Two-term Howard County Councilwoman Mary C. Lorsung, a west Columbia Democrat, will not run for re-election, she has told friends - raising the possibility of an all-white, all-male council after next year's election.
Lorsung, a 63-year-old community activist, is the only woman on the five-member council. C. Vernon Gray, 61, an east Columbia Democrat and a member since 1982, is prohibited from running again because of term-limit laws. He is the council's only African-American member. Lorsung was out of town and unavailable for comment yesterday.
Lorsung's and Gray's departures mean another kind of change on the council, too - a generational one, noted Neil Quinter, president of the Columbia Democratic Club.
The other three members, Chairman Guy J. Guzzone, a North Laurel/Savage Democrat, and Republicans Allan H. Kittleman of the western county and Christopher J. Merdon of Ellicott City, are all freshmen - and all are in their 30s or 40s.
Known for her thorough research, devotion to proper procedure and tenacious questioning of bureaucrats, Lorsung is a low-key politician who relies on a core of community political support rather than major fund raising.
County Executive James N. Robey said he was upset when Lorsung delivered the news Monday.
"I was very disappointed when she told me. She is great to work with," he said, recalling her help in his election campaign.
"I will miss her, and the council will miss her," Gray said. "We've been very fortunate to have someone of Mary's caliber."
Guzzone said, "She really does her homework and spends a great deal of time studying every issue. I think the thing I respect most about Mary is her commitment to those who may not have a voice themselves - the economically or socially disadvantaged."
Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a former county executive and council member, said Lorsung "brought a real level of detail to the council" and held school officials accountable for chronically inaccurate enrollment projections.
Lorsung's decision, revealed recently to a few friends and political colleagues, opens the way for at least one potential successor - Kenneth S. Ulman, 27, a politically active, newly graduated law student whose father, Louis Jay Ulman, was recently named chairman of the Maryland Racing Commission by Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
"I am absolutely, 100 percent running," said Ulman, who lives just outside Lorsung's district.
The father of a 6-week-old daughter, Ulman said that he and his wife plan to buy a home in River Hill, inside the 4th District, by September and that he plans several fund-raising events. A Centennial High School graduate, Ulman worked in the 1996 Clinton presidential campaign and then for the Glendening/Townsend campaign in 1998. He graduated from Georgetown School of Law in February and was admitted to the Maryland Bar on June 20.
Howard County Democratic Party Chairman Wendy Fiedler said that despite the departure of the council's two most experienced members, it is far too early to say diversity is dead on the legislative body.
"Howard County certainly does have a great record of having that [diversity] on the council. I do hope that continues. We've had enough great examples that women should feel encouraged to run," Fiedler said.
Howard has had at least one female council member since 1974. For a time between 1977 and 1982, three of the five council members were female.
Fiedler said Lorsung did not give her a reason for the decision not to run. "I think it's just time. It's a personal decision. I knew she'd been thinking about it for a while. It's a demanding job. You never have any time off."
Lorsung and her husband have three grown daughters and six grandchildren in Ohio, New Jersey and Columbia.
She began her career as Harper's Choice village manager and then worked from 1984 to 1989 as a legislative aide for former delegate and council member Virginia Thomas. After that, she was special assistant to County Council member Paul Farragut, before winning the seat in 1994.