A history of Howard County Council redistricting, part 11

After a long hiatus, I’m happy to announce that I’m resuming my series on the history of County Council redistricting in Howard County (which is also, as in this post, somewhat of a potted history of Howard County politics in the modern era). I hope to finish the series in a timely manner, and possibly do a couple of extra things in this general line.

If you recall, at the conclusion of part 10 Howard County had just completed its first set of council elections based on the new district lines, with the election producing a 4-1 Democratic majority on the council along with a Democratic count executive. (The electoral results were very similar to those of the 2010 elections—almost scarily so, in fact.) We now jump forward to 1990 and the second set of county elections held under the district boundaries adopted in 1986. Because 1990 was a census year, the 1990 elections were also the last set of elections under those district boundaries, with boundaries to be redrawn after the election (and hence the importance of that election, as we shall see).1

January-May 1990. 1990 starts out with that perennial Howard County topic of discussion, county development, as county executive Elizabeth Bobo unveils a proposed General Plan touted as having something for everyone. GOP county executive candidate Charles Ecker attacks the proposed plan, including its proposal for a central-county greenbelt, claiming that the plan preserves farmland at the expense of farming. Meanwhile Bobo angers some of her fellow Democrats, most notably those planning to challenge for state senate seats, by forming a political slate with incumbent senators Edward Kasemeyer and Thomas Yeager. Republican Central Committee chair Carol Arscott sees it as an attempt to circle the wagons and claims … it’s kind of a backhanded compliment to the Republican Party. They’re taking us seriously. Bobo holds a meeting with county Democratic office-holders and Central Committee members to discuss her actions, but delegate (and prospective senate candidate) Virginia Thomas notes I don’t think it helped much in terms of cooling people down. Meanwhile Howard County Republicans get dragged into a dispute over allegedly deceptive fundraising by the previous state party chair.

(Bobo promises something for everyone, January 4, 1990, p. 22; Ecker lambastes proposed General Plan, January 18, 1990, p. 33; Bobo slate provokes anger, January 18, 1990, p. 33; Democrats meet with Bobo, January 25, 1990, p. 33; GOP factions feud over funds, January 25, 1990, p. 36.)

More candidates in the upcoming elections emerge. Democrat Thomas Hartman plans to run for county executive against Elizabeth Bobo on a pro-growth platform, even while a group of developers pledge support for Bobo despite their disagreement with the growth cap she promoted. However Hartman acknowledges he has an uphill battle in the face of a June 1989 poll showing that only 10% of voters would vote to replace Bobo. On the GOP side Dennis Schrader announces his intent to run against Democratic incumbent Shane Pendergrass in council district 1 (Elkridge, Savage, North Laurel, and southeast Columbia), as Pendergrass also faces a primary challenge from slow-growth activist William Smith. Republican Darrel Drown tries a rematch against Democratic incumbent Angela Beltram in council district 2 (Ellicott City), and activist John Taylor (of Howard Countians for Responsible Growth) announces a primary challenge against fellow Republican Charles Feaga, incumbent council member for District 5 (western Howard), whom Taylor accuses of being too pro-development.

Republican Gilbert South, who lost to Elizabeth Bobo in 1986, plans another try for the county executive post, running first against Charles Ecker. (So much for the conventional wisdom that only Democrats can have a primary, notes GOP county chair Carol Arscott.) South and Ecker ignore each other and team up against Bobo (a spend-it-now county executive according to Ecker, and a willing pawn in the developers’ game of power according to South). Meanwhile Bobo’s Democratic primary Thomas Hartman promotes incorporating Columbia as a city and changing the county’s tax system to focus on the value of land, not buildings. (I don’t understand what he is talking about, says Bobo regarding the latter proposal.)2

(Opponent of growth cap plans to run against Bobo, February 1, 1990, p. 24; Developers urge Bobo’s re-election, February 1, 1990, p. 24; Columbian starts run for council, February 8, 1990, p. 32; Activist opposes Shane, May 24, 1990, p. 26; Republicans enter 2 races, February 15, 1990, p. 31; Activist files for council, March 29, 1990; South will run again for exec, April 26, 1990, p. 27; Rivals blast Bobo on finances, May 24, 1990, p. 26; Exec candidate advocates incorporation of Columbia, May 17, 1990, p. 31.)

May-July 1990. As the filing deadline approaches incumbent county office-holders begin to declare their intentions. Council District 5 council member Charles Feaga announces his plan to run for re-election (growth should not be a dirty word, he notes, in response to his primary challenger John Taylor), Shane Pendergrass and Angela Beltram do likewise in District 1 and District 2 respectively, Paul Farragut (previously appointed to the council to succeed the retiring Ruth Keeton) will face his first real electoral test in District 4 (west Columbia), and Virgina governor Doug Wilder helicopters in to announce his support of C. Vernon Gray’s re-election in District 3 (east Columbia). (Explaining why he’s there even though Gray will apparently face no opposition in either the primary or the general election, Wilder cites Gray as following the maxim prepare for war in times of peace.)

Rounding out the primary lists for County Council are Republican Darrel Drown, looking forward to a rematch with Beltram, Democrat Susan Scheidt, recruited by Elizabeth Bobo to face Feaga. and Republican Michael Deets, who signs on to run against Paul Farragut. As predicted, no candidates surface in opposition to C. Vernon Gray. (It gives me pain as a Republican to say this, but … we decided, in good conscience, that we couldn’t ask anyone to run, states Central Committee chair Carol Arscott.) In the county executive race Thomas Hartman abandons his primary challenge to Bobo at the last minute.

(2 incumbents announce, June 7, 1990, p. 22; 3 announce re-election bid, June 14, 1990, p. 28; Beltram going for 2nd term, June 28, 1990, p. 33; GOP recruits 3 to face incumbents, July 19, 1990, p. 21; Candidates who have filed for county election, July 26, 1990, p. 26.)

August-September 1990. The primary campaigns heat up, as horse race coverage focuses on candidate fund-raising. The first round of reports show Charles Feaga as the leader with over $42,000 raised (besting past council fund-raising champion C. Vernon Gray), while Michael Deets fulfills his pledge to run a low-cost, low-key campaign by reporting only $310 in his campaign fund ($300 of which is his own money). In the county executive race Elizabeth Bobo raises more than both her Republican challengers combined, with Charles Ecker having spent practically all of his funds on various expenses, including running full-page ads in local newspapers in which his supporters criticize the Bobo administration (Frankly, I’m tired of trying to talk through a closed door, complains Bev Wilhide) and challenge voters: I’m voting for Chuck Ecker. Shouldn’t you?3

(Feaga is council’s top fund raiser—gifts total $42.5K, August 16, 1990, p. 24; Charles Ecker campaign advertisement, August 2, 1990, p. 19)

William Smith and John Taylor, who make a point of not accepting contributions from developers, attack their opponents on growth-related issues, with Smith claiming that Shane Pendergrass didn’t support adequate public facilities to accommodate county growth, and Taylor accusing Charles Feaga of taking too much much money from developer interests. (Feaga counters that Taylor is a newcomer not familiar with Feaga’s past accomplishments: [He’s] recently moved in and maybe only been here just two years as a registered voter.) Republican county executive candidates Charles Ecker and Gilbert South also contend to convince voters each has the best alternative approach to managing county growth. (South jabs, I just hear Chuck saying These are the problems. … That we need comprehensive planning …. But I’m not sure why Chuck doesn’t come out and say what these plans consist of.)

(Council rivals differ on growth, August 23, 1990, p. 28; Feaga, Taylor exchange jabs over land use, September 6, 1990, p. 28; Ecker, South vie to face Bobo, August 30, p. 28.)

In a primary election marked by light turnout, Ecker defeats South by an over 2-1 margin to earn the right to face Elizabeth Bobo in the general election. South offers his support ([I’ll] do whatever I can to help Chuck) but remains hopeful about his own political future (I’ll be running again in four years!). Shane Pendergrass and Charles Feaga turn back the challenges from slow-growth activists William Smith and John Taylor, although Feaga’s margin is relatively small. (It’s scares me it’s so close says Feaga’s campaign manager, Gail Bates, before Feaga finally crosses the line.)4

All other incumbents are either unopposed or survive their primary challenges, with the exception of Sheriff Herbert Stonesifer, who goes down to defeat in the wake of a controversy over two of his deputies mimicking Nazis while on duty. As Robert Kittleman prepares to run for re-election to the house of delegates, his son Allan surprises everyone by receiving more votes than Charles Ecker. winning a seat on the Republican Central Committee and sparking lively speculation about his political future.5

(Victors, September 13, 1990, p. 28; Dems stress unity, September 13, 1990, p. 30; New stars emerge in parties, September 27, 1990, p. 28.)

This has been a long post (absence has not made me less prolix), so I’ll conclude my discussion of the 1990 elections in part 12.


1. All article references in this post are to the Columbia Flier; articles are available on microfilm at the Central Branch of the Howard County Library. The Columbia Flier does not have online archives for this period, and the Baltimore Sun online archive does not cover the first eight months of the year.

2. Bobo’s comment aside, the notion of a land value tax was most famously promoted (in the form of a single tax to replace all others) by the 19th-century American politician and economist Henry George. The proposal reappears in modern-day politics from time to time, although I don’t know if Thomas Hartman was explicitly influenced by Georgist ideas.

3. As a fan of good design I have to say that the Ecker campaign ads that ran in the Columbia Flier are really well-done, and although more than twenty years old they don’t look dated at all. I offer much belated compliments to whoever did these ads.

4. The official 1986unofficial 1990 primary election results for the county executive and county council races were as follows (incumbents are marked with an asterisk):

  • County executive (R): Charles Ecker, 4,830 (68%); Gilbert South, 2,305 (32%).
  • District 1 (D): Shane Pendergrass (*), 1,827 (61%); William Smith, 1,178 (39%).
  • District 5 (R): Charles Feaga (*), 1,250 (54%); John Taylor, 1,049 (46%).

Elizabeth Bobo was unopposed in the Democratic primary for county executive, as were the Democratic candidates in Council Districts 2, 3, 4, and 5, and the Republican candidates in Council Districts 1, 2, and 4; there was no Republican candidate in Council District 3.

(Results are from the Columbia Flier story Unofficial Primary Results, September 13, 1990, p. 29. In my searches through the microfilm I didn’t find a story giving official results.)

5. Allan Kittleman of course went on to become state senator for District 9 and the senate minority leader (until he resigned the position in the wake of his public support for marriage equality). Another person mentioned as a new star in the same article was 20-year-old Heidi Gersowski, a political science student who won election to the Democratic Central Committee as a non-slate candidate. In a brief online search I couldn’t find any information regarding what later became of Gersowski.