Back to the future in Howard County politics, part 1

6 minute read

Quick, guess in which year the following events occurred in Howard County:

  • Republicans had high hopes of improving on their performance in the previous county elections, but faced in a major hurdle in the significant Democratic edge in registered voters.
  • The Democratic candidate for county executive, a seasoned and successful county-wide campaigner, easily defeated by a 63%-37% margin a Republican candidate who had never before run for political office.
  • Democrats also won four out of five seats on the county council (excepting only western Howard).
  • The incumbent council chair, an African-American Democrat and teacher at Morgan State University, won the council seat for east Columbia with two-thirds of the vote.
  • In west Columbia a female Democratic incumbent council member faced a strong primary challenge from her outspoken (but less well-funded) male opponent, who accused her of being too cozy with developers. She managed to hold him to less than 40% of the vote in the Democratic primary, and then went on to win the general election by an overwhelming margin over her male Republican challenger.
  • In western Howard an experienced male Republican candidate easily defeated by a 2-1 margin a female Democratic challenger making her first run for political office.
  • In a relatively conservative Ellicott City district, a female Democratic candidate making her second run for county council touted her support from Republicans, and ended up defeating her male Republican challenger by the smallest margin of any council race that year (not much over 50% of the vote).
  • In the Savage and North Laurel district a female Democratic candidate easily defeated her male Republican opponent (himself a former council member), as he managed to capture only around a third of the vote.
  • In the courthouse races Democrats won the sheriff and state’s attorney positions, Margaret Rappaport won election, Kay Hartleb ran for Register of Wills, and Democrats succeeded in capturing that office as well as the three Judge of the Orphans’ Court positions.
  • Beyond the county races, Howard County elected Democrat Edward Kasemeyer to the Maryland State Senate and sent a Kittleman back to Annapolis, and Democrat Barbara Mikulski cruised to victory in the U.S. Senate race with more than 60% of the vote.

If you guessed 2010, congratulations, you were paying attention to last year’s elections. If you guessed 1986 you were also right, and have a better memory than most of us.

As I was writing part 9 of my series on the history of Howard County Council I was struck by the large number of almost spooky coincidences between the elections in 1986 and the elections in 2010. I present them here for your amusement and enlightenment:1

  • 1986: Republicans were energized by the passage of the council districting scheme and recent voter registration gains that reduced the Democratic edge to 1.78-to-1. 2010: Republicans hoped for a tsunami that would sweep them to victory both at the national and local levels. Democrats had a 1.56-to-1 registration advantage.2
  • 1986: Democrat Elizabeth Bobo (who had previously won multiple at-large elections for county council) defeated Republican businessperson and first-time candidate Gilbert South, 63%-37%. 2010: Democrat Ken Ulman (who had won the county-wide election for county executive four years earlier) defeated Republican businessperson and first-time candidate Trent Kittleman, also 63%-37%. (Extra bonus coincidence: Both races saw a male candidate run against a female candidate.)
  • 1986: Democrats won four council seats, all except District 5 in western Howard County. 2010: Democrats won four council seats, all except District 5 in western Howard County.
  • 1986: In District 3 (east Columbia) incumbent council chair C. Vernon Gray (a professor at Morgan State University) won 66% of the vote (in a 3-way race). 2010: In District 2 (east Columbia) incumbent council chair Calvin Ball (an assistant professor at Morgan State University) won 68% of the vote.3
  • 1986: In District 4 (west Columbia) council incumbent Ruth Keeton defeated fellow incumbent Lloyd Knowles in a 3-way Democratic primary, in which Knowles won only 35% of the vote. Keeton went on to defeat William McDill 74%-26% in the general election. 2010: In District 4 (west Columbia) council incumbent Mary Kay Sigaty defeated Alan Klein in the Democratic primary, in which Klein won only 38% of the vote. Sigaty went on to defeat Tom D’Asto 68%-32% in the general election. (Extra bonus coincidence: Both Knowles and Klein have political ties to Elizabeth Bobo. Super-extra bonus coincidence: Both their last names begin with the letter K.)
    • 1986: Republican Charles Feaga, who had previously run (unsuccessfully) as an at-large council candidate, defeated political novice Alice Bender 67%-33% to win the District 5 seat in western Howard. 2010: Republican council incumbent Greg Fox defeated political novice Zaneb Beams 67%-32% to win the District 5 seat in western Howard.
  • 1986: Angela Beltram (of “Half my workers are Republicans” fame) defeated Darrel Drown in District 2 (Ellicott City), 54%-46%. (Beltram had previously run unsuccessfully in 1982 as an at-large candidate.) 2010: Courtney Watson (of Republicans for Watson fame) defeated Robert Flanagan in District 1 (Ellicott City/Elkridge), 53%-47%. (Watson had been previously elected to the council in 2006 on her first try.)
  • 1986: In District 1 (Elkridge/Savage/North Laurel) Democrat Shane Pendergrass defeated former Republican council member James Holway and independent candidate Lewis Andrews; Holway won only 37% of the vote. 2010: In District 3 (Savage/North Laurel) Democrat Jennifer Terrasa defeated former Republican council member Dennis Schrader; Schrader won only 33% of the vote.
  • (This was a trick question.) 1986: Democrats Herbert Stonesifer and William Hymes won election as sheriff and state’s attorney respectively. Margaret Rappaport was one of the three Democrats elected as Orphans’ Court Judges. Kay Hartleb ran as a Democrat and was elected Register of Wills. 2010: Democrats James Fitzgerald and Dario Broccolino won election as sheriff and state’s attorney respectively. Margaret Rappaport, now a Republican, was elected Clerk of the Circuit Court. Kay Hartleb, also now a Republican, ran for Register of Wills but was defeated by Democrat Byron Macfarlane.
  • 1986: Edward Kasemeyer was elected to his first term in the Maryland State Senate in District 14, by a 54%-46% margin. Robert Kittleman was reelected to the Maryland House of Delegates in District 14B. Barbara Mikulski was reelected to the U.S. Senate by a 60%-39% margin over Linda Chavez. 2010: Edward Kasemeyer was elected to his sixth term in the Maryland State Senate in District 12, by a 59%-41% margin. Alan Kittleman, son of Robert, was reelected to the Maryland State Senate in District 9. Barbara Milkulski was reelected to the U.S. Senate by a 62%-36% margin over Eric Wargotz.

Are these more than just coincidences? Is something deeper going on? When I have time I’ll address these questions in a follow-up post.


  1. 1986 election results are from part 10 of my series on the history of Howard County Council redistricting. 2010 election results are from the 2010 general election official results published by the Maryland State Board of Elections. 

  2. As I noted in a previous post, in 1985 the goal of the Howard Republican County Central Committee was to reduce the Democratic registration edge to 1.5-to-1. After a quarter of a century they’re getting closer but are not quite there yet. 

  3. Note that some of the council districts were renumbered as part of redistricting after the 1990 census.