A history of Howard County Council redistricting, part 2

5 minute read

In part 1 of this series I discussed the formation of the Howard County Council as part of an bipartisan effort to modernize Howard County government at the time Columbia was founded, with five at-large council members elected in 1969. In part 2 we see the beginnings of a political backlash against Columbia on the part of rural Howard County voters, a backlash that however proves unable to stop the growing political power of Columbia. (Yes, we still haven’t talked about county council districts, let alone redistricting, but trust me, this is background you need to know.)

We resume our story in the gubernatorial election year of 1970:

November 1970. Concern grows in rural Howard County about the impact of Columbia: In a high turnout general election county executive Omar Jones defeats a Republican challenger (James Ansell) campaigning to keep the county rural, but is out-polled by Republican county council candidate Charles Miller. Miller is joined on the council by James Holway, another Republican who favors preserving the agricultural character of western Howard County. Democratic council incumbents Edward Cochran and William Hanna are re-elected, but Alva Baker loses his seat and is replaced by conservative Democrat Ridgely Jones, a dairy farmer. State’s attorney Richard Kinlein warns the election could have a chilling effect on county urbanization.

(Jones Retains Reins In Howard County)

1971-1974. The conflict between Columbia and the rest of Howard County continues apace, as Columbia’s population continues to grow and proves to be increasingly Democratic and liberal. Howard County’s 2-1 Democratic edge in registered voters balloons to 4-1 in Columbia, and Columbia Democrats come out 8-1 for George McGovern in the 1972 presidential primary, more than offsetting votes for George Wallace in the rest of the county.

During this period the Howard County Council includes no Columbia residents, and only one solid Columbia supporter, Edward Cochran. Cochran finds himself in opposition to fellow Democrat William Hanna over Columbia planning decisions and a measure to regulate signs and billboards, and is unceremoniously deposed as council chair in a 3-2 vote as Hanna joins with the two council Republicans. (I thought Mr. Hanna was supposed to be in the same party, Cochran complains.) Eventually Cochran begins boycotting private sessions of the council as making decisions … in an incipient form behind closed doors; Charles Miller accuses him of grandstanding and James Holway concludes Ed is all wet.

Meanwhile, after having served since 1969 as Howard County’s first county executive Omar Jones announces his intention not to run again. In a parting shot he criticizes the presumed Democratic and Republican candidates for his position, calling Edward Cochran a wild-eyed bleeding heart liberal who would make Howard County an adjunct of Columbia and someone whom activists in Columbia think can walk on the waters of Lake Kittamaqundi, and criticizing James Holway’s propensity for writing letters and memos. (If he ever lost his fountain pen he would be a total loss.)

(Columbia grows as liberal force in 6th district, Hanna replaces Cochran, Cochran to boycott Howard sessions, 2 on Howard council scored)

April-October 1974. Edward Cochran formally files to run for county executive; he responds to accusations that he is too favorable to Columbia’s interests by stating that the fact that people associate me with Columbia is political slander. His nemesis William Hanna abandons plans to try to retain his council seat or run for county executive, deciding to spend more time with my family and my real estate business, as affordable housing advocate Ruth Keeton and other Columbians file as candidates for county council.

Cochran is unopposed in the Democratic primary, and four out of five of the Democratic nominees are Columbia residents. Republicans nominate Howard Crist for county executive (James Holway having decided to run for County Council again), with Charles Miller and James Holway running again for the council. Omar Jones declines to endorse Cochran, calling him a grandstander who plays the gallery all the time; he pronounces himself sympathetic to Howard Crist and heartily endorses Charles Miller. Crist is formally endorsed by outgoing council member Ridgely Jones, who lost to the Columbia candidates in the Democratic primary.1

(Cochran files for top Howard post, Hanna steps down in Howard, Mrs. Keeton, Hardy file for Howard council, Columbia Democrats capture party machinery in Howard, Jones declines to back Cochran in race for Howard executive, Democrat supports Crist in Howard)

November 1974. Howard County voters turn out in large numbers in the general election, with many still in line waiting to vote after polls close. With about half of all 35 precincts reporting (but only two of eleven Columbia precincts), Howard Crist leads Edward Cochran by 1,300 votes, However heavy voting for Cochran in the remaining nine Columbia precincts turns Crist’s early lead into a 1,600-vote lead for Cochran, and Cochran is elected Howard County Executive by a 53%-47% margin. Democrats also win all five county council seats, with four Columbians—Richard Anderson, Ruth Keeton, Lloyd Knowles, and Virginia Thomas—joining Thomas Yeager of Fulton on the council.

While Cochran, a self-described non-Columbian from Clarksville, announces that his primary concern is to unite the county, since it lacks unity at this point, Eugene Weiss of the Columbia Democratic Club (an anathema to some old guard county leaders) notes that people in Columbia felt neglected by county government and saw this election as an opportunity to get representation.

(Crist leading Cochran; Columbia vote awaited, Cochran beats Crist; Democrats win council, Howard’s Democratic government will listen to Columbia)

In part 3 of this series opponents seek to introduce council districts as a way to break the newly-acquired power of Columbia in Howard County politics.


  1. Omar Jones died two years later at age 63. Some county employees urged that a new county office building be named for him, but then-county executive Edward Cochran demurred, noting that usually the policy [is] to name the buildings after historical figures and not recent office-holders. The building ended up being named for former Governor of Maryland George Howard, and Jones’s advocates had to settle for having an Omar J. Jones Plaza at the Howard building.