Ulman receives first-year grades

Political Notebook

December 09, 2007|By Larry Carson

David Keelan gives Ken Ulman a "B+" for his first year as Howard County executive, which might seem unremarkable, except that Keelan is a Republican blogger and a sometime critic of Democrats like Ulman.

"He's being very deliberate and very careful," Keelan said, and "he's got a pretty good staff in place." Ulman began his second year in office Wednesday.

Keelan's only complaint, he said, is that Ulman made an 11th-hour campaign promise last year to block the proposed 23-story condominium tower in Columbia but didn't actively support County Council legislation intended to stop it.

With one year in office under his belt, Ulman, 33, is getting good marks from several observers both inside and outside government, though not without some criticism, too.

"He certainly has been active," said Republican Del. Gail H. Bates, who worked in county government as a top aide to former GOP County Executive Charles I. Ecker during the 1990s.

"He's certainly out and about," even in heavily Republican western Howard, Bates said. "I'm flattered he's paying attention."

She and Republican County Councilman Greg Fox worry that county government will expand and spending will increase to pay for Ulman's initiatives, including his proposed medical plan for uninsured residents, which has drawn national attention.

They also see financial problems looming in a slowing economy during the next few years, and Bates said she's also concerned that too many new Ulman appointees come from Baltimore. "The jury's still going to be out for a while" on Ulman, she said.

Fox applauded Ulman's energy but added, "I wish the executive had worked more closely with the council. Sometimes I think he forgets he served on the council for four years."

Angela Beltram, a Democrat and former County Council member who supported Republican county executive candidate Christopher J. Merdon last year, agreed with Bates.

"I guess he's doing OK," Beltram said, adding that she's still waiting to see more about Ulman's land-use policies.

Others were less reserved.

"I think he's been a very activist county executive with really interesting initiatives - especially the health care initiative," said Donald F. Norris, chairman of the department of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "He's made absolutely no mistakes, and I don't think this is the last we've seen of innovation coming out of him."

Grace Kubofcik, a close observer of county government and co-president of the nonpartisan League of Women Voters, offered her personal opinion.

"Generally he's fulfilled a number of campaign directives he said were important to him," she said, including his efforts on public health, the environment and increased funding for nonprofit human services agencies.

Her main disappointment, she said, is the lack of progress on a comprehensive approach to providing more affordable housing.

Some issues have proved tricky, such as the struggle over how central Columbia should be redeveloped, and the dust-up over the 23-story tower project.

On traditional local issues, Ulman has moved to beef up police staffing and boost support for county schools while reserving enough money to pay for his priorities, including hiring more employees, buying hybrid vehicles and larger recycling bins and pushing planning for a new county office complex and courthouse. He also ordered a crackdown on illegal business signs on county roadways.

"I feel great about the way the first year went - really gratified," Ulman said last week.

He said he's proud that the county has 48 hybrid vehicles, and "the health care piece came together sooner than I thought it would," thanks to Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, hired by Ulman as county health officer.

He agreed with Kubofcik that more could be done on housing, but changing top officials in that agency has taken time, he said.

He has worked with the County Council, he said, noting his compromises on the package of "green building" environmental legislation worked out over the summer.

Fox sees that as more a product of necessity because Ulman didn't have the votes without compromise.

"He's come out of the blocks sprinting, and the council's got to be the check and balance," said Courtney Watson, an Ellicott City Democrat who recently was named council chairman.

She approves of Ulman's efforts. "I'm glad to see him coming out with some new ideas," she said. "He seems to be taking the county [in] a good direction."

At a more personal level, Ulman welcomed his brother, Doug Ulman, and champion cyclist Lance Armstrong to town for an Ulman Cancer Fund event, and he had to fire a family housekeeper who turned out to be an illegal immigrant.

"I think it's been an exciting and innovative year," said Councilman Calvin Ball, an east Columbia Democrat who served this past year as council chairman. "We all had a wonderful opportunity for a fresh perspective."

What lies ahead?

"We'll always have some new ideas," Ulman said. "You'll always see creative ideas coming out of the administration."

Unusual fundraiser

Fox's well-attended fundraiser last week was an unusual political event - a progressive dinner that encompassed a culinary tour of several of Maple Lawn businesses.

The 3 1/2 -hour event began at Ranazul, a tapas wine bistro, for appetizers, sangria and beer, and continued across the street at Trapeze, where more drinks and dinner were served. Desserts and coffee were provided by two other businesses, Maggie Moo's and the Daily Grind. Flowers came from the owners of a new shop scheduled to open tomorrow.

Nearly 170 people paid $150 each, or $250 per couple, although some spent $500 to be "Gold Sponsors," which helped Fox raise about $25,000, he said.

"No politics tonight; I just want everybody to have a good time," Fox told the crowd after introducing elected officials in the crowd and thanking them for coming. Many were neighbors, friends or business acquaintances of Fox.

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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