A Columbia Democrat venturing west to Republican-dominated Glenwood to hear residents' complaints could run some political risk of hostility, but County Executive Ken Ulman encountered only civility at his recent public forum, despite high frustration over two local issues.
Ulman started with an advantage - the sparkling, recently built county community center, public library and regional park complex where the standing-room-only meeting took place.
Just down the road is another treasured county asset - the big, new Bushy Park Elementary School.
The executive brought several dozen high-ranking county officials with him, and seemed to sympathize in an informal, friendly way with virtually every speaker.
Still, most of the residents who turned out were upset about one of two issues - a proposed used-car lot in Daisy and a failed septic system at Cattail Creek.
"I am real dissatisfied still with where we stand today," Carl Oehrig told Ulman about a hotly contested used-car operation planned on about 4 acres in rural Daisy in far western Howard County.
Land for the business has been zoned commercial since 1954, but residents say it would ruin their community and hinder safety on rural roads.
Oehrig commended county Planning Director Marsha McLaughlin for paying attention to his group, Concerned Citizens of Western Howard County. But he said, "While they're meeting with us, they're not hearing us."
Ulman told residents he had spent an hour standing at Daisy's crossroads the previous evening.
"I completely appreciate and understand your frustration, and I share it," he said.
The county executive offered another government review of the situation and a personal meeting with the opposition group.
Also airing their concerns at the June 26 session were residents of the Villas at Cattail Creek, who have been stuck without a functioning septic system since their retirement town houses were built during the past five years.
Ulman had feedback for them that was more encouraging, saying that the county is gathering information for a potential deceptive-trade practices lawsuit against the developer. In addition, the new sewage system planned for Cattail Creek will be covered under new regulations if the County Council agrees in a vote scheduled for July 7.
"This is something that never should have happened," Ulman said. "It's taken way too long to fix."
Paul Eden complained that the new system might cost residents three times more to operate annually than they were told originally, boosting their condominium fees.
Ulman said he could relate because his condo fees doubled a few years back when his family lived in a River Hill town house.
Hugh Flaherty, a lifelong Republican who vehemently opposes the used-car business in Daisy, said he thought the meeting was a great idea, even though it might not win Ulman votes from dedicated Republicans.
"It's very smart politics," Flaherty said. "It gave us an opportunity to talk to him directly."
A question for Ehrlich
A few miles away on that same warm, breezy evening, county Republicans gathered at Oakdale, the 19th-century mansion that was the home of Edwin Warfield, a Democrat who was governor from 1904 to 1908.
Today, the home is owned by Veronica and Ted Mariani, who have kept it furnished as it was a century ago. And the event was a fundraiser for Dels. Gail H. Bates and Warren E. Miller and drew about 110 people, including former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
Ehrlich said he attends numerous fundraisers, but was particularly happy to help out Bates and Miller.
"They do their homework," he said. "They are deserving of the support. They are ethical and nice people."
However, it fell to Miller's daughter Laura, 10, to ask the question on everyone's mind: Is Ehrlich going to run for governor again?
"Boy, that's a setup," Ehrlich joked in response, Miller said later.
"Politics is about options," Ehrlich said in an interview the next day. "You can create a situation where you don't have any options. Clearly, we want to have that discussion [about running for governor] but the answer is premature."
Miller and Bates agreed the discussion is needed.
"I think there are people in Maryland who are sick of one-party rule," Miller said.
He characterized the investigation of Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon as an example of what can happen without enough checks and balances.
"Ehrlich is keeping his options open, and I can appreciate that," he said.
Bates said that despite Democrats' attempts to make inroads in western Howard, she and Miller work hard at politics and governing.
"Anything can happen," she said. "I will work as hard as I know how to do. If someone's going to try to take it from us, it won't be easy."