This analysis runs in the July edition of The Business Monthly serving Howard and Anne Arundel counties.
By Len Lazarick
It’s no secret that Sen. Allan Kittleman will need lots of Democrats to vote for a Republican for Howard County executive for him to accomplish what the GOP did 23 years ago — take over the county government.
“If Allan Kittleman can’t have a chance in Howard County, no one has a chance,” said attorney Michael Davis, who was campaign chairman for Republican Chuck Ecker when Ecker defeated Democrat Liz Bobo during her re-election bid for executive in 1990. Four years later, Republicans controlled the County Council, the courthouse offices and a majority of legislative seats.
Davis was involved in a poll taken last year that he said showed Kittleman “has good name recognition; he’s got high trust factors and likability factors.” But he’s still got “a tough fight.”
At Kittleman’s June announcement, he conceded as much.
“OK, folks, I know what you’re thinking,” he said. “How does a Republican get elected countywide? Obviously, I am confident that I can, but I understand that some of you may feel like you need to give yourself permission to support and vote for a Republican.”
Talking to Democrats, independents
Kittleman was talking to the Democrats and independents in the crowd at Clyde’s Lakefront pavilion in Columbia that was predominantly Republican. An unusual exception was Sen. Bobby Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat, who described Kittleman as “a friend” and “a great colleague.”
“It’s the content of your character, it’s not a ‘D’ or ‘R’ behind your name” that makes a difference, said Zirkin, a member of the Judicial Proceedings Committee. He said he had worked with Kittleman on three bills in the past year, including one called Grace’s Law, to make cyberbullying a crime.
Zirkin said he also asked Kittleman whether he could bring up same-sex marriage. Kittleman was the only one of the dozen Republicans in the state Senate that supported the measure, support that led him in 2011 to resign as Senate minority leader.
Kittleman himself raised the issue that does not sit well with social conservatives: “I stood up for gay and lesbian members of our community, not because I was looking for a vote, but because I was taught that all people deserve to be respected and honored. That is truly the civil rights issue of our generation and I wasn’t going to let politics get in the way of freedom and equality.”
Kittleman even evoked the earlier civil rights fight for desegregation in which his late father Bob, whom he succeeded in the Senate, participated.
A different breed of Republican
Kittleman was of course endorsed by several fellow Republicans, but he said another Senate Democrat, Lisa Gladden, vice-chair of Judicial Proceedings, was scheduled to speak for him. (She was tied up in court, where she works as a public defender).
Sure enough, Gladden, with a more liberal voting record than Zirkin’s, is a Kittleman fan.
“Allan is whole different breed of Republican,” Gladden said in an interview. “I think this is a guy who sees a vision of a different kind of community.”
“Doing the right thing is bigger than party affiliation,” Gladden said. “He says what he’ll do and he does what he says. He doesn’t mind saying what he believes.”
Gladden recognizes there’s a whole range of issues on which she and Kittleman disagree, but he supported her position on an issue she’s passionate about, abolition of the death penalty. Kittleman was one of two Republicans supporting repeal (Anne Arundel County’s strongly pro-life Sen. Ed Reilly was the other), while Howard County Democratic Sens. Ed Kasemeyer and Jim Robey voted against substituting life without parole for capital punishment.
“We had no Republican support for the repeal of the death penalty,” Gladden said. “I promised him without him asking” for his support as county executive.
Making a bipartisan appeal
In his announcement, Kittleman tried to emphasize those things that would have bipartisan appeal in a county ranked No. 1. “Being No. 1 is not good enough when we still have an achievement gap in public schools; being No. 1 is not good enough when we have families who are struggling to survive due to medical or economic issues; being No. 1 is not good enough when businesses have to wait months to get permits or inspections,” Kittleman said.
“In a Kittleman administration, I guarantee that your voice will be heard and you will be respected regardless of your political party or your station in life,” he said.
Republicans such as former Sen. Marty Madden feel that Kittleman can appeal across party lines with “his independence and integrity.”
Attorney Robin Shaivitz, one of the State House’s top lobbyists as head of the government relations practice for Alexander & Cleaver, said, “I’m proud to be a Democrat and I almost always support Democrats. In this instance, I want to support Allan and I don’t care what party he is.”
“I know Allan, I like working with Allan and I think he would make an excellent county executive,” Shaivitz said.
CORRECTION: Sara Arditti
Arditty, a life-long Democrat who runs the Still Life Gallery in Ellicott City, got involved in local issues when the county installed a new parking system on Main Street.
“I never particularly liked the Republican Party,” Arditti said, but when she and other merchants were fighting the new parking system, she said the only one on the County Council that seemed to be concerned with the businesses was Republican Greg Fox.
“I don’t believe in a one-party state,” she said. “The only way to block one-party control is to elect more Republicans.” She attended Kittleman’s announcement and “I liked what he had to say.”
Democrats on the attack
A few hours after Kittleman’s announcement, Howard County Democratic Party Chair Michael McPherson called it a “farce” and a “slick political ploy.”
“I think it’s an attempt to confuse and fool some unsuspecting voters into thinking that he is a middle-of–the-road Republican and not a flaming Tea Party zealot,” McPherson said.
In a message to local Democrats, McPherson recalled Kittleman’s opposition to gun control measures, and claimed Kittleman wanted to restrict women’s access to health care and opposed strengthening Maryland schools.
McPherson followed up two weeks later with an e-mail calling Kittleman “too extreme” and cited Kittleman’s 100% rating from Maryland Right to Life, and even reached back to a 2003 vote allegedly cutting funds to domestic violence programs when Kittleman was on the County Council.
Comments over the top
The “flaming Tea Party zealot” comment was over the top for Kittleman supporters. “I’ve never seen that,” said Gladden, noting “that’s a party person talking.”
“I was sorry to see that,” said Davis. “I think that kind of negative campaigning will not play to most people in Howard County.”
“I don’t think anybody that knows Allan Kittleman would say that,” said Madden. “If that’s the best they can come up with, Allan will do fine.”
But Democratic dominance of the county electorate and its government under Howard County Executive Ken Ulman will still make it an uphill slog. Davis said getting open support from members of the county business community for whom Kittleman’s message will have appeal might be difficult.
Recalling the 1990 race, “It was very difficult to get the business community to support Ecker prior to the election because of fear of retribution,” Davis said. But he hopes that won’t happen this time.