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Schuh Sticks to His Message

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Inaugurations are oftentimes occasions for newly-elected leaders to break new ground or try new themes. But Steve Schuh, at his Dec. 1 inauguration as Anne Arundel County executive and in his first month in office, has stuck to the tried and true.

If you heard it once from Schuh on the campaign trail, you heard it a 100 times: He wants to make the county “the best place to live, work and start a business.” He repeated it again at his inaugural, the campaign slogan turning into a governing slogan.

And at his inaugural, he repeated his five-part plan that included a small property tax cut, building smaller high schools, beefing up funding for public safety, making local government more efficient and cleaning up streams and waterways. He repeated it again at his first cabinet meeting in December.

In fulfilling his campaign promises, Schuh has at least one clear advantage on other Maryland county executives: Anne Arundel County revenues are $29 million ahead of projections, and Schuh may have a bigger surplus than expected.

The new executives in Howard and Frederick counties must fix deficits from revenue shortfalls in the current year before they put together a new budget. There are also current year deficits looming in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.

Republican Schuh can proceed with his plans in a county where spending has typically been more restrained than its neighbors.

Bipartisan Inaugural

Schuh’s inaugural at the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts was as disciplined as the county executive, thus done in an hour — even though there were five other speakers besides the new executive.

Promises of bipartisan cooperation came from Democratic U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin and the Democratic Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, Mike Busch, who represents the Annapolis area and also happens to work for Schuh in county government as recreation administrator.

“We’ve always had a good, open relationship,” Busch told the crowd of several hundred. “He’s going to be an outstanding county executive.”

Schuh also has another powerful constituent and ally in Republican Gov.-Elect Larry Hogan, who lives in Edgewater.

Hogan told Busch, sitting near him on the stage, “I’m looking forward to working with you, Mr. Speaker,” but Hogan also promised, “Steve and I will be working together as partners.”

Hogan’s facing a much tougher budget situation, with more than $400 million to cut in this year’s budget, with another $750 million to be reduced from next year’s spending plan. Any state cuts in aid next year are more likely to impact the school system’s budget than the budget Schuh controls.

According to Capital-Gazette editor/columnist Rick Hutzell, former County Executive John Leopold, who resigned after being convicted of abusing his powers, has been sending a steady stream of typewritten letters to the paper about county policy. A recent letter noted that 18 people who worked for Leopold are also working for Schuh, though many of them in different capacities.

This was a key talking point against Schuh by County Executive Laura Neuman, his primary opponent, who was appointed to fill out Leopold’s term. Schuh never denied the charge, but he has also put his own stamp on the county with the appointment of new chiefs for the police and fire departments.

Walker Chairs Council, Smith Is Vice Chair

Typically in Maryland, when a party controls a legislative body, all the key positions of power go to the majority party. So when Democrats took back control of the Anne Arundel County delegation to the House of Delegates by an 8–7 margin through a new single-member district won by Democratic Delegate-Elect Ned Carey, it was almost automatic that Democrats would chair the delegation again.

Del. Pam Beidle was elected chair and Ted Sophocleus was elected vice-chair. Both Democrats are from District 30 in the Linthicum area, and both had served on the county council.

But on the new county council, still controlled by four Republicans and three Democrats, Democrat Peter Smith was elected vice-chair.

Councilman Jerry Walker, who was elected again as chairman, explained it this way: He had submitted resolutions with his own name as chairman and Republican Derek Fink as vice chair, but Fink had wanted to the chairman and asked to have the resolution withdrawn. That left only a resolution nominating Smith as vice-chair, and he got elected to the post.

The vice-chair only acts in the absence of the chair, so the post doesn’t hold much clout. But it is another example of the fragile balance of power between the two parties in Anne Arundel, even while Republicans dominate.