Howard County Celebrates Its Ideals — And Its New Leaders

Minutes after being sworn in Monday night, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball (center) and his wife Shani (left) greet well-wishers. Photo by Josh Kurtz

Howard County, whose growth over the last half century has been fueled by the utopian ideal of racial harmony and inclusiveness, saw its first African-American county executive, Calvin Ball, sworn in Monday night.

Ball’s swearing in was the emotional centerpiece of the evening at Howard High School – which included the installation of a completely new County Council. But every newly-minted official promised not just to uphold the U.S. and Maryland constitutions, but the ideals that helped create Columbia and surrounding communities.

Howard County residents – and their elected officials – pride themselves on the county’s high standard of living and sterling public schools.

Ball told an enthusiastic and diverse crowd that he’s committed to “moving our county forward with innovation, transparency, proactive and sensible leadership that remains rooted in the values and the quality of life that we all cherish.”

Ball’s speech was lyrically crafted and sprinkled with literary references, if short on specifics. But he took pains to mention each of the county’s geographic areas and several communities – along with their priorities and opportunities.

Ball called Columbia, the planned community built by The Rouse Company in the 1960’s, “born of inclusion…ripe for renaissance and revitalization.” Of Ellicott City, the county seat, which has endured two devastating and economically catastrophic floods in as many years, Ball said it was “a national model for unity, safety, strength and resilience.”

Ball was elected county executive in an upset last month after three terms on the County Council. He paid tribute to his vanquished predecessor, Republican Allan Kittleman – who alone among all the elected officials in attendance received a standing ovation.

Asked in a brief interview how he planned to spend his first full day in office Tuesday, Ball replied, “Day number one is coming in and making sure my team is set so we can move forward with our vision to ensure that Howard County can be the best place to work, play and raise a child.”

While Ball settles in to his new role, Howard County is noteworthy for its all-new County Council – not a single incumbent is returning.

The new Council members are: Liz Walsh, District 1; Opel Jones, District 2; Christiana Mercer Rigby, District 3; Deb Jung, District 4; and David Yungmann, District 5. All but Youngman are Democrats.

Mercer Rigby was elected County Council chairwoman for the upcoming year, and Jones will serve as vice chairman.

“I’m more than a little awed about this,” Walsh said. “It’s a good awe.”

Yungmann joked that every news article that quotes him will make reference to the fact that he’s the only Republican on the Council, but said he doesn’t feel like an outcast.

“They haven’t made me the outsider or hidden the bathroom key yet,” he said of his new colleagues.

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Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.

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