The race for Howard County Council is gearing up to be a crowded one, with more than a dozen candidates now competing for a seat.
Campaigns are now under way for every district in the county, with a total of 14 candidates having declared their intentions to run for seats as of Monday. Four of the five current council seats will be vacated next year, as council members Calvin Ball, Mary Kay Sigaty, Greg Fox and Jen Terrasa have all reached their three-term limit. Only Councilman Jon Weinstein is still eligible for re-election, and he has filed to run.
A theme of the campaign season looks to be smart development in the county, and to ensure county infrastructure systems, especially schools, can keep up with the growing population in Howard.
The new candidates join a race that has already grown competitive in District 4, where Republican Lisa Kim and Democrats Byron Macfarlane and Deb Jung are running for the seat held by Mary Kay Sigaty.
In District 1, Republican Raj Kathuria is the first newcomer to enter the race in an area that includes Ellicott City, Elkridge and Hanover. Weinstein, a Democrat and the current council member for District 1, recently officially filed with the Maryland State Board of Elections to run for reelection, and has said he will make his public announcement later this month.
Kathuria, a more than 30-year resident of Howard County who currently lives in Ellicott City and is a Realtor in the area, said his top priority is to ensure the county is developing in a smarter way, calling the current system of development "haphazard." In particular, he wants to see that schools are adjusted so that overpopulated buildings in the eastern part of the county are relieved.
Republican John Liao joins Democrat Opel Jones in the race for the District 2 seat, currently held by Calvin Ball. The district includes Columbia and parts of Jessup, Elkridge and Ellicott City.
Liao said he made the decision to run for the seat in March, after becoming more involved in community issues, including the debate over whether to officially designate Howard County a "sanctuary" for undocumented immigrants. He said he was against the proposal, not because he was against the concept of a sanctuary, but because he felt the bill was poorly written.
Liao is running under the slogan "community matters," and said he wants to see greater engagement between residents and council members.
"I'm here to listen, and I welcome ideas," Liao said. "We should always have a platform that we can all speak on."
Jones launched his campaign in January. He currently serves as the second vice president of the Howard County Democratic Central Committee.
Howard County native Christiana Rigby is one of four candidates now in the race for the District 3 council seat currently held by Jen Terrasa. Rigby grew up and now resides in Kings Contrivance, and serves as the vice chair on the neighborhood's village board.
Priorities for Rigby include the county's schools and mitigating overpopulation in classrooms. With that, she said she wants to work bring a more "holistic approach" to development in the county, including bringing "real meaningful change," to areas such as Route 1, and a focus on the future of Columbia's village centers
"We already have the opportunities for people to live, we need more opportunities for people to work and play and experience the community," she said.
Others in the race include Steve Hunt, a North Laurel resident who has lived in the county since 2000 and currently serves as the chairman of the Howard County Board of Appeals, which hears cases related to zoning issues.
Hunt said his top priority if elected is the revitalization of the Route 1 corridor, a project that he said needs more attention and a coordinated plan behind it to make it a reality.
"[I want to] see Route 1 turn into the vibrant energetic sector of the community that I know it can be," Hunt said.
The third candidate is Democrat Hiruy Hadgu. Hadgu immigrated to the United States from Ethiopia in 2001, and works as a nuclear engineer.
Rounding out the race in the district is the most recently declared candidate, Democrat Gregory Jennings, who serves as a prosecutor in Baltimore City.
The latest declared candidates are in District 5, where Republicans Jim Walsh and Keith Ohlinger join the race alongside Republican David Yungmann for the seat currently held by Republican Greg Fox.
Walsh, a Woodbine resident, has served on the county's Board of Appeals for the past 10 years, and owns a law firm in Columbia. Walsh said his time on the board has given him first-hand experience in the effects of city zoning ordinances, an area that he would like to "clean up" if elected.
"There's always a balance between neighbors and property owners," Walsh said. "And we have to try and strike that balance."
Ohlinger, who has owned a farm in Woodbine since 2013, said he became interested in running for the council after the 2016 presidential election. He said he wants to work to bring different populations together to work through issues, something that he feels has been lacking in recent months.
"We spend so much time, recently I think, everybody fighting against each other. It's not healthy for the community," he said.
Ohlinger currently serves as the vice chairman of the University of Maryland Extension Advisory Council, a statewide, non-formal education system within the college of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
The deadline to file as a candidate is not until February 27, 2018. With seven months remaining, there's plenty of time for the council race to grow even more competitive.