Meet the Ulmans

The family of the county executive juggles politics, life at home and two careers

Ken And Jaki Ulman

April 08, 2007|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,[special to the sun]

Jacqueline Ulman was busy enough juggling career and family when her husband, Ken, who was on the Howard County Council, decided to run for county executive.

Before he could formally announce, though, he had to make sure it was OK with his wife. And at first, she wasn't sure.

"When he approached me, I was nine months pregnant," recalled Ulman, an energetic woman, who, like her husband, is 33 years old. "We talked, and he said, obviously he wouldn't do anything without me agreeing."

It was a big decision, and Ulman wanted to make sure it was the right one, especially for their children. Then something happened that, as Ulman said, "clicked it for me."

The couple's daughter, Madeline, who was 4 at the time, announced one night as she was being tucked into bed that she wanted to hold a fundraiser, collecting books for needy children.

That helped Ulman see that her husband's career as a politician, while presenting challenges, was also exposing their daughter to the idea of public service. "I had already said yes, but that really sealed the deal for me," she said.

Ulman, known as Jaki to friends and family, also said yes to Madeline, who held a book drive in February 2006, collecting about 200 books that were donated to Head Start. "We're going to do it every year," Ulman said. "And I would love to expand it."

Now that Ken Ulman won the race, becoming Howard County's youngest executive, and now that Jaki Ulman is also the mother of the outspoken, wavy-haired Lily, she can take a moment to reflect on the craziness of being in the middle of an election campaign while caring for a preschooler and a baby.

"Looking back, it was not an easy year," she said, standing in her kitchen and giving Lily a snack. "It was difficult, but we made it work."

As in many families, the refrigerator of the Ulman house is covered with photographs and children's artwork. But not many families have framed photos and articles from local newspapers interspersed with the family photos.

Ulman noted that, in some ways, her husband's schedule is easier now that he's county executive. "Now, he has one job," she said. "When he was running, he had three full-time jobs."

He is a lawyer, he was on the County Council and he was "campaigning full-time."

The campaign may be over, but the Ulman family still keeps a busy schedule.

These days, Jaki Ulman, who earned a master's degree in public administration and finance from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University in New York, works three days a week for IBM, where she is developing training programs for mortgage lenders with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"Most people don't realize what a sophisticated, intelligent person she is," said Ken Ulman. "She's got such an impressive job. Jaki does an unbelievable job balancing the competing pressures of being a wonderful wife and mother and working at IBM."

On the days she works, Jaki Ulman's mother-in-law, Diana Ulman, watches Lily, while Madeline goes to school. "We could never do any of this without her," Jaki Ulman said of Diana. "We have a wonderful relationship."

The feeling appears to be mutual. "We just couldn't be luckier to have such a good relationship and such closeness," said Diana Ulman, who lives in Ellicott City.

Jaki Harf grew up in Randallstown and Owings Mills and got to know Ken Ulman, a Howard County native, while both were working in the student government at the University of Maryland, College Park. Their junior year, she was the treasurer, and he was a legislator. "I've always been interested in the way government works," she said.

She had the opportunity to run for class president her senior year, but declined. "I like being involved, but I don't like being the one out front," she said.

After graduating, she attended the Maxwell School and then took a job with Price-Waterhouse, working on the Federal Emergency Management Agency account, a job that entailed a fair amount of travel. She spent several months in Miami after Hurricane Andrew, for example, "closing out" the consulting company's contract with FEMA.

Meanwhile, Ken Ulman took a job as a White House intern, then went to Georgetown University to study law. The two dated, often long-distance, while she traveled.

They were married in 2000, and moved to Howard County, where he had grown up and graduated from Centennial High School.

"We had talked, and there was no compromise," Jaki Ulman said. "We would live in Howard County. He wanted to raise his family here."

Ken Ulman ran for County Council in 2002 and was elected to a four-year term. "To be honest, I thought he was going to run for re-election," Jaki Ulman said.

So did he. But when fellow council member Guy Guzzone decided to run for state delegate instead of county executive, the time seemed right.

"It sort of came out of left field for all of us, Jaki included," Ken Ulman said. "Certainly I'm cognizant that my decision to run for office has meant my family has had to sacrifice to a certain extent."

Jaki Ulman noted that Madeline was 1 year old when her father ran for County Council, so she has grown up in the world of local politics. Both parents noted that their children have been exposed to many interesting people and activities.

"Maddie's really had some wonderful experiences," Ken said.

Jaki Ulman talks to her husband often about an issue that she understands all too well -- the struggle to balance work and family life, particularly for women. "This is my issue," she said.

She said her husband is working to make sure there are enough before-care and after-care slots available for Howard County public school students who need them. Ken Ulman said he is also working to create more telecommuting and job-sharing within county government.

"As our work force continues to evolve, it becomes that much more important to us to attract and retain great employees," he said.

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