Kittleman plans to run in '06 for county executive

GOP councilman tells supporters at fund-raiser

Makes no formal announcement

Early move prompts criticism by Democrats

Howard County

October 22, 2003|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

The next statewide election is three years off, but three prominent Howard County Republicans are already jockeying for the county executive's job - hoping to avoid the kind of nasty GOP primary battle that helped Democrat James N. Robey to victory in 1998.

Defying the political trend of raising money without saying what it is for - and in the midst of Howard's once-a-decade comprehensive rezoning process - western county Councilman Allan H. Kittleman told 200 supporters at a fund-raiser last weekend that he is planning to run for county executive, though he asked them to keep it quiet for now.

"I didn't make any formal announcement. What I said basically was that I'm preparing to put together an organization to seek that office," said Kittleman, 45.

The West Friendship resident, long involved in county politics, recently resigned his job as a workers' compensation lawyer to spend more time with his four young children. Robey, a two-term executive, cannot run for a third term.

County Democrats were critical of Kittleman's early move, contending that they are concentrating on the jobs they were elected to 11 months ago.

"I don't think this is the time to be doing politics," said Robey, who will retire in 2006. "We want to deal with the issue of comprehensive rezoning."

But Kittleman is well along, aided by the endorsement of Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, who was a featured guest at the $75-a-ticket event, held at a private home in Glenwood.

"The lieutenant governor does support Councilman Kittleman and looks forward to working with him in the future in his campaign for county executive," said Regan Hopper, Steele's spokeswoman.

Christopher J. Merdon, Kittleman's only Republican colleague on the council, stood nearby during the announcement, although he, too, said he is aiming at a run for county executive. Steven H. Adler, general partner of Savage Mills and the GOP nominee last year, also said he is considering another run at the office.

Merdon has scheduled a fund-raiser at his house in early December. "The only position I am considering [for 2006] is county executive," he said.

Further complicating the situation for Republicans is the reluctance of state Sen. Robert H. Kittleman, 77, the councilman's father, to retire when this term runs out - closing off another potential office considered "safe" for Republicans.

The senior Kittleman said he is so happy to be among friends in the State House after 20 years of frustration under Democratic governors, he is reluctant to leave.

"I had to swallow hard and be humiliated" under former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, he said. "Now, I walk into the Board of Public Works, and all my friends are all around the table. It's so nice."

Allan Kittleman's announcement is seen as a tactical move to pre-empt other contenders and avoid a last-minute battle, when competitive juices flow stronger. But some observers fear the reverse might happen.

"This is going to be very difficult. It's going to be Feaga vs. Schrader II, except worse, because there's three years to lead up to this. It could be very hard on the party," said former Del. Donald F. Murphy, a Republican who attended the Kittleman event and heads Baltimore County's GOP.

Former County Councilmen Charles Feaga and Dennis R. Schrader, now Maryland's homeland security director, fought a bitter primary battle in 1998. Schrader won the GOP nomination, but lost to Robey, who won over some Feaga supporters.

Merdon agreed with Murphy, saying he hopes a compromise can be worked out to avoid a primary fight, though he believes it is too early to start a political campaign.

Allan Kittleman said that he is doing his job and that his move won't hurt cooperation between Merdon and him on the council.

"Yeah, three years is a long time. I would have preferred not to come forward now," he said, adding that he is constantly asked about his intentions. "I do think it's important that people know what I'm thinking. So many people have been asking me."

Adler, who stepped forward from a long business career when no other prominent Republican would run against a seemingly invulnerable Robey last year, said he is not afraid of competition if he decides to run again.

"I think it would be a spirited primary, and let the chips fall where they may," Adler said, noting he won't make a firm decision for at least a year.

Kittleman said that although he is more vocal about it, he is doing nothing more than the Democrats are in promoting one of their own for county executive.

Council Chairman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, mentioned as a possible candidate, said the election for county executive is too far off to discuss running.

"I intend to stay focused on the job I was elected to do less than a year ago," Guzzone said, acknowledging that he has thought about 2006 and the county executive's job is definitely on the list.

"I don't want some distant, future campaign to interfere with the important work I've got to do right now. Others have to make their own decisions."

The County Council, which also sits as the county Zoning Board, is heavily involved in a series of hearings and work sessions that are building to a January vote on scores of land rezoning requests.

And county Republicans are in a quandary.

"Republicans in Howard County are scared to death of a primary. They're just paranoid about it," Senator Kittleman said.

"My biggest hope is that they [Allan Kittleman and Merdon] work out something between them," said John W. Taylor, a slow-growth advocate. "I would hate to see one out of office after 2006."

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