By Len Lazarick

Democrat Calvin Ball, an 11-year-veteran of the Howard County Council, on Thursday night announced his long-expected bid for county executive, hoping to defeat incumbent Republican Allan Kittleman who is seeking a second term.

Joined by most of the elected Democrats in the county and a crowd of more than 200 in Columbia’s Kahler Hall, Ball promised an election that focused on “unity, hope, civility and our very best selves.”

“I’ve been surprised and dismayed by the silence of some of our leaders here in Howard County as President Trump and his administration have sought to demean and divide us,” Ball said, taking a veiled swipe at Kittleman, who did not support Trump’s election but has not been a vocal critic of the Republican president.

Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman and Council Chair Calvin Ball in a 2016 Facebook photo.

But Ball also said, “Like most citizens of Howard County, I believe our current county executive is a good and decent man.”

“There will not be a barrage of personal attacks in this campaign. We’ve all had enough of that negativity,” said Ball.

Ball has reached his limit of three terms on the council. He has tangled with Kittleman on numerous issues such as Ball’s attempt to promote Howard County as a sanctuary for immigrants and to deny tax breaks for Columbia’s downtown redevelopment.

Howard County can be better

“Things are good here in Howard County but I believe they can be even better,” Ball said. He said the county needed to “reach higher,” like the outstretched arms of the figures in Columbia’s People Tree sculpture.

He noted that Howard County “ranks as one of the wealthiest jurisdictions in the nation with one of the finest school systems and some of the highest property values,” but needed to spend more on schools and curb overdevelopment.

Kittleman, a former County Council member and state senator, won a close election for executive in 2014, defeating County Council member Courtney Watson by 2,664 votes, 51% to 49%. But Kittleman has generally been seen as successful executive, particularly his handling of the flooding on Main Street in historic Ellicott City.

Former Howard County Democratic Party Chairman Michael McPherson noted that defeating an incumbent county executive is hard work, since the incumbent can do a lot of things a challenger can’t.

Wednesday, Kittleman was endorsed by the Howard County Fire Fighters Association, the first time the union has endorsed a Republican for county executive.

Green shirted leaders of AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, were a visible presence at Ball’s announcement.

Kittleman has the fundraising advantage that most executives have with the business community. Last month, Kittleman sold a record 800 tickets to his annual picnic on his West Friendship family farm compound, with Gov. Larry Hogan as the main attraction and many major sponsors.

Fundraising totals for state and local campaigns will not be available till mid-January. Last January, Kittleman had $725,000 in his campaign account, and Ball had $89,000.