With three candidates slated to run for District 4's Howard County Council seat, the 2018 election is shaping up to feature debates on development and diversity.
Republican Lisa Kim and Democrats Deb Jung and Byron Macfarlane have officially filed their candidacies for District 4. The district covers much of central Columbia including Harper's Choice, Hickory Ridge, Wilde Lake and Columbia's downtown lakefront, as well as Maple Lawn and North Laurel on its southern edge. The seat has been held by a Democrat since the districts were drawn in 1986, according to the county government website.
Democrat Mary Kay Sigaty will vacate the council seat in 2018. She is one of four incumbent council members who cannot run for reelection in 2018 due to term limits, setting the County Council up for a majority turnover.
Sigaty was first elected in 2006 along with Republican Greg Fox and Democrats Jen Terassa and Calvin Ball. Of the five sitting members, only Democrat Jon Weinstein, of District 1, is eligible to run for reelection.
As of this writing, only Districts 4 and 5 have more than one candidate officially slated to run, according to the state election board website. District 5 is a traditional Republican stronghold and has three registered Republicans running for its council seat so far.
The District 4 race begins during a period of debate over the role development should play in the county's future. District 4 encompasses downtown Columbia, which is in the midst of a massive redevelopment plan after the County Council approved a $90 million public financing deal for Howard Hughes Corp. in November. That plan, as well as smaller developments around the county, were named as top issues for all three District 4 candidates.
"It's important to a lot of people here in Howard County that the development taking place is on a human scale," said Jung, 61, an attorney who specializes in nonprofit organizations. "There are a lot of people who are concerned about whether it's going to overwhelm the county."
"Before we approve new developments we really need to have the infrastructure in place," Jung said. She named schools as an important consideration, saying many are already over capacity. Other development-related problems that Jung said she hopes to prevent include traffic, overburdened emergency services and environmental problems like runoff.
Kim, 45, who owns and runs an advertising and marketing firm from her home office, also named over-development as a key issue of her campaign. In conversations with constituents, she said, she found people were concerned about crowded schools and dwindling green space. She blamed quick development on the influence of developers,unions and politicians driven by "political ambition." Ordinary people have not had a seat at the table in zoning debates, Kim said, quoting the adage: "If you're not at the table, you're on the menu."
Macfarlane, 34, a self-described progressive, said his campaign will also focus on development. He said that although growing commercial space and jobs are beneficial, he is concerned about traffic and affordability.
"The more I talk to people, the more concern I hear that Howard County is unaffordable for people, particularly for public servants," Macfarlane said. "There's concern about whether that development is occurring in a way that is shaped by the community's values."
For Macfarlane, a marriage equality activist who became the first openly gay elected official in 2010 when he was elected Register of Wills, diversity is one of the county's most important values, a quality that "makes it special."
Jung, who previously served on the Howard County Human Rights Commission and the Martin Luther King Celebration Commission, also named diversity as a critical issue, saying she is especially concerned about bullying and comments about national origin in schools.
"It was Jim Rouse's dream to have a community that lived together and worshipped together and went to school together," Jung said. "And I think that some of that is not happening right now in the way that we would hope."
Macfarlane was an outspoken supporter of CB-9, a controversial bill that would have labeled the county a "sanctuary" for undocumented immigrants; as well as CB-30, a bill that would create a public finance system for small-donor candidates in the county. He said that if he were a councilman, not only would he have voted for the bills, but he would have sponsored them.
"There are times where in local government when we are going to have to step up," Macfarlane said. "When we have President Trump trying to militarize our local police to enforce unconstitutional immigration policies. Or when we see a lack of action at the federal level to get money out of politics. … It's a question of leadership."
In the sanctuary bill debate, which attracted hours of public testimony, Kim took the opposing side, testifying vehemently against the bill.
"This bill is fluff, and is meant to only raise its supporters' standing in two populations: their current base, and illegal immigrants who they hope will become legal someday and vote for them," Kim testified to the council on Jan. 17. The bill, she said, would "turn Howard County into a destination for illegal immigrants seeking to live where they can break the law without fear of justice."
Kim, who lived in New Carrollton in Prince George's County before moving to Howard County three years ago, said that she has had neighbors who were undocumented immigrants and were "some of the hardest-working, good people that I've ever known in my life." Though she does not support deporting people across the board, however, she said welcoming undocumented immigrants would make Howard County a "beacon" for crime and gangs like MS-13.
"I understand that people want to come to us, I understand that our country is awesome," Kim said. "But I also believe in laws. … We have immigration laws and we have them for a reason."
Kim expressed ambivalence on public campaign financing, saying she "understands both sides of that argument." If she were to support the bill, she would be breaking with the views of fellow Republican Councilman Greg Fox, who voted against the bill, and County Executive Allan Kittleman, who has vetoed it.
Kim, who served on the city council in New Carrollton, acknowledged that running as a Republican in District 4 is an "uphill battle," but describes herself as a moderate centrist who listens to constituents when it comes to legislation.
"I've lived a normal life, I'm a normal person. How I look at an issue is probably how most people look at an issue," Kim said.
Macfarlane said he believes that most people in District 4 are "crying out for progressive leadership," which the candidate describes as "listening to people, respecting where they're coming from and trying to incorporate their concerns into whatever decision you make."
Jung, who said she has been spending time canvassing in the past couple of weeks, said that when she asked District 4 constituents about their concerns, she was happily surprised.
"I am pleased to report that we're getting a lot of really happy people," Jung said. "People are satisfied with the way things are taking place right now. They're satisfied with their lives."