A history of Howard County Council redistricting, part 18

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In part 17 of this series the Howard County Council ended an over two-year battle by finally adopting new councilmanic district lines based on the 1990 census figures. In this post we see how the new district alignments influenced the council elections in 1994.

February 1994. Howard County voter registration figures show Democrats holding a significant edge in party affiliation in four of the five new council districts: Democrats outnumber Republicans 48%-38% in District 1 (Ellicott City and Elkridge), 54%-30% in District 2 (east Columbia), 48%-35% in District 3 (southeast Columbia, Savage and North Laurel), and 54%-31% in District 4 (west Columbia). Only in District 5 (western Howard) do Republicans have a voter registration advantage, with a slim 44%-43% majority.

However District 1 incumbent Republican Darrel Drown remains optimistic: Any time it’s 1.4-to-1 or less [Democrats to Republicans], we have a chance. By Drown’s criterion Districts 1, 3, and 5 are winnable for Republicans, with only District 2 and 4 being Democratic locks.

(James M. Coram, Democrats have the edge in new council districts, Baltimore Sun, February 20, 1994, 1B.)

May-August 1994. District 4 Democratic incumbent Paul Farragut decides not to run for re-election, and recommends his assistant Mary Lorsung as his successor; however she must first face James Kraft (who’s endorsed by District 2 incumbent C. Vernon Gray) in the Democratic primary. On the Republican side the prospect of an open seat brings out three Republican hopefuls: Robert O’Brien, Riaz Rana, and Mary Ann Wilkinson.

In District 1 Darrel Drown seeks re-election, building on his upset win in 1990 over Angela Beltram and his success in promoting a 1992 county charter change to impose a three-term limit on county council members; Democrat George Layman runs unopposed to challenge him. C. Vernon Gray seeks to extend his winning streak in District 2, going for a fourth term as council member. Gray gets a primary challenge from Kathryn Mann, while on the GOP side Gary Prestrianni and Evelyn Tanner vie for the opportunity to take Gray on in November.1

(David Michael Ettlin, Surprising Democrats, Farragut says he won’t seek re-election to council, Baltimore Sun, May 12, 1994, 1B; Erik Nelson, Democrat Lorsung takes boss’ advice to run for his County Council seat, Baltimore Sun, May 22, 1994, 11B; Endorsements in Council District 4, Baltimore Sun, August 25, 1994, 14A; James M. Coram, Drown announces bid for re-election, Baltimore Sun, June 7, 1994, 7B; James M. Coram, Howard voters show overwhelming support for three-term limit on council, Baltimore Sun, November 4, 1992, 24A; Howard Council’s District 1 Race, Baltimore Sun, August 22, 1994, 8B; Endorsements for Council District 2, Baltimore Sun, August 23, 1994, 10A.)

After having barely lost to Shane Pendergrass in 1990, Republican Dennis Schrader runs again for a council seat, now that Pendergrass is seeking a seat in the House of Delegates and redistricting has lowered the relative Democratic voter registration advantage in the district. Facing off against Schrader is first-time candidate Charles Acquard. Finally, in District 5 Republican Charles Feaga prepares to run again for a third term on the council. He’s opposed by his old nemesis, anti-growth activist John Taylor, who in 1990 challenged Feaga in the Republican primary but is now running as a Democrat.2

Meanwhile Charles Ecker faces no opposition in the Republican primary for county executive, while on the Democratic side establishment candidate Sue-Ellen Hantman is challenged at the last minute by slow-growth activist Susan Gray (I’m the consummate outsider; I’m on a lot of people’s dart boards). Ecker looks forward to the match-up: It’ll be good to watch.

(Endorsements for Council District 3, Baltimore Sun, August 24, 1994, 12A; Endorsements in Council District 5, Baltimore Sun, August 26, 16A; James M. Coram, Hantman to challenge executive, Baltimore Sun, June 20, 1994, 1B; James M. Coram, Treasurer tapped for Gray’s last-minute filing, Baltimore Sun, July 6, 1994, 1B.)

September 1994. Susan Gray wins the right to face Charles Ecker in a convincing 53%-47% win over Democratic Central Committee chair Sue-Ellen Hantman. C. Vernon Gray (no relation) continues his record of electoral success with a 2-1 primary victory over challenger Kathryn Mann (another Democratic Central Committee member) in District 2, with Democrat-turned-Republican Evelyn Tanner slated to face him in the general election. In District 4 Paul Farragut’s annointed successor Mary Lorsung defeats Joseph Kraft, C. Vernon Gray’s favorite (and yet another former Democratic Central Committee member), while former executive Riaz Rana tops the poll in a 3-way race for the Republican nomination. Somewhat surprised to be facing Susan Gray instead of Sue-Ellen Hantman, Ecker ponders whether to go negative in portraying Gray as a single-issue anti-growth candidate with no relevant experience (If you handed Ms. Gray a [county] budget book, she would have no idea where to begin, comments Ecker ally Darrel Drown), while Gray campaigns not only for herself but for a referendum to change the way the county does zoning.3

(James M. Coram and Lan Nguyen, Susan Gray carries Democratic vote for executive, Baltimore Sun, September 14, 1994, 1B; James M. Coram, Ecker weighs strategy for surprise foe, Baltimore Sun, September 16, 1994, 1B.)

October 1994. County growth and what to do about it is once again on the agenda, as John Taylor (I don’t think everybody has a God-given right to high-density zoning) squares off against Charles Feaga over the proposed referendum allowing county resident to vote on zoning changes (You never govern by majority on individual rights, counters Feaga). In other districts Republican challengers pick up the theme: District 4 hopeful Riaz Rana expresses support for the referendum while in District 2 Evelyn Tanner tries to tie C. Vernon Gray to developers and advocates splitting the zoning board from the county council in order to solve a lot of ethical problems. Meanwhile some Columbia residents push for incorporation as a way to provide a democratic government and address perceived deficiencies of the Columbia Association,

(Erik Nelson, Growth passes crime as top issue in council race, Baltimore Sun, October 23, 1994, 1B; Adam Sachs, Candidates hedge on incorporation of Columbia, Baltimore Sun, October 27, 1994, 1B; Adam Sachs, Columbia to ask experts, scholars for incorporation information, Baltimore Sun, October 28, 1994, 3B.)

November 1994. Despite concerns raised by a Democratic edge in voter registration and a redistricting plan designed to favor Democrats, Howard County Republicans have their most successful election in modern Howard County history, as Democrats cross party lines to elect Charles Ecker as county executive (I couldn’t have done it without them) and put a Republican majority on the council, as Darrel Drown in District 1 and Dennis Schrader in District 3 join District 5 incumbent Charles Feaga. C. Vernon Gray returns to the council, and Mary Lorsung’s victory keeps Columbia (and only Columbia) in Democratic hands.4

Even as she goes down to a crushing defeat Democratic county executive candidate Susan Gray exults in the overwhelming passage of a referendum to increase voter power over zoning decisions (I’m ecstatic for the people of this county), a vote that Charles Feaga decries as having destroyed long-range planning in Howard County. Whether the Republican council majority will mark a real change in county affairs remains to be seen, as the Republican council members proclaim their independence and willingness to put the people of Howard County first; as Dennis Schrader notes, No one said to me, Please run so we can have three Republicans on the council.

(James M. Coram, Redistricting gives the edge to Democrats, Baltimore Sun, November 4, 1994, 1B; James M. Coram and Erik Nelson, Democrats cross to vote for incumbent, Baltimore Sun, November 9, 1994, 1B; Erik Nelson, Defeated candidate claims win, Baltimore Sun, November 10, 1994, 1B; James M. Coram, Council has GOP majority but predicts little change, Baltimore Sun, November 13, 1994, 1B.)

The 1993 redistricting plan, based as it was on a Democratic proposal, was pitched as ensuring Democratic dominance of the county council for a decade, but instead became the basis for Republican dominance of county government. In part 19 we’ll follow an attempt to change the way council redistricting is done and help avoid the stalemates and partisan disputes that marked the post-1990 redistricting effort.

UPDATE: Corrected the note about the effect of term limits on current council members.


  1. Note that C. Vernon Gray was able to run again, despite already having served three terms on the council, because the term limits measure passed in 1992 applied only to council terms starting in 1990. The three-term council term limit is still in place; of the council members at the time of writing only Courtney Watson (D-District 1) will be prevented from running in 2014 (hence speculation about Watson running for county executive) since all the current council members were elected in 2006, they could serve through 2018 if they decide to run for a third term and win. ↩

  2. A personal note: When I first moved to Howard County Charlie Acquard was my next-door neighbor; however I came to the county too late to have the opportunity to vote for him—or against him, for that matter (just kidding, Charlie!).

On John Taylor, recall from part 14 that as part of the council bargain over district lines C. Vernon Gray offered Charles Feaga the chance to move John Taylor’s Highland residence out of District 5; Feaga declined the offer.↩

  1. The unofficial 1986 primary election results for the county executive and county council races were as follows (incumbents are marked with an asterisk):
  • County executive (D): Susan Gray, 10,084 (53%); Sue-Ellen Hantman, 9,037 (47%).

  • District 2 (D): C. Vernon Gray (*), 2,962 (66%); Kathryn Mann, 1,535 (34%).

  • District 2 (R): Evelyn Tanner, 910 (52%); Gary Prestianni, 834 (48%).

  • District 4 (D): Mary Lorsung, 2,388 (52%); James Kraft, 2,167 (48%).

  • District 4 (R): Riaz Rana, 888 (47%); Mary Ann Wilkinson, 688 (36%); Robert O’Brien, 332 (17%).

Charles Ecker was unopposed in the Republican primary for county executive, as were the Democratic and Republican candidates in Council Districts 1, 3, and 5.

(Election results are from Howard County Primary Election Results 1994, Baltimore Sun, September 14, 1994, 3B.)↩

  1. The unofficial 1994 general election results for the county executive and county council races were as follows (incumbents are marked with an asterisk):
  • County executive: Charles Ecker (R) (*), 44,749 (64%); Susan Gray (D), 24,765 (36%).

  • District 1: Darrel Drown (R) (*), 9,166 (67%); George Layman (D), 4,566 (33%).

  • District 2: C. Vernon Gray (D) (*), 7,356 (59%); Evelyn Tanner (R), 5,138 (41%).

  • District 3: Dennis Schrader (R), 5,853 (53%); Charles Acquard (D), 5,104 (47%).

  • District 4: Mary Lorsung (D), 7,524 (57%); Riaz Rana (R), 5,639 (43%).

  • District 5: Charles Feaga (R) (*), 11,341 (67%); John Taylor (D), 5,669 (33%).

Turnout for the 1994 general election was very high for a non-presidential year, almost 70%; Democratic turnout was very slightly higher than Republican turnout. Of those voting, the party breakdown was 53.5% Democratic, 37.5% Republican, and 11% independent (i.e., unaffiliated or registered with other parties).

(Election results are from Howard County Election 1994, Baltimore Sun, November 10, 1994, 5B. Turnout figures are from my blog post Howard County likely voters in the 2010 general election and sources referenced in that post.)↩