Two Columbia Council members supportive of Columbia Association President Deborah O. McCarty were overwhelmingly defeated in village elections yesterday, tipping the city's governing board toward her critics.
In an election that generated unusual interest, one of McCarty's allies won only 14 percent of the vote; another had 26 percent.
"I think the message from the community is that we'd like things to be done differently," Lanny Morrison said as he prepared to celebrate his victory over incumbent Tom Forno in the Harper's Choice race.
The election seemed, in part, a referendum on McCarty's leadership after 20 months as head of the homeowners group that provides services and operates facilities for Columbia's 87,000 residents.
The results -- which McCarty said did not surprise her -- were stark: Of the seven council members who voted last month not to fire her, two were defeated, one did not seek re-election and a fourth may become the target of a recall effort.
"The question now is how we move forward," McCarty said last night. "We have a new group, and we'll try to move forward with that group."
In Harper's Choice, Morrison, a former council chairman, captured 74 percent of the vote.
In Hickory Ridge, challenger Miles Coffman, a member of the village board, soundly defeated incumbent Jean S. Friedberg Jr., with 86 percent of the vote.
A third council incumbent, Cecilia Januszkiewicz of Long Reach, was not up for re-election, but she suffered something of a defeat as well, as two amendments that would provide a means for her recall passed decisively.
The Oakland Mills election was undecided last night, as election officials waited to receive mail-in ballots.
Challenger Barbara Russell's 297 votes gave her a slight edge over incumbent Earl Jones, who had 290 votes. A high percentage of ballots were cast by mail, said election officials, who expect to have a final count tomorrow.
In Town Center, Donna Rice, the village board chairwoman, defeated challengers Suzanne Waller and Dennis Lane with 48 percent of the vote.
For the past two months, the council and the community have been divided over McCarty's performance and commitment.
Many have criticized her recent call for resignation letters from the association's six vice presidents.
Questions have also been raised about her continuing ties to Atlanta, where she formerly worked. And some critics say she has never become a public presence in Columbia.
Friedberg has been one of the president's staunchest allies, supporting the demand for resignation letters and voting to award her a $5,000 bonus. Though Forno had said McCarty could have communicated her message better, he also defended her on leadership and commitment issues.
Coffman, who won with 469 votes to Friedberg's 78, said the large turnout in Hickory Ridge -- and his overwhelming victory -- showed that voters were dissatisfied with the status quo.
"A number of them came in to 'throw the bums out,' " he said.
Coffman has been critical of McCarty but said he would not dismiss her outright.
"I think she was doing what the prior council asked her to do," he said. "I have a real issue with the prior council."
Morrison, whose campaign slogan was "Leadership -- For A Change," ran as an outsider. For several weeks, he has been calling for McCarty to step down, and he said he will support a motion to dismiss her, should the council consider such a measure in the new session.
Of 604 votes cast in Harper's Choice, Morrison captured 446; Forno had 158.
Both candidates in Oakland Mills have called for McCarty's resignation.
In Town Center, Rice had 93 votes to Waller's 57 and Lane's 43, winning the seat being vacated by Council Chairman Joseph Merke, another McCarty defender.
"I know that I have a lot to learn," Rice said. "I want to keep my finger on the pulse of the community."
Rice said McCarty has exhibited "bad judgment" in several areas but that she is trying to remain objective about the president's fate.
"I'm still trying to learn the facts on both sides," she said. McCarty "has certainly been tarred and feathered, and it's certainly an indication that the community has lost faith in her."
Rice said she wants to know what the council expected of McCarty when she was hired and how she has measured up. "What was the test, and did she pass?" she asked.
Several council incumbents not facing re-election will return when the new session begins May 1. In addition to Januszkiewicz, they are Kirk Halpin of Kings Contrivance, Kenneth Puckett of Dorsey's Search and Adam Rich of River Hill.
The council vice chairwoman, Pearl Atkinson-Stewart of Owen Brown, will also return. She was up for re-election,but will automatically get another term because she had no opposition. In Wilde Lake, incumbent Vince Marando was unopposed.
Atkinson-Stewart, Halpin and Jones have called for McCarty's resignation. Jones introduced a motion last month to fire McCarty; it was defeated 7-3.
It takes a two-thirds majority to remove the president.
In Long Reach, amendments to change the village bylaws and articles of incorporation to allow for a council representative's recall passed with 76 percent and 78 percent of the vote, respectively. A third amendment would allow residents to remove the council representative as a nonvoting member of the village board for missing meetings; it passed with 82 percent of the vote.
Januszkiewicz has said the controversy surrounding McCarty is about "resistance to change." She voted this month to give the president a $5,000 bonus.
Forno said his lopsided loss to Morrison -- his opponent from two years ago -- had to be seen as a referendum on the president.
"When one candidate gets 74 percent of the votes, yes, I think it is" a referendum, he said. "It didn't come as any surprise. The margin is bigger than anticipated, but that's the will of my constituents.
"I guess I feel like I was not able to get my message and the facts out to the voters."