Council? State House? Exec? Watson must choose a path

She could run for executive, or council

  • Courtney Watson, Howard County Council chairwoman, during an administrative meeting of the council.
Courtney Watson, Howard County Council chairwoman, during… (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun )
April 01, 2011|By Larry Carson, The Baltimore Sun

Courtney Watson can run for a third and final term on the Howard County Council in 2014 or for a General Assembly seat, but it must be tempting to consider running for county executive instead, because County Executive Ken Ulman is term-limited and out of office by the end of that year.

"I'm done, man. I just want good people to stay in public service," Ulman commented at Watson's recent $35-per-ticket fundraiser at Serafino's restaurant in Ellicott city that drew more than 100 people. The proceeds would be added to the $31,785 campaign kitty she reported in January.

Watson didn't reveal her plans and said she merely wanted to "bring people together and have money for a future race."

"I want to stay in public service," she added. Council members are limited by law to three terms. But some of her supporters at the event were less reticent.

"I'd like to see her run for county executive," said former County Councilwoman Angela Beltram, who said Watson just laughed when Beltram recently asked to talk to her about her future. Dale Schumacher, an Elkridge resident who liked how Watson handled the contested use of Belmont, the 18th-century estate near his home, said he'd like to see her to run for president. "I would hope she's considering county executive. She's been a very thoughtful, analytic leader in the county."

Bill Woodcock, a former Howard County Democratic Central Committee member, said "she'd be a natural candidate for county executive."

Watson so far has followed in the political footsteps of her father, Edward Cochran, serving first on the county school board and then on the council. Cochran won the executive's job, too, in 1974, but he said, "I don't really have a preference" for what his daughter does next.

Watson calls herself a moderate Democrat, which means she's a fiscal conservative positioned slightly to the right of Ulman and Del. Guy Guzzone, a former council member and another possible executive candidate, who has said Democrats won't allow a damaging primary election battle in 2014. Watson represents Ellicott City and Elkridge, where Republicans and Democrats are closely matched, and where Democrats, like Beltram, tend to be more conservative than those in Columbia. Watson voted last year against continued county funding for Ulman's signature Healthy Howard program for the uninsured, for example.

Roger Caplan, a public relations specialist who has been active in county politics, did not attend Watson's event. He thinks Guzzone would have an advantage if he wants the executive's job, although the Democrats have "a lot of good people" who could run. With Guzzone's council and General Assembly experience, his extensive party work and close ties to Ulman, "he's the most important Democrat next to Ken in the county," Caplan said.

No matter who steps up to claim Ulman's post, some aspects of political fundraising don't seem to change, like the support that even the most independent officials get from developers.

Among those at Watson's event was David Scheffenacker, president of Preston-Scheffenacker of Towson, the development firm planning a large residential, office and retail community called Oxford Square on 122-acres off Coca Cola Drive near the Dorsey commuter rail station in Elkridge. As part of that deal, he has offered the county school board 20 acres of free land plus $4 million cash for a school he'd like to see built in the proposed 1,000-apartment community, though that is on hold now that state officials are talking about building a CSX rail cargo transfer station nearby

But as a zoning board member, Watson voted against granting Scheffenacker's firm the rezoning needed for his Transit Oriented Development project. He got the zoning he wanted last summer on a 3-2 vote, but he holds no grudges, he said.

"It doesn't mean I have to dislike them just because they disagree with me. It's healthy to have disagreements," Scheffenacker said at the fundraiser.

Watson isn't the only council member he's been kind to, though. West Columbia Democrat Mary Kay Sigaty asked Scheffenacker this winter to help in a food bank campaign organized by three students working as interns in her office, and he agreed to match what they raise, up to $5,000. The students told the school board about the commitment at a February meeting, just before they discussed whether to accept the free school site.

"That was just something that seemed like a no-brainer to me, to help kids and a food bank," Scheffenacker said. If he's going to do business in Howard, he said, "I'm obligated to be involved in the community."

No races for CA board

There's no drama in this month's elections for the Columbia Association's board of directors.

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