As Ulman eyes governor's chair, several officials consider his job

January 17, 2013|By Arthur Hirsch, The Baltimore Sun

Amid a severe local outbreak of National Football League fever, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman is quick to point out that among the four Democrat politicians whose names are linked to the 2014 gubernatorial race, he's the only one who roots for the NFL's one true Maryland team.

"I joke with people, I'm the only Ravens fan running," Ulman said in an interview last week, soon after filing his latest campaign finance report that showed he kept pace in 2012 fundraising with Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler and Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown.

Ulman has less than half the cash Gansler has on hand, but more than Brown and Del. Heather Mizeur, who runs a distant fourth.

Ulman stresses his Maryland credentials, his family roots in Baltimore, his University of Maryland, College Park diploma — compared with fellow Democrats Gansler, Brown and Mizeur, who were born and went to college elsewhere.

He did get a bit ahead of himself, however. Ulman may be a Ravens fan, but he's not exactly running for governor, at least not yet.

He's been raising money and showing up in places where he gets introduced as "the next governor of Maryland," but so far he's not making any announcements, and probably won't anytime soon.

Still, when he filed the campaign finance report Wednesday, he issued a statement about working for the betterment of Maryland, and he is making no secret that he's giving serious thought to trying to succeed Martin O'Malley.

Also issuing a statement in connection with her latest campaign finance report was County Councilwoman Courtney Watson, who is among those considering a run for Ulman's job when he reaches the legal limit of two four-year terms in 2014.

Watson is well ahead in the money chase among those often mentioned in talk about the next county executive race: Del. Guy Guzzone, County Councilman Calvin Ball and Republican state Sen. Allan Kittleman.

Neither Ulman nor Watson, in their prepared statements, mentioned that they have any specific office in mind.

In an interview, Ulman said he would not go into detail about his strategy as he thinks about whether to run, but he added that "it's really a sense of where the state is and what I have to bring to the table. I'm the one person considering running for governor who has governed. ….I'm running a sizable jurisdiction with a budget over a billion dollars."

Ulman's latest campaign finance report shows he raised $1.14 million in 2012 and has $2.13 million on hand.

Gansler raised $1.2 million and has $5.2 million in the bank. Brown raised $1.2 million and has $1.64 million. Mizeur, a member of the House of Delegates from Montgomery County, raised $244,000 and has nearly $350,000 available.

If the gap between Ulman and Gansler in available cash seems daunting, Ulman's political director, Colin O'Dea, said he's not worried. He noted that Gansler had money raised for a 2010 primary race that never materialized, and Ulman has kept pace with Gansler and raised more than Brown each of the last two years.

"For us it's pretty encouraging for someone who is a county executive, and raising the same amount of money as two statewide officials," O'Dea said, referring to Gansler and Brown.

How Ulman, 38, will raise his profile and potential influence in a statewide race is another matter.

Brown is from Prince George's County and Gansler is from Montgomery, which in population are, respectively, more than twice and more than three times the size of Howard.

"I think he's got an uphill battle," said Dennis Lane, a political observer and lifelong Howard County resident who writes the "Tale of Two Cities" county blog.

"He's a smart executive," said Lane, an Ulman supporter, "but we're Howard County. We're the spoiled child of Maryland."

That's a reference to the Howard litany — great schools, one of the most affluent counties in the country, home of the utopian Columbia and "one of the best places" in the U.S. to live (Columbia/Ellicott City), at least according to "Money Magazine."

In Lane's view, the glossy profile could make it difficult for the person in charge to show his executive mettle.

Or, as he puts it: "How can you screw up Howard County?"

Ulman said he's happy to be known as the guy running a place that seems too good to be true.

"If the criticism is that we're too successful, I'm happy to have that conversation," Ulman said. "Our success didn't come by accident. We've decided as a county to invest wisely in public education as an anchor to the county."

Lane's fellow political observer, Tom Coale, who writes the "HoCo Rising" blog, posits the Columbia factor as a potential boost for Ulman. Coale argues that as the redevelopment of the Columbia downtown begins and takes shape over the next few years, there will be lots of ribbons to cut, lots of photo opportunities, lots of ways for Ulman to be seen in the news in association with progress.

"Columbia can provide a free PR machine," said Coale, a lawyer who lives in Columbia.

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