By Zach Sparks
Steuart Pittman won the county executive race with a D next to his name, but he doesn’t consider party affiliation to be the reason he overtook Steve Schuh to become Anne Arundel County’s chief decision-maker after November’s general election.
“You can be a Republican and be popular, as Larry Hogan showed, or you can be a Democrat and be popular among the same voters,” Pittman said. “People are, fortunately, looking at the issues.”
Pittman, a Davidsonville farmer and father of three, won the county executive’s race with 52.3 percent of the vote to Schuh’s 47.6 percent. Although Schuh had over 3,000 votes more than Pittman on Election Day, Pittman had an 11,000-vote lead from early voting.
During his grassroots campaign, Pittman heard from county residents who lobbied for better pay for teachers, police and firefighters. He heard from advocates of smaller class sizes. But the most common feedback he heard was an outcry to stop overdevelopment.
“They see it in traffic and overcrowded classes in the schools,” Pittman said of his new constituents. “The fact that I am a farmer and a small-business person gives me credibility on those issues that I’m clearly not coming in here to pave the county over.”
Whereas Schuh fought overdevelopment with legislation to draw a rural conservation line, Pittman plans to hire an environmental policy director to oversee smart growth.
“We’re going to strengthen the Forest Conservation Act in the county so that it drives development into the areas that do not have trees and make it tougher to develop in sensitive areas that do,” he said.
Pittman has also asked state legislators to draft a bill to limit campaign contributions from developers and make sure the rules are applied fairly to everyone.
“Some of these projects have 20 modifications because they don’t fit, so all of a sudden, you’re at the mercy of the planning director who is hired by the county executive,” Pittman said. “He controls your fate and that’s wrong.”
Other priorities will be funded in the budget, which is proposed by the county executive’s administration each May and amended by the seven-member county council by June. Pittman plans to meet with each department supervisor to determine not only what they need to survive but what they need to accomplish the requests of voters.
“What would it cost for one step increase? What would it cost for 10 teachers?” Pittman said. “The taxpayers can look at the options, almost like walking into a store.”
That information will be presented online and shared again during two budget hearings, which are mandated by the county charter.
“The last administration did two meetings where you met with department heads, but there were no numbers to talk about and no public hearing,” Pittman said. “We’re going to confront those issues of how to spend our resources and whether or not people want to pay more resources.”
As for other priorities, Pittman wants to form a gun violence prevention commission, he wants to end the county’s participation in the 287(g) program and leave immigration enforcement to federal authorities, and he wants to see more workforce housing in the county.
“We’re going to end up like California where people come here for jobs but live in a tent or in their car or on the street while working if we don’t address that concern,” he said.
Janet Owens, who served as county executive from 1998 to 2006, co-chaired Pittman’s transition team. Although Pittman has never held political office, Owens sees many similarities between herself and the Davidsonville farmer.
During Pittman’s inauguration ceremony at Maryland Hall in Annapolis on December 3, Owens said, “He listens. He advocates for education, public safety and the environment. But most importantly, he wants all of our communities to prosper. And he wants everyone to have a voice in sharing the decisions that guide that prosperity.”
With less than a month between Election Day and their respective inauguration ceremonies, Pittman and the six new members of the county council had little time to plan. But the new county executive foresees a smooth transition with the council, which just shifted from a 4-3 Republican majority to a 4-3 Democratic majority.
“There are seven of us kids in my family, two boys and five girls, same as the county council,” Pittman said. “Four from my dad’s first marriage, three from his second marriage, so two different moms. Four to three, just like the county, and we all get along great.”
Regardless of the D or R next to someone’s name, Pittman is looking for partners, on the county council and in the community, to make government more transparent and more accountable to the people.
“The Republicans all said there is overdevelopment in the county and something needs to be done about it,” Pittman said. “They all said we need more civic engagement, community input into the General Development Plan, and they all said Small Area Planning was a great thing. And they all said we needed more teachers, firefighters and police. What we campaigned on wasn’t that different, so I think you’re going to see a lot less division.”