Midterm elections are widely seen as a barometer of the public’s perception of the incumbent president. During President Obama’s first midterm in 2010, Republicans took back the House of Representatives and saw gains on the local level. And in 2018, more voters find themselves likely to vote in the November election and Republicans find themselves challenged by Democrats in once-presumed solid-red territories.
But Maryland fancies itself an island amid partisan politics, according to pollsters. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is leading Ben Jealous, his Democratic opponent, in some polls by double digits. And in Howard County, a nonpartisan poll found Republican County Executive Allan Kittleman ahead of Councilman Calvin Ball, his Democratic challenger.
If Howard County mirrors state-level politics, what does it mean for the nine people vying for seats on the County Council, which for the first time in more than a decade have entirely new members?
The five winners, elected by districts, are expected to have to grapple with school overcrowding and construction, funding for and Ellicott City flood mitigation plan, balancing infrastructure support with new development and transportation.
These are the stories of the nine candidates for County Council:
District 1 encompasses Elkridge, Hanover and parts of Ellicott City, including the historic district.
The controversy emanating from Howard’s failed sanctuary bill prompted Raj Kathuria to join the Republican party. The bill, which came amid a national dialogue triggered by the election of President Trump, lacked input from the Asian American community, Kathuria said. The bill, which was vetoed by Kittleman, would have declared the county a haven for undocumented immigrants and formally limited county involvement in enforcing federal immigration law.
This lack of representation, on the bill and on the council, “haphazard developments” popping up in the district without infrastructure to support it and school overcrowding prompted Kathuria to throw his hat in the political arena.
Kathuria, 53, is endorsed by Kittleman. He named school overcrowding has a big concern of his constituents.
“We need to get the student count [under] control,” Kathuria said, suggesting this can be done by hiring more teachers and increasing funding.
Kathuria, who is an agent for Keller Williams Realty, said “haphazard developments” in Howard that lack infrastructure to support it the population it brings is another major concern. Kathuria said that in his role on the council and on the zoning board, he would push for “better and smarter” developments.
If elected, Kathuria would represent historic Ellicott City. He said the partial funding legislation that would raze buildings in historic Ellicott City to mitigate flooding was a “great bipartisan plan.” The legislation, he said, understandably upset many.
“I know there are a lot of people that are unhappy about the [removal] of the historical buildings … and I think we should definitely save those …. by moving them … potentially to the new parking lot,” Kathuria said.
Liz Walsh found herself inching towards politics after becoming concerned about a proposed residential development in Ellicott City would not mesh well with with her neighborhood’s vintage demeanor.
Walsh, 47, has lived in Howard since 2009 and is an associate at Jones Day, a D.C.-based international law firm, soon after became more involved in local government and opted to run for office.
The Democrat, who is endorsed by the Howard County Education Association, The Sierra Club and The People’s Voice, hopes to tackle school overcrowding, controlling development that is seemingly “co-opted by developer interests” and investing in green infrastructure and bikeways.
“[This issues are] related … and are borne out of this process that seems like it happens … largely behind closed doors, without a lot of independent input with the same five or six routine player that seem to call the shots at every opportunity. It’s not how good government works,” said Walsh, who ousted incumbent councilman, Jon Weinstein, in the Democratic primary.
Walsh said she hopes to make the process more transparent and truly consider public input.
Walsh is skeptical of the county’s plans to raze buildings in historic Ellicott City to mitigate flooding. She is a proponent of “all possible alternatives to [demolition].”
“Anything that I can do to hasten fully developing, vetting and funding alternatives— that’s where my focus will be,” she said.
District 2 includes Oakland Mills and Columbia.
John Liao said he is running for office to make the county’s budget less dependent on residential property taxes by creating more business opportunities and jobs.
The Republican, 33, is an executive assistant at Moy Cheung Financial, an accounting firm, and has lived in Howard since 2008 and is endorsed by Kittleman. He said he hopes to help create more opportunities for small minority businesses through conversations with business partnership groups and in meetings to facilitate discussions.
Another motivation for running stems from a concern that immigrant and minority communities are not having their voices heard. An example of this, for Liao, came amid the attempt to make Howard a sanctuary county for undocumented immigrants.
“I don’t think [the bill] had the component to help or address the issues of these immigrants,” Liao said. “Instead, it divided the community.”
The bill, which was introduced after the election of President Trump, would have invited people to Howard before addressing immigrant concerns, Liao said. The concerns include language proficiency programs for students, school overcrowding and placing large families into one apartment, Liao said. He said he’s having conversations “with people who absolutely want sanctuary.”
“I look forward to introducing something that would really address the needs [of immigrant communities] without, probably, using the word sanctuary,” Liao said. As councilman, the Republican says he would look to create “programs within the legal framework of the county and the state” that would create job opportunities for undocumented immigrants.
Liao also hopes to boost the Oakland Mills neighborhood and its schools. He said Howard’s five-year flood mitigation plan “sounds good” but needs more information about it before he takes a stance.
Liao is for environmental and historical preservation “as much as we can.” But he said the current plan “will ensure minimal casualties and damages.”
Liao would want to move the buildings “worth saving” elsewhere when the time comes.
District 2 has since 1986 been represented by a Democratic father who is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, a historically black fraternity. Opel Jones wants to continue that legacy.
Jones, 41, moved to Howard in 2012 and was a human rights commissioner, toyed with the idea of running. Upon learning about potentials, he said a decision to run was motivated by the election of President Trump.
Jones, who is a lecturer at American University, is endorsed by Councilman Calvin Ball, the National Abortion Rights Action League Pro-Choice Maryland Political Committee, International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2000, Howard County Professional Firefighters, CASA in Action and former Councilman C. Vernon Gray, the first black councilman.
The Democrat lists public and personal safety, community vibrancy and education as his top issues.
Jones believes he is uniquely qualified to represent the district because he has seen the qualms of many in the county in his role on the Human Rights Commission. Jones said he saw people who experienced “age, sex and racial discrimination.”
Jones declined to take stance on the county’s five-year flood mitigation plan.
District 3 includes Savage, North Laurel, Guilford and parts of Jessup.
Despite being the unofficial councilwoman-elect of District 3, Christiana Rigby has not stopped campaigning. The Democrat, who in July won her primary and remains unopposed in the general election, lists school overcrowding, class size, ensuring “safe and inclusive communities” and investing in infrastructure as issues she plans to tackle.
Rigby, 34, currently stay-at-home parent with over a decade of experience in the nonprofit sector, has the support of Councilwoman Jen Terrasa and is endorsed by the Howard County Education Association, the Sierra Club and International Association of Firefighters Local 2000.
Rigby was in 2016 supportive of efforts to make Howard a sanctuary county but said the term is “incredibly vague and the protections vary from area to area, and can unfortunately serve as a dog whistle to those who have unfounded fears regarding immigrants,” said Rigby in an email.
“These types of codified protections lead to safer communities for all residents by improving community and police relations."
Rigby has concerns about the county’s five-year flood mitigation plan.
“I’m concerned about the loss of buildings and that we aren’t mitigation enough floodwater,” Rigby said. The deadly 2016 flood pushed more than 8 feet of water onto lower Main Street. The current plan is designed to reduce the amount of floodwater in a similar storm to 4 to 6 feet and dramatically decrease the water speed.
District 4 includes five Columbia villages and parts of Clarksville, Highland, Fulton and North Laurel.
Lisa Kim is no stranger to politics.
Kim, 46, is the only candidate to be elected to a legislative body.
She served two terms on the New Carrollton City Council before abruptly leaving one year into her third term because of criminal activity that occurred much too close to home. These crimes, which she said were committed by undocumented immigrants, contributes to her unwavering stance against sanctuary proposals.
Kim, the owner of Docket Masters, a legal advertising and marketing company, has a deep appreciation for bipartisanship.
“I don’t see party. I don’t react to party. I don’t govern by party,” Kim said. “I do whatever I think is best and whatever party it falls on, so be it.”
The Republican, who has lived in Howard for four years, is endorsed by Kittleman and state Sen. Gail Bates. She names land use and development, education, and budgeting for infrastructure among her top concerns.
Kim believes the county is not allocating enough money to road infrastructure and wants to continue to “prosecute even low level crimes so as to sustain our valued quality of life,” her website said.
Kim is also concerned about the county’s approach to development. She is supportive of plans to rewrite the county zoning codes but wants to insure the closure of “existing loopholes.”
Kim said she understands of the desire of many who don’t want to see buildings in historic Ellicott City come down. But she’s “not sure there is a way to avoid it,” she said. “If there is a way … I would love to go that route.”
“But we’ve got to do what we have to do to save lives and businesses,” she said. “[This plan has] to be done swiftly…we no longer have a luxury of time to sit back and find a resolution that suits everyone” because of how quickly the floods come, she said.
“I would love to save every building,” Kim said. “I wish we weren’t in this position at all.”
Deb Jung has been involved in the community for a long time. The 30-year resident has served on the Human Rights Commission and the Martin Luther King Holiday Celebration committee. And she said she is at a time in her life where she can increase her involvement by running for council.
Jung, 62, wants to increase access to public transportation, keep hold the “school system accountable for its budget proposals,” manage the county’s growth by ensuring infrastructure keeps up with new development and maintaining the county’s environment.
“The combination of overdevelopment and climate change are having a big impact in Ellicott City in particular and around the county,” Jung said. “We need to be more sensitive to our environment and leave this Earth a better place for our kids.”
Jung is endorsed by outgoing Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty, the Howard County Education Association, the Sierra Club, the People’s Voice and AFL-CIO, and is a self-employed attorney who specializes in the nonprofit sector.
Jung declined to take a stance on the county’s five-year flood plan, adding that she wants to “have had the opportunity to look at everything,” before making a decision.
“Ellicott City will demand our attention immediately,” Jung said. “I want to know every detail that I could possibly know.”
District 5 covers most of the county’s rural areas. It includes Woodbine, Lisbon and Highland.
This district is a unique place. It houses suburbs and the rural west and is the most conservative part of the county. David Yungmann has lived in both areas and is a Republican.
Yungmann, who is a team leader at The Yungmann Group, a realty company, has lived in Howard for 45 years and is endorsed by Councilman Greg Fox, Kittleman, Howard County Professional Fire Fighters, Howard County Police Officers Association and Police Supervisors Alliance FOP, believes this residence, his financial background and his deep knowledge of the county make him uniquely qualified to represent the district.
Yungmann, 51, said he hopes to address government spending, rewriting archaic zoning codes and finding ways to support agriculture.
A way to support agriculture is by getting younger generations interested in farming, he said. This can be done through agriculture education and connecting farming with something like craft beer— something younger generations are interested in, he said.
Yungmann wants to preserve the wide range of living environments Howard offers. “People can choose to live in the west, suburbs or downtown.”
He wants to see the west stay rural and allow for the expansion of downtown Columbia.
Yungmann said he supports the county’s five-year flood plan that he believes can make Ellicott City “an economic engine for the county,” he said. “[This town] is not going to come back without this plan.”
China Williams said she is running for council because she wants to “be as close to the [school] funding source as possible,” she said.
Williams, 45 and a freelance travel writer, has lived in the district since 2016 and is endorsed by the Sierra Club, Howard County Educators Association, the AFL-CIO, the Thurgood Marshall Democratic Club. And issues she hopes to address is upholding Howard’s high-quality education, ensuring infrastructure supports new developments and maintaining a safe environment to protect “health, safety and traditions.”
Williams was opposed to a bill to regulate large-scale mulching operations that failed earlier this year and is concerned about the strain volatile commodity prices put on farmers.
The Democrat in 2016 wrote a letter to Councilman Greg Fox imploring him to support the sanctuary bill. Williams said she did so because she did not want undocumented immigrants to be unfairly targeted by the police.
Williams said she finds the county’s current policy— to engage immigration status with federal law enforcement during suspected criminal activity— has “achieved a good compromise,” she said.
Williams said tearing down buildings in historic Ellicott City “is gonna be really sad.”
“I wish there were alternatives,” Williams said. “I’m sympathetic to the preservationist's desire to have alternatives. There have been some plans suggested though they have engineering drawbacks.”
Williams is skeptical about how the proposed parking garage ”will fit in with the look of the area.”