are going to cast a vote for their party on redistricting.

(Gady Epstein, Democrat vows intensified bid for council, Baltimore Sun, June 4, 1998, 3B; Gady Epstein, Merdon vows not to accept developers’ contributions, Baltimore Sun, July 8, 1998, 3B; Retired fire captain enters politics, then thinks better of it, Baltimore Sun, July 17, 1998, 3B; Gady Epstein, 3 Democrats get teachers’ endorsement for council, Baltimore Sun, June 4, 1998, 3B; Gady Epstein, Party aims to regain power, Baltimore Sun, July 26, 1998, 1B.)

I’ll continue the story of the 1990 county council elections in part 21.

  1. The Baltimore Sun story Cook to run against Gray strongly implies that Wanda Hurt was running against Guy Guzzone in the Democratic primary. That was an error either by the reporter or introduced in editing: Hurt had previously run (unsuccessfully) as a Democrat for the House of Delegates in 1994, but had switched parties prior to the 1998 council race.↩

  2. Like many Howard County Republicans in the latter half of the 20th century, Margaret Rappaport originally ran for office as a Democrat, being elected as a Judge of the Orphans Court in 1986; she then switched parties and was elected Clerk of the Circuit Court as a Republican in 1990.↩

  3. It’s worth noting that the school funding controversy was over a $1.2 million difference between the council-approved budget and the Board of Education request, amounting to less than one per cent of an over $200 million total education budget.↩