Tight Oakland Mills race draws voters

The Baltimore Sun

In Oakland Mills, two longtime residents came within a whisker of each other for the Columbia Association seat left vacant by Barbara Russell's retirement -- with veteran activist Alex Hekimian coming out on top by eight votes in a high-turnout contest.

Hekimian, 64, an engineer and transportation planner who is retired from the Montgomery County planning department, bested Phillips S. Engelke, in the weekend election.

"I'm feeling really good about it," Hekimian said. "Because a lot of important decisions have to be made, especially this year, I'm happy to be part of it."

Hekimian, who previously served a three-year stint on the Columbia Association Board between 1996 and 1999, topped Engelke 270 to 262.

"I was really glad we had such a good turnout," Hekimian added. "That shows that people care. I think that was reflected in the numbers."

Reached on Monday, Engelke, 62, a graphic designer who is vice president at RTKL, a global architecture and design firm, jokingly gave his version of events.

"I think it's a couple of people who went to Home Depot instead of voting," he said. "It was that close."

Russell, the current board chair, is stepping down after eight years.

That the race was so tight is evidence that there has been a shift in what people want, said Engelke, who is thinking about a run next year.

"I think people want to move away from a contentious, exclusive style of leadership," he said. "Young people are looking for true connections to the community. I look at myself as a bridge. I understand that the community has to change to be an attractive and desirable place for people in their 20s."

In Harper's Choice, incumbent Cynthia Coyle retained her seat against challenger Lynda Maxwell, winning 315 - 20.

"You know when you start projects, you don't want to just see them drop," Coyle said of her interest in seeking a second two-year term. "I feel really strongly that you don't leave right as these projects are beginning to hit their prime."

Despite criticism the board has received, Coyle said she thought last year's board had been productive and is looking forward to another good year.

"We may not all agree, but we're all in it for the right reasons," she said.

Another close race in Wilde Lake left incumbent Philip W. Kirsch in his seat. He beat challenger Linda Odum, 260 - 225.

"It was much closer than I thought it would be," said Kirsch, who is vice chair. "There was a much larger- than- usual mail-in ballot. That might have had something to do with it."

Kirsch, who said he could be interested in retaining his position as vice chair, is looking forward to another term on the board.

"There are a lot of big things going on, with GGP's development and a new president being chosen," he said.

In Town Center, where incumbent Gail Broida opted not to run for another term, Suzanne Waller topped Stephen Meskin, 134 -121.

Waller, who said she moved to Columbia in 1969, previously served on the CA board for four years during the 1990s.

"I think I had the greatest experience being part of a city that was starting from scratch," she said. "There was farmland, and then there was the vision of James Rouse. I bought into it. I bought into the garden of growing people."

She views part of her role as focusing on the good things that Columbia has and bringing a sense of collegiality, congeniality and collaboration to the board.

No election was held in Owen Brown, where incumbent Pearl Atkinson-Stewart was unchallenged.

Miles Coffman had no challengers in Hickory Ridge.

Tomorrow, new and returning CA Council members will meet and appoint themselves to the CA Board and choose a chair and vice chair for the year.


Sun reporter Emily Groves contributed to this article.

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