Political Notebook: Alan Klein misses candidate forum

Ulman and Kittleman debate in public for first time

August 15, 2010|By Larry Carson, The Baltimore Sun

One-half of the main attraction in next month's District 4 County Council primary election didn't show up at the League of Women Voters televised forum for Howard County executive and County Council candidates Tuesday night at school board headquarters.

Although Alan Klein's absence prevented a direct discussion with Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty — the county's only two primary contenders for a council seat — Dr. Zaneb "Zee" Beams, a novice Democratic candidate in Republican-dominated western Howard, took up the slack with a sharp attack on incumbent Republican Greg Fox.

Beams, a pediatrician and first-time candidate who grew up in Howard but lived out of state for years before returning to practice medicine with her pediatrician mother, lit into Fox for trying to cut programs like Healthy Howard, the county's health access program, and for voting against the county budget each year. She also criticized Fox for supporting "political ploys" like the failed charter amendment referendum drive that would have asked voters to require four of the five council members to vote to raise taxes instead of a simple majority of three.

"For the first time in years, our community has a choice in who represents them on the County Council. We can choose real fiscal responsibility, not just lip service," Beams said.

Fox stuck to his prepared remarks, recounting his bills promoting fiscal transparency and making roadside zoning notification signs easier to decipher, but he asked voters to change the county government's dynamics through "a change in leadership and more Republicans on the council." He then mentioned his successful opposition to a higher fire property tax in the western county, as well as his opposition to Ulman's plans in 2007 to buy office space in a proposed building in Oakland Mills, The building, called Meridian Square, was never built because of the recession.

Klein, the challenger in the West Columbia District 4 Democratic primary against the incumbent Sigaty, missed the event and a free televised appearance that will be rebroadcast on government access cable channels 44 and 99 at least 19 times this month. League officials announced that Klein was on the West Coast on business.

Klein said Wednesday that the trip was scheduled a year ago, before he'd decided to run. "There's still plenty of time to get the message out," he added.

Sigaty is battling to keep her council seat despite unrest among some former supporters who feel her advocacy for the General Growth Properties' 30-year redevelopment plan for downtown Columbia is too developer-friendly.

Klein's absence gave Sigaty a chance to talk positively about her efforts, tempered only by a few barbs from Tom D'Asto, the Republican council candidate in perhaps the county's liveliest Democratic stronghold.

"I am very proud of the work we've done in the last four years," Sigaty said, referring to the downtown redevelopment plan as a project that will be "strictly controlled, phased over time." It features first-time limits on building heights, she said. The plan also features a housing trust fund to make units available to people of all incomes, and has "groundbreaking environmental regulations" that require developers to do environmental restoration as part of their projects, she said.

Sigaty also said renovation of Merriweather Post Pavilion and the plans for a rejuvenated Symphony Woods will include that area in a "green, glorious, wonderful downtown Columbia."

Sigaty came to the event straight from her latest fundraiser, held at Toby's Dinner Theatre, where she appealed to the roughly 60 people attending for "three hours of your time" to help her campaign.

D'Asto, who also ran against Sigaty in 2006, did not criticize the downtown plan but said the county will need "a strong voice and leader to enforce what has been legislated."

The two county executive candidates, Democrat Ken Ulman and Republican Trent Kittleman, stuck to the kinds of remarks both have been making regularly.

Ulman praised his tenure, again mentioning Money Magazine's rating of Columbia/Ellicott City as the second-best place to live in the nation, and stressing his budgeting prowess in dealing with the recession. Kittleman agreed on the "phenomenal quality of life in this county," but said only her own policies would protect that. Ulman had expressed a similar sentiment about himself.

Kittleman said county government has expanded too fast and is on track to become bloated and vulnerable to the next downturn, while Ulman said it is the support of county schools, increased public safety workers, and better-funded libraries and parks that have made the county attractive enough to become what Money Magazine called "an economic powerhouse."

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