GOP talk begins on Kittleman successor

Merdon, Bates mentioned as possible replacements for late state senator Howard County

September 16, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

A memorial service for state Sen. Robert H. Kittleman isn't scheduled until Tuesday, but the Howard County Republican Party is advertising for candidates to replace him and plans a final vote Sept. 29, said Howard Rensin, the county party chairman.

Most Republicans are publicly declining to speculate about a replacement for Kittleman, a popular 78-year-old farmer who died Saturday of leukemia, as maneuvering for the job goes on behind the scenes.

"We're grieved by the loss. Our top priority is on grieving," said Anthony C. Wisniewski, a Republican state central committee member.

"It tends to be a done deal before anything public is seen," said Donald F. Norris, a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "It's a public process that's not public. Kittleman was so highly regarded, there's really an effort to give the appearance of not moving forward too rapidly. On the other hand, they've got to do something."

The local party central committee has until Oct. 11, 30 days after his death, to make a recommendation to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. Because one-third of Kittleman's 9th Legislative District is in Carroll County, that county's central committee must schedule a vote, too.

Howard County Councilman Christopher J. Merdon of Ellicott City and western county Del. Gail H. Bates appear to be likely contenders to replace Kittleman, but the situation is more complicated than usual.

In the past, a spouse was often named to fill out an official's term after a death, but in this case, Kittleman's widow, Trent Kittleman, who is deputy state secretary of transportation, or his son, Howard County Councilman Allan H. Kittleman, might seek the office.

"I haven't made any formal decision," said Allan Kittleman, who has told supporters that he plans to run for Howard County executive in 2006.

"I love being in Ellicott City, and my dad and I had a wonderful relationship," he said.

Trent Kittleman, whose mother died three days before her husband of 18 years, said she is not able to focus on politics yet. She had expressed interest in the House of Delegates seat Robert Kittleman vacated to become a senator, but she took the job with the Ehrlich administration after Howard Del. Robert L. Flanagan resigned last year to become secretary of transportation.

Strategic thinking

Several political observers said that moving Merdon to the state Senate might help the party by avoiding a potentially divisive county executive primary contest between Allan Kittleman and Merdon, who has also talked about a possible run in 2006.

It would also put a new Republican council member in office two years before a potential Democratic challenge.

Merdon declined to comment on such speculation, saying, "I want to respect the family's grieving."

Bates was appointed to her seat in 2002, filling the vacancy created when Robert Kittleman moved to the Senate to replace Christopher J. McCabe, now state secretary of human services.

Bates was reluctant to talk politics before Tuesday's 7 p.m. memorial service at Glenelg High School. But she did say that Kittleman "was a very good friend and neighbor ... for years. It was a privilege to follow his footsteps into the House."

Dealing with vacancies

Howard County's Republicans have been in flux for several years as all four GOP legislative seats became vacant because of resignations.

The first to leave was Sen. Martin G. Madden, who resigned in January 2002 for personal reasons and was replaced by Sandra B. Schrader.

McCabe left for a job in the Bush administration but returned for a state job after Ehrlich took office. Flanagan resigned his delegate seat to head the state transportation agency. Robert Kittleman took McCabe's Senate seat, and Bates took Kittleman's old seat. Del. Warren E. Miller was appointed to Flanagan's seat.

Schrader, Robert Kittleman and Bates all won full four -year terms in the 2002 election.

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