Suburban, affluent Howard may have more in common with Montgomery than with aging, urban Baltimore, but some local Democrats are working to make Howard the province of Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley.

Last week, O'Malley stood outside Columbia's Central Library, looking dapper despite a blustery fall wind, to collect endorsements for his gubernatorial bid from local elected officials and community notables such as Patty Rouse, widow of Columbia's developer, James Rouse. Standing behind O'Malley on the podium were County Council Chairman Guy Guzzone (D-Southeast County), Ken Ulman (D-West Columbia), former council member C. Vernon Gray and the three District 13 delegates to the Maryland General Assembly.

They declared their allegiance to O'Malley rather than Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, also running for the Democratic nomination to unseat Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

O'Malley said Howard would play a pivotal role in the governor's race. There are 80,520 registered Democratic voters in the county, but Republicans and unaffiliated voters together account for 92,163 registered voters, according to the Board of Elections.

Some of O'Malley's supporters said they were first impressed with him when he was state coordinator for former Nebraska senator Bob Kerrey's failed presidential bid in 1992. Others said his record of improving Baltimore's struggling schools and economy qualifies him to take on the job of governor.

But there also were prominent local Democrats missing at the event, such as County Executive James N. Robey and all the District 12 lawmakers, including state Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer. None has taken sides publicly.

District 12 Del. Elizabeth Bobo said: "I'm just sitting back and watching for a little while. I haven't made up my mind yet. If I had to vote tomorrow, I don't know who I'd vote for."

Protecting Property Rights

The Howard County Council is poised to approve a measure next week to limit the county's use of eminent domain to foster private economic development, less than five months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled such practices are constitutional.

Local governments across the country have similarly responded to the decision in Kelo v. City of New London that local governments can seize private land and transfer it to different private owners to promote economic development.

County Council Chairman Guy Guzzone (D-Southeast County) said county law already prohibits the use of eminent domain to benefit private developers. But in light of the court's ruling, he said, the council wants to "reaffirm" that position.

The measure, supported by all five council members, says the county should use eminent domain "only for public purposes and not for private economic development." It calls on the General Assembly to limit the state's ability to exercise eminent domain.

"We wanted to make it clear to the general public that we do not believe it's appropriate to condemn land for the benefit of individual developers," Guzzone said.

The resolution is scheduled for a vote during the council's meeting at 7:30 p.m Monday in the George Howard Building at 3430 Courthouse Dr. in Ellicott City.

Kaufman Up for School Board

Howard County school board member Joshua M. Kaufman became the first candidate to enter the race for Board of Education -- but he certainly won't be the last.

Kaufman was appointed to the board by County Executive James N. Robey (D) in 2003 after Virginia W. Charles resigned.

"Continuity and experience are going to be very important, and I offer both of those things," he said.

Three of the five board seats will be up for grabs in November 2006. In addition, two new seats will be added, for a total of seven members. In 2004, nine candidates vied for two open spots on the board. Board members are elected at large and run nonpartisan.

Kaufman said he will begin campaigning in earnest and raising money early next year. He lives in Elkridge with his wife and two small sons, one of whom attends first grade at Rockburn Elementary School.

Terms for Chairman Courtney Watson and Vice Chairman Patricia S. Gordon also will be up next year. Gordon said this week that she does not plan to run again. Watson says she "hasn't ruled out anything." All five County Council seats will be on the ballot next year as well as the job of county executive.