By Len Lazarick
After they declared “Ken Ulman Day” in Howard County Thursday, the four Democrats on the five-member County Council unofficially declared Monday “Ken Ulman and a Secret Partner Day.” This was a joking reference to the not-so-secret announcement planned on Monday by Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown that Howard County Executive Ulman would join his ticket as candidate for lieutenant governor in the 2014 gubernatorial race.
Howard County Democrats returning home from the annual Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Clarksville Thursday night even found a robo-call from Brown on their answering machines inviting them to the announcement on Columbia’s lakefront Monday morning. There would be coffee and doughnuts along with a “a big campaign announcement” of his running mate, promised Brown, who formally declared his run for governor at a rally three weeks ago.
Howard County Democrats were beginning their long sendoff to the term-limited Ulman who had raised more than $2 million in a potential quest to become governor. The party fundraising event honoring Ulman was planned in March, said party chairman Michael McPherson, long before his plans were fully determined.
Party chair calls him “lieutenant governor”
While Ulman himself still wasn’t disclosing his plans, McPherson referred to him as “lieutenant governor” and suggested he put an award he received on his desk on the second floor of the State House.
“We’ve been hearing a lot about Ken Ulman,” McPherson said. “We look forward to hearing great thing about Ken for years to come.”
Ulman was first elected Howard County executive in 2006 at the age of 32, the youngest executive in Maryland history, after serving a four-year term on the County Council.
The Brown-Ulman ticket drew praise from the union leaders who were among the major financial supporters of the Jefferson Jackson dinner, which raises funds for the party central committee.
“I think it’s a great ticket for the state of Maryland,” said Glen Middleton, executive director of the AFSCME Council 67. Middleton said Ulman had been “real fair” in labor negotiations. “We didn’t get everything we wanted,” Middleton said.
AFSCME has yet to go through its formal endorsement process.
Sen. Jim Robey, Ulman’s immediate predecessor as executive, gave some of the credit to himself and the two previous Democratic county executives. They “set the stage for this man to be the superstar he is,” he said.
Ulman called bright, energetic, competitive
“He’s one of the brightest, most energetic guys I’ve ever met,” Robey added.
Robey did not mention that two other Howard County executives had made short-lived campaigns for governor.
They were Republican Chuck Ecker, Robey’s predecessor who had appointed him police chief, and J. Hugh Nichols, twice elected as a Democrat but who turned Republican in an unsuccessful bid for governor.
Neither Ecker nor Nichols campaigned with the persistence, long-term planning or fundraising success of Ulman, who has raised more cash than Brown. But even after quadrupling its population in the last 40 years, Howard County at 300,000 people is still only the sixth largest county in Maryland, and offers a much smaller political base than Montgomery, Prince George’s or Baltimore County, from which the other major Demoicratic candidates come.
Howard County Council member Courtney Watson, who is expected to run to succeed Ulman as executive, recalled long days campaigning with Ulman and his “competitive spirit.”
Council member Mary Kay Sigaty experienced Ulman’s competitive spirit first hand in 2002 when he beat her in a Democratic primary by 36 votes to represent a West Columbia council district that is probably the most liberal in Howard County.
“Ken Ulman has very clear values that he is able to express,” said Sigaty. Because of Ulman, “we have seen our county become a much kinder and gentler county.”
Ulman’s competitive spirit came out in short video biography in which Ulman, clad in a Baltimore Ravens football jersey challenged Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker to a bet when the Ravens played the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field in Prince George’s County.
The Ravens lost 31-28, Ulman donned a Redskins jersey, sang “Hail to the Redskins,” and picked up trash for Baker. Based on his performance, Ulman will not likely be singing the National Anthem at any football games.