Differences help define hopefuls for council post


Kenneth S. Ulman and Mary Kay Sigaty seem like two people without much in common - except that they're both Democrats with a desire to represent west Columbia on the Howard County Council.

He's 27, was born in the planned town, is a lawyer, political worker and new father, and is preparing to move his family into a new home in Columbia's booming River Hill village.

She's 51, with two teen-age daughters, and is a community activist and artist who has worked for years to preserve her Wilde Lake neighborhood and improve Howard's school system.

They're the first two candidates to emerge who want to replace two-term county Councilwoman Mary C. Lorsung, who plans to retire next year, and they've provoked an unusual division among the county's elected Democrats, who would normally stay neutral in a party primary election.

Lorsung, a veteran community activist who began her career as a village official in Harper's Choice, is backing Sigaty; freshman Councilman Guy J. Guzzone, who represents North Laurel and Savage, is backing his young friend Ulman, who had planned to run whether Lorsung retired or not.

"From my perspective, I would say it's immensely important that someone know the community from a very active role and, you know, sort of [have] been out there and experienced the rough roads of getting stuff done - knowing that there aren't easy answers or immediate answers," Lorsung said."[Sigaty is] one of those people who can be a very positive influence on a group dynamic without compromising her own values and principles," Lorsung added.

Sigaty, an articulate former schoolteacher, ran unsuccessfully last year for Columbia Council, the governing board of the Columbia Association. Now she believes that if Lorsung is retiring, the County Council may be where she can do the most good.

"There's no way I would run against [Lorsung]. She's very good at what she does," Sigaty said, praising Lorsung's detail-oriented method of bringing interested parties together to fix local problems.

While school equity, the pending education performance audit and high school redistricting have consumed most of her time over the past two years, Sigaty said people in older parts of District 4 also are worried about property issues - such as neglected rental housing, sagging retaining walls and crumbling concrete curbing.

"I firmly believe that my district deserves to be represented by someone who's been in the district - who understands the folks in the district and who has the experience in community service and problem solving," she said during an interview at the Bryant Woods townhouse she shares with husband, Tom Graham, and their younger daughter, 15-year-old Bridget (18-year-old Eileen is away at college).

Guzzone said he sees equally attractive values in Ulman.

"I think he's smart and energetic. I think he'll make a great candidate. He may be young, but he's been involved in quite a bit over his years," Guzzone said, mentioning that Ulman's last job was director of the Maryland Board of Public Works - the body that hands out state school construction money. "That experience would be a tremendous value to the county."

Before that, Ulman interned at the White House while a student at the University of Maryland, and then worked on President Bill Clinton's 1996 and on Gov. Parris N. Glendening's 1998 re-election campaigns. He's also co-chairman of Howard's campaign for Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's 2002 gubernatorial bid.

Ulman, a Centennial High grad who is an attorney in his father's firm of Hodes, Ulman, Pessin and Katz, points to his deep roots in Columbia, starting with his parents' involvement in political and social causes since moving to the town in 1971.

"I really feel the fact that I was raised here has as much to do with who I am as anything else," said the estate lawyer, sitting in the conference room of his family's law firm on Little Patuxent Parkway. As he traveled the nation working in Clinton's campaign, he said, the feeling that he wanted to come back to Columbia to live grew ever stronger.

His main concern now, he said, is that the racially progressive Columbia he grew up in - "truly a colorblind community," he calls it - is "on the brink" because of changes in the town's older neighborhoods.

"The problems in elementary schools, the stigma attached to certain neighborhoods - that, to me, is our biggest challenge," he said.

He said he favors hiring more police officers, creating magnet schools to draw more students to some facilities and securing more state funding for county schools. He opposes redistricting elementary schools, he said, because it disrupts families and neighborhoods.

Ulman isn't unaware of how some may perceive his move to River Hill - Columbia's newest, most expensive neighborhood - while he talks about preserving places such as Wilde Lake and Harper's Choice.

"I'm very conflicted to move to River Hill," he said. But he said he couldn't resist the pull of friends, cousins and younger families who are starting lives there, as are he and his wife, Jaki, and their 3-month-old daughter, Madeline.

Serving on County Council is a good way to serve the community and begin a political career, he said.

"After seeing everything across the country [in 1996], I think I can make a difference. I think being on the County Council would offer me the perfect opportunity to see if I want to go farther [in politics]," while also working to develop a career as a lawyer, Ulman said. "The time is right for somebody with more energy and creative ideas."

Still, this is no grudge match, Democrats say. They expect to unite behind whoever wins the primary.

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