Kittleman remembered by colleagues, friends as builder of Republican Party

September 13, 2004|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

Republican state Sen. Robert H. Kittleman, who died of leukemia Saturday at age 78, was remembered by friends and colleagues yesterday as a modest, principled man who quietly helped build his party in Maryland.

"He was totally committed to building the Republican Party in the state," said former GOP gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey, who served with Kittleman in the House of Delegates. "I think what drove him was a set of beliefs. Bob was a guy who got into politics because he believed in limited government and less taxes, and he thought Maryland desperately needed two-party government."

Crisscrossing the state to recruit and train potential candidates, Kittleman, a West Friendship resident, touched the careers of many future Republican leaders.

"He was a Republican when being a Republican wasn't cool," said Carol A. Arscott, a longtime Kittleman aide who is now assistant secretary of transportation. "He stood up to a fair amount of ridicule because of it, but he really planted the seeds of our success."

Arscott remembered driving with Kittleman to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s campaign headquarters the night Ehrlich became the first Republican in 36 years to win the state's top job. "Just the sheer, utter joy we felt," she said. "He had worked so tirelessly for that goal."

Because this is not a local election year, Howard County's Republican State Central Committee will nominate Kittleman's replacement. If he follows past practice, Ehrlich will then appoint that nominee to the legislature to finish Kittleman's term, which lasts through 2006.

Born in Omaha, Neb., and raised in Iowa, Kittleman moved to Howard County in 1956. He worked as an engineer at Westinghouse Electric Corp. for 26 years and also farmed beef cattle at home. In 1982, he became the first Republican delegate elected from Howard County in more than 60 years.

He served as minority whip from 1987 to 1994 and as House minority leader from 1995 to 2001. He moved to the state Senate in 2002, winning unopposed in his last election. His district includes parts of Howard and Carroll counties.

Civil rights activist

Kittleman also was a civil rights activist, becoming the first white person to join Howard's branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and participating in sit-ins to integrate restaurants and schools in the late 1950s.

"That was always something he would try to bring us back to, what we could do to appeal to African-Americans and bring them back to the Republican Party," said Robert L. Flanagan, state secretary of transportation and Kittleman's former colleague in the Howard delegation.

Democratic Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore praised Kittleman's "sincere desire to tear down the walls of racism and segregation." Cummings served with Kittleman in the House of Delegates.

`Forward thinker'

Female colleagues said Kittleman believed strongly in equal treatment for women. "He was a conservative but a very forward thinker," said state Sen. Sandra B. Schrader, a fellow Howard Republican who sat next to Kittleman on the Senate floor.

Honesty and integrity were the first traits many mentioned when asked about Kittleman yesterday.

"I remember talking to him about one legislator, and he said, `That person doesn't keep his word,'" said GOP political consultant Carol L. Hirschburg. "And I could tell that was the greatest sin someone could commit in his mind."

Kittleman insisted on paying his own way at parties and dinners with Annapolis lobbyists, others recalled.

"He never did it in a way to embarrass other legislators or the lobbyists, but it was important to him that he did that," Flanagan said.

Many colleagues remarked on Kittleman's stamina, which allowed him - in his 70s - to race younger colleagues up the stairs and work his farm of 100 cattle in the dark before driving to Annapolis for the day's legislative meetings.

"He would get up at 4:30 a.m., do his farm chores and then drive here, and he never stayed overnight," said Schrader. "He was just amazing."

That energy allowed Kittleman to blanket the state in his search for GOP candidates, a process he called "Fill the Boat." The phrase grew out of a cartoon in local papers that showed Kittleman, then minority whip, presiding over a boat crewed by only one oarsman.

"He recognized that the party's real problem was that it didn't have a strong bench," Sauerbrey said. "He knew that if we wanted to run successfully for higher office, we had to get people elected to the state legislature and the county councils."

In his talks to prospective candidates, Kittleman emphasized basic tactics such as standing on corners waving signs.

"We used to say we were lucky because all we had to do was outwork our opponents," Flanagan said.

Last night, Kittleman received posthumously the John W. Holland Humanitarian Award from the Community Action Council of Howard County. He had been scheduled to accept the award personally, but friends and colleagues said they would instead use the occasion to commemorate his career.

Kittleman is survived by his wife, Trent M. Kittleman, deputy secretary of transportation; a daughter, Laura Yeatts of Poolesville; two sons, Howard County Councilman Allan H. Kittleman and Cody Kittleman, both of West Friendship; and 10 grandchildren.

Service details were pending yesterday.

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