Steuart Pittman, Jr., believes “our current county executive is a little bit too focused on growing our county population at an accelerated rate” and not paying enough attention to what he describes as Anne Arundel County’s $1 billion in infrastructure needs.
That’s why Pittman, a Democrat who runs his family’s generations-old Dodon Farm, in Davidsonville, has decided to challenge Republican Steve Schuh’s re-election.
Schuh has amassed more than $1 million for the campaign and will likely spend $1.5 million to get reelected, Pittman said. “I think that’s why more people are not getting into this race.”
Pittman says he’s running because, “It needs to get done.” A news story on the Maryland Matters website reported he was running several weeks before he planned to announce, so he is scrambling to assemble a campaign team and fundraising apparatus. He filed his campaign committee in August, with former delegate Virginia Clagett as his treasurer.
“I believe it’s very winnable,” Pittman said, and thinks it can be done with $500,000. “It’s really a viable campaign,” adding, “I’ve been overwhelmed with the support” his announcement has generated so far.
Parallel With Owens
Pittman sees a strong parallel with the race 20 years ago when Democrat Janet Owens, who grew up in a South County farm family, took on incumbent Republican John Gary, who Pittman said was too cozy with developers and had upset a number of people. “So has Steve Schuh,” Pittman said.
The Schuh administration is “insulated and not really in touch,” Pittman believes. “I think I can run [the county] better and shift the focus” from growth to taking care of the needs of existing communities.
Pittman, 56, is not just an old farm boy. He attended the University of Chicago and spent nine years as a community organizer, where he worked in one of the same projects in Chicago as a community organizer named Barack Obama. The two have never met, but “he knows of me,” Pittman said, since he was mentioned in a book about Obama.
Pittman also worked in Des Moines, Iowa, and was an organizer for ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now that worked on issues for low- and moderate-income families like neighborhood safety, health care, affordable housing and other social issues.
“You don’t think of ACORN organizers as farmers,” Pittman said.
Steve Schuh “has learned to say ‘Keep South County rural,’” but “I question the real commitment,” Pittman said.
In a brief interview, Schuh said, “I don’t think the facts are square with that perspective,” saying he has supported “a prudent and balanced approach to development” and strongly favors keeping half the county rural, as it is now.
Schuh was a bit puzzled by Pittman’s complaints, noting that he and Pittman “had worked on things together” to preserve South County’s rural character.
Pittman is concerned that the next executive will be formulating the new General Development Plan for the county. Schuh “wants to increase the density of a lot of these communities, and they don’t want it.”
What many communities want is some relief from traffic and improvements to roads and other infrastructure. “The money is there without raising taxes,” Pittman said.
Late last month, Pittman hired Scott Travers as his campaign manager. Travers managed the successful campaign of Gavin Buckley for mayor of Annapolis.
Jubilation Over Buckley
Progressive Democratic forces were jubilant the night of Nov. 7, when restaurateur Gavin Buckley didn’t just beat Republican Annapolis Mayor Mike Pantelides; he thumped him, getting 61% of the vote. Buckley, an Australian native with a thick Aussie accent, is an unusual combination of innovative entrepreneur and progressive politician who is credited with helping revive West Street with four restaurants there, along with community festivals.
“He was the right candidate with the right message at the right time,” said Sarah Elfreth, who managed the coordinated campaign for the Democrats. “We almost had a sweep,” gaining all but one of the eight alderman seats on the Annapolis City Council on which the mayor also serves.
“The biggest thing was we knocked on 14,000 doors” with 45 to 50 volunteers every weekend, Elfreth said. They were also able to boost Democratic turnout from four years ago when Republican Mike Pantelides “really squeaked by,” defeating incumbent Democrat Josh Cohen by 59 votes. Elfreth said more than 700 regular Democratic voters didn’t show up for that election.
But she said the most important factor was the exuberant Buckley himself, a “non-traditional candidate. … He was a name brand, and he wasn’t afraid to run as a progressive.” Elfreth is herself a candidate, running for state Senate in Annapolis-based District 30, where Democrat John Astle has held the seat for 23 years. Astle ran for Annapolis mayor, but Buckley easily beat him in the Democratic primary, an early sign of the progressive strength over one of the last moderate to conservative Democrats in the Senate.
Astle has not officially announced his plans, but the mayor’s race was seen as a last hurrah for the retired Marine helicopter pilot. Elfreth was president of the District 30 Democratic club and had worked in campaigns to elect Astle; she said “he was the first person to suggest that I run” last year.
The district includes Annapolis, Edgewater, Broadneck and its environs, and Elfreth has spent her time campaigning in areas outside of the city, personally knocking on 2,000 doors of Democratic and independent voters in what she describes as “a listening tour. This is still the early stages of the campaign.”
A lot of voters are concerned about having the best quality schools and protecting the Chesapeake Bay, but they also ask her, “What can you do to stop Trump?
“I say there is a lot we can do to mitigate Trump” on the state level, Elfreth said. Former Republican Delegate Ron George, who owns a Main Street jewelry business in Annapolis, has been running for the seat for over a year.
Casino Tax Break
The Live! Casino tax break we wrote about last month — as much as $36 million over 12 years to help build an expanded auditorium that county schools could use for free — passed the Anne Arundel County Council last month on a 5-2 vote. Sponsored by the Schuh administration and Democratic Councilmember Pete Smith, it had bipartisan support and opposition, with opposing votes from Democrat Chris Trumbauer and Republican Jerry Walker.
Haire for Council
Jessica Haire, wife of Maryland Republican Party Chair Dirk Haire, late last month announced her run for County Council District 7, the large South County area currently represented by Walker. She was endorsed by Schuh, who said “we’d like to have a woman’s perspective on our County Council.”
With the updating of the General Development Plan, followed by comprehensive rezoning, “we need somebody special on the council,” Schuh said, citing Jessica Haire’s background as a lawyer with a civil engineering degree.
“We have a delicate balance on our county council,” said Schuh, who hopes to maintain the Republican majority there. “A person can do immense harm or immense damage.”
“I truly believe in limited government,” said Haire. She said she had three main goals: reducing property taxes by 3%, a goal Schuh shares; more accountability for education funding by the newly-elected school board; and better police protection in District 7, with quicker response times in the county’s largest and most rural land area.
“We’re going to raise more money, and we’re going to send a better message,” Haire said.
Republican Jonathan Boniface and Democrat James Kitchin have already filed for the Council District 7 seat.