A history of Howard County Council redistricting, part 23

8 minute read

In part 22 the redistricting commission created an initial set of proposed council district maps. In this post the commission makes its final recommendation and the council acts on it, as we also see the emergence of some fresh faces in Howard County politics.

August 2001. Speculation arises over future council candidates, and in particular over who will succeed the retiring Mary Lorsung in District 4. At the center of attention is 27-year-old Columbia native Ken Ulman, championed by District 3 incumbent Guy Guzzone and other local and state Democratic politicians. Republican hopeful Greg Fox, who ran unsuccessfully against Lorsung in 1998, puts his own plans on hold pending resolution of council redistricting, which might put his Fulton home in any one of Districts 3, 4, or 5.

Meanwhile the redistricting commission winnows the number of plans down from five to three, moving forward with the Democratic plans proposed by David Marker and Priscilla Hart and the Republican plan proposed by Michael Deets. Deets modifies his plan to keep Kings Contrivance and thus Guy Guzzone in District 3 (I’m hoping that will be more to his liking) but regrets abandoning his proposal to keep all of Columbia within District 2 and 4 (I never bought into the idea that a community that represents 40 percent of the county’s population should get 60 percent of the County Council). Marker focuses on not diluting the voting strength of minorities in Districts 2, 3, and 4 (Any plan that doesn’t keep them strong in three districts could be attacked for weakening minority representation) while Warren Miller stresses the need for better equalizing the number of Democrats and Republicans in those districts, claiming that Republicans are close to having parity in the county.

In any case expectations are that a Democratic plan will prevail given the composition of the redistricting commission and the county council (They have the votes, notes District 5 incumbent Allan Kittleman), and David Marker sees a path to a compromise between his plan and that of fellow Democrat Priscilla Hart. Guy Guzzone professes no hard feelings over the attempt of Michael Deets to redistrict him out of District 3 (Would I get mad at someone for doing what’s best for their party? No. I understand where they’re coming from) while Allan Kittleman accepts the inevitable outcome (I will be happy to represent anyone they put in my district. Whatever they want to give me, I’ll take).

(Michael Cody, Political jockeying under way, Columbia Flier, August 9, 2001; Laura Cadiz, Redistricting plans picked for hearing, Baltimore Sun, August 15, 2001, 1B; Laura Cadiz, Redistricting apt to favor status quo, Baltimore Sun, August 19, 2001, 1B.)

September 2001. As the redistricting commission prepares for public hearings on the (now) three plans, speculation about future county council candidates shifts to District 2, where a previously-passed term limits measure means Democratic incumbent C. Vernon Gray will have to step down after a run of five terms and 20 years on the council. Local activists lament the absence of any African-American candidates to replace Gray (We’re still struggling for representation here. I think there needs to be a wake-up call, says the Rev. John Wright) while the Howard County NAACP stays out of the fray (We’re not a political group, notes chapter president Thelma Lucas) and Gray himself declines to recruit a successor ([It’s] unreasonable for someone in political office to drag someone into the political process). In the absence of a clear front-runner several potential candidates ponder their options, including Cameron Miles of Ellicott City and 26-year-old Calvin Ball III of Columbia. Meanwhile in District 4 community activist Mary Kay Sigaty joins Ken Ulman as a potential county council candidate now that Mary Lorsung is retiring (There’s no way I would run against [Lorsung]. She’s very good at what she does, notes Sigaty).

A public hearing on the three proposed plans is as sparsely attended as previous redistricting commission hearings, with 14 attendees of which nine make public statements. However the speakers make up in intensity what they lack in numbers, as former council candidate John Taylor complains about being moved from District 4 to District 5, Sherman Howell worries about changes to District 2 making it harder to elect an African-American candidate to replace C. Vernon Gray, Republicans Louis Pope and Kirk Halpin protest the relatively wide population variations between the districts in the Democratic plans, and Libertarian council candidate David Margolis criticizes the entire redistricting process (All of you have played political games. Your arrogance has been on display from Day 1).

The redistricting commission prepares to select one of the three remaining plans to recommend to the council. Facing certain defeat for their own plan, Republicans call for a vote to approve the plan proposed by Democratic commission member Priscilla Hart. Commission chair David Marker issues a whispered warning to Hart (Priscilla, you can’t vote for this!) and Hart abstains from the vote out of party loyalty (I was caught in the middle). The vote fails 3-3 with Hart abstaining, and the commission proceeds to approve the other Democratic plan (with a few amendments) by a 4-3 margin. Marker expresses regret at the party-line vote (I thought we compromised a lot. I was disappointed) while Republican commission member Michael Deets begs to differ (Democrats weren’t even willing to accede to our standards of fairness). The plan extends District 5 to encompass parts of Fulton and Scaggsville, moves Dorsey Search from District 1 into District 4 with the rest of west Columbia, and puts almost all of Owen Brown into District 3.

(Larry Carson, No one vying to fill Gray’s council seat, Baltimore Sun, September 9, 2001, 1B; Larry Carson, Differences help define hopefuls for council post, Baltimore Sun, September 17, 2001, 1B; Larry Carson, Public hearing on tap for voting districts, Baltimore Sun, September 9, 2001, 1B; Larry Carson, Council district plans critiqued, Baltimore Sun, September 16, 2001, 1B; Larry Carson, Democrats prevail in redistricting vote, Baltimore Sun, September 21, 2001, 1B; Michael Cody, Democrats set to gain strength in redistricting, Howard County Times, September 27, 2001.)

October 2001. Candidates formally announce in the District 2 race to succeed C. Vernon Gray, as Calvin Ball joins community activist Michelle Williams to pursue the Democratic nomination. Ball notes that being a council member sounds just like my job now. People call me whenever they have a problem. Redistricting commission member Jared Thornton notes the high likelihood of electing an African-American candidate in a district with a 23% black population: A lot of things about Columbia seem to be different from any other place. We don’t need a super-majority in Howard County. Ball and Williams join announced candidates Mary Kay Sigaty and Ken Ulman, who are seeking the Democratic nomination for the other open council seat in District 4.

(Larry Carson, State employee, 26, files for council seat, Baltimore Sun, October 4, 2001, 1B; Michael Cody, Schools activist plans run for County Council, Columbia Flier, September 13, 2001.)

November 2001. The council holds a public hearing on the plan recommended by the redistricting commission, and prepares for a vote. However various council members propose last-minute changes to the plan: Mary Lorsung wants to keep parts of Fulton in District 4 instead of moving them to District 5, and keep some areas north of Route 108 in District 5 instead of moving them into District 4; the changes affect 70 voters in total. On the Republican side, District 5 incumbent Allan Kittleman wants to move 2,707 voters from Scaggsville and elsewhere in southern Howard County from his district into District 3, while District 1 incumbent Christopher Merdon tries to keep part of Ellicott City in his district and move part of Elkridge back into District 2. Democratic council members C. Vernon Gray and Guy Guzzone warn that they won’t stand for further changes to their districts.

(Larry Carson, Panel vote favors raises, Baltimore Sun, November 6, 2001, 1B; Larry Carson, Council district changes proposed, Baltimore Sun, November 28, 2001, 1B.)

December 2001. The council finally votes on a redistricting plan. Democrat Mary Lorsung joins Republicans Allan Kittleman and Christopher Merdon in approving various amendments to the plan, with her fellow Democrats C. Vernon Gray and Guy Guzzone opposing the changes. Angered by the passage of the amendments, Gray waits for the other members to deadlock 2-2 and then casts a deciding vote against the final bill as amended, thinking to take advantage of the charter provision that would force adoption of the original redistricting commission plan in the absence of council agreement.

Allan Kittleman smiles broadly (I bet my mouth was touching both ears), realizing that the defeat of the bill would allow Republicans the opportunity to pursue further changes and try to get three votes in favor of an alternative plan before the March 15 deadline (I thought, My gosh, he’s given me an opportunity to write the plan. It certainly was something I was relishing). After a series of consultations between Gray and Guy Guzzone and Guzzone and county solicitor Barbera Cook, Gray changes his vote and the council approves the plan as amended. It’s important to put this to bed and move on, Gray notes.

The amendments do not affect Districts 2 and 3, but instead make several minor changes to move small numbers of voters between Merdon’s, Kittleman’s, and Lorsung’s districts: keeping in District 5 a section of Ellicott City in which Kittleman’s legislative aide resides, keeping all of the Font Hill community in District 1, and moving some voters along Homewood Road back into District 5 in exchange for keeping some voters in Fulton and Highland in District 4. The final districts range in size from under 48,000 to over 50,000.1

(Larry Carson, Lines drawn for council, Baltimore Sun, December 4, 2001, 1B; Michael Cody, Redistricting re-vote erases GOP’s momentary edge, Columbia Flier, December 6, 2001.)

Thus ended the post-2000-census council redistricting process, as the Democrat’s retaking control of the council in 1998 paid off with a Democratic-friendly district map that would be in effect for the next three council elections.

Almost ten years later and exactly one year to the day after I posted part 1, this is an appropriate point to end this series on the history of county council redistricting in Howard County. But I’m not quite done yet; please stayed tuned for an upcoming special announcement of possible interest to those of you who’ve been reading these posts thus far.

  1. Note that the Baltimore Sun and Columbia Flier differ in their reporting of the district populations. I’ve phrased my account to be consistent with both stories.↩