By Pamela Wood, The Baltimore Sun
9:19 PM EDT, July 11, 2013
Less than five months after she was appointed Anne Arundel County executive, Laura Neuman said Thursday that she wants to keep the job.
Neuman, who was appointed by the County Council in February to replace disgraced former County Executive John R. Leopold, confirmed that she will seek election next year to a full four-year term.
"I enjoy serving and certainly plan to continue," she said.
Neuman said she has made progress since taking over from Leopold, whose conviction in January of criminal misconduct in office capped a yearlong scandal that reached from the county executive's office to the Police Department. But she said the work that remains will take longer than the remainder of her current term.
She enters what is expected to be a crowded Republican primary field. Del. Steve Schuh of Gibson Island and County Councilman John Grasso of Glen Burnie have indicated plans to run.
On the Democratic side, Joanna Conti, who lost to Leopold in 2010, launched her campaign last month.
Neuman had made no secret of her interest in continuing in the job. She formed a campaign committee in May and held a fundraiser in Annapolis last month.
She was grand marshal of the Severna Park Independence Day parade last week; her children marched alongside her wearing "Go Laura Neuman Go" T-shirts.
She said she expects to formally announce in the fall, when, she said, "things will be a bit more under control in the county."
Weeks after taking office, Neuman proposed a $1.3 billion county budget that was approved by the council with little alteration.
She formed a task force to study the county's beleaguered Police Department, which has seen three chiefs in less than two years, tapping law enforcement officials from outside the county to review procedures and field complaints and comments from residents.
Neuman has vetoed two County Council bills — one on stormwater fees and another regarding a pension perk for firefighters that was not negotiated in their contract. The council overrode her stormwater veto but then made several changes that she requested.
Some, including Leopold, said she did not put up a strong enough fight against a plan to move the state's Department of Housing and Community Development headquarters from Crownsville to Prince George's County. Neuman sent state officials a letter opposing the move but did not attend the meeting of the state Board of Public Works at which it was approved.
Neuman was a surprise pick to replace Leopold after his resignation in February. The businesswoman had never held elected office, but had served as CEO of Howard County's Economic Development Authority under County Executive Ken Ulman, a Democrat.
"As a strictly political matter, she's leapfrogged from zero public service, or incidental public service, to running the whole show," said political scientist Dan Nataf, director of the Center for Study of Local Issues at Anne Arundel Community College.
In addition to being perceived as offering a fresh approach, Nataf said, Neuman can point to a compelling personal story: She is a rape survivor, she turned around a struggling tech company in the private sector and she now has brief, but valuable, experience running county government.
To win the GOP primary, Nataf said, Neuman must win over party loyalists who have long ago pinned their hopes on Schuh.
Nataf sees the GOP primary as a two-way race between Neuman and Schuh, a two-term delegate with an established network of donors and volunteers. Grasso, an outspoken one-term councilman, could play the role of spoiler.
Ashley Heffernan, chairwoman of the Anne Arundel County Democratic Central Committee, said she expects Republicans to fight among themselves — "I think they're going to have a pretty nasty and divisive primary" — while Democrats, as of now, don’t have a contested primary.
Schuh and Grasso said they welcomed Neuman's candidacy.
"I think competition is healthy in our primaries," Schuh said. "Competition makes candidates better, and I think the voters have a right to expect a competitive primary."
Grasso, who was the first Republican to announce his candidacy, offered praise for his new rival. "I think Laura Neuman is doing a fantastic job," he said. "She's doing a great job, no two ways about it. I wish her well."
Grasso said if he were to lose, he'd rather lose to Neuman than Schuh. And if he wins, he'll hire Neuman as his chief administrative officer. "She gives it her all and she's not politically swayed," Grasso said. "She does what's right, and that's refreshing."
Schuh began laying the groundwork for a run in January 2012, when he formed an exploratory committee. When he launched his campaign in May, he said he had $1 million on hand. His campaign committee's most recent financial report, from January, showed a balance of $523,389.89.
Grasso announced his candidacy in December.
His campaign committee's January report showed a balance of $31,638.46. He said he's not deterred by the financial disadvantage, and pointed out that Leopold won his first term as county executive in 2006 despite being outspent by his Democratic opponent.
"Money doesn't win elections," he said.
Neuman's campaign committee has yet to file any financial reports.
Democrats in Anne Arundel have a nearly 6-5 registration edge over Republicans, according to the county Board of Elections. But the GOP holds the county executive's seat and majorities on the County Council and among the county's state delegates.
Alan Rzepkowski, chairman of the county's Republican Central Committee, said the primary field shows the strength of the party in Anne Arundel. He said the GOP victor will be battle-tested for the general election.
"I think the person that comes out of the primary will be stronger and at that point, everyone will unite behind them and go toward the general election," Rzepkowski said.
Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun