Jan Nyquist emerged from a Howard County Council meeting earlier this week disappointed at having received only three of five votes in favor of her confirmation to the Human Rights Commission.
"I felt I was discriminated against," said the 42-year-old Columbia resident, the county's first openly gay person to be nominated and confirmed to a seat on the 11-member commission.
Nyquist said she thought it disappointingly significant that she was the only nominee among 13 candidates for various boards and commissions not to receive unanimous approval Monday night. The council's two Republicans voted against Nyquist, saying they didn't believe she could judge discrimination cases objectively.
"I didn't appreciate being singled out in this process," she said Tuesday.
Nyquist's objection to the process is one that has been echoed by many applicants to county boards and commissions in the last several months after their lifestyles, political opinions and religious beliefs became the subject of public debate. Much of the controversy has been fueled by a continuing political squabble between the county's Democratic and Republican elected leaders.
"Some healing has to be done. Things have gotten way out of hand," said Roger Jones, chairman of the Human Rights Commission.
Jones acknowledged that as chairman he contributed to the debate by publicly blaming County Executive Charles I. Ecker (R) for his handling of the appointment process. Jones said that he will not back down from his criticism but that he is planning to step aside as chairman in the hope that that will defuse tensions.
"We need someone who might have a more calming influence to take over," said Jones, who plans to remain on the commission.
Ecker, who is charged with nominating candidates to county boards and commissions, touched off the controversy early in his term when he nominated David Marker, a former Democratic Central Committee member, to the Human Rights Commission. Some Republican party activists said Ecker took a lot of heat from fellow Republicans because Marker had been an outspoken critic of the party.
Many Republicans felt especially burned when Marker's nomination was approved while council Democrats, who hold a 3 to 2 majority, rejected Ecker's nomination of Republican Central Committee member Allan Kittleman to the Public Ethics Commission.
Republicans complained about partisan game playing. But Democrats said it would be improper to put Kittleman, an elected party official and the son of a state delegate, on a panel charged with resolving partisan disputes.
In a move some viewed as a concession to Republicans, Ecker then nominated to the Human Rights Commission the Rev. D. Walter Collett, a minister who led abortion protests and considers homosexuality immoral..
The nomination, however, was again rejected by the council on a 3 to 2 vote, with the Democrats in opposition. Some council members said they thought it would be difficult for Collett to reconcile his religious beliefs with the requirements of the county's human rights laws, which bar discrimination in many forms, including on the basis of sex and sexual orientation.
The Democrats, however, raised no objections when Ecker later nominated to the same commission the Rev. Roland Howard, another Baptist minister. Howard is black and by his own admission a longtime Democratic activist. Collett is white.
Republican activists smoldered over what they saw as a double standard. The Democrats said Howard appeared more sincere in his pledge to uphold the county's human rights law.
After Collett was rejected, gay-rights activist Bob Healy announced he would seek a seat on the Human Rights Commission. Ecker said he would not nominate Healy, saying the former Democratic activist was "too controversial," a comment many considered to be a slight to gay people.
But Ecker said he was misunderstood. "I don't think anybody should be discriminated against," he said in a later interview. "I think everyone should be treated like I want to be treated, with empathy, with understanding, with respect."
Ecker, who once said he was looking for a candidate from the eastern part of the county, then nominated Nyquist. That action soon proved to be controversial with many of Collett's supporters, who felt they had been betrayed by Ecker.
About 120 people turned out earlier this month for a hearing on the Nyquist nomination. Although viewpoints varied widely, the debate was, in the words of Nyquist, "polite and well-intentioned."
Ecker aide Beverly Wilhide said the controversy would not have grown so large if Democrats had not seemed so intent on embarrassing Ecker. "My personal opinion is that it stems from politics. It was an opportunity to get at Chuck," Wilhide said.
But Democratic activist James Kraft said if Ecker is made uncomfortable by the process, it is only because he chose controversial candidates to begin with. "You can't let him off the hook that easily," Kraft said.
"I hope some good comes from all of this," Nyquist said Tuesday, her first full day as a member of the Human Rights Commission. "The whole process has brought some biases to the forefront that people have tucked away and tried to avoid. Hopefully, it will all lead to greater openness and understanding."