Primary behind them, Schuh and Pittman focus on matchup in county executive race

For months, Steve Schuh and Steuart Pittman have been quietly building their campaigns for Anne Arundel County executive.

Now that the primary elections are behind them, they’re ready to start selling their messages to county voters.

“Game on,” said Pittman, a south county Democrat who is trying to unseat Schuh, the Republican incumbent.

“We both felt the people in contested primaries should enjoy the limelight,” Schuh said.

Schuh has been honing a campaign message that not only highlights his accomplishments in office, but also looks at what he’d do in a second term. Hehas a four-point plan on improving education, ensuring residents are safe, helping the county’s vulnerable residents and enhancing the quality of life.

“It’s important that we look to the future. I’m now presenting a new plan,” Schuh said. “I have a good record to run on, but we’re not running on that because that’s in the past.”

Pittman, meanwhile, will tell voters that it’s time for a change — that Schuh has enabled too much development that’s crowding schools and snarling roads with traffic. And he’ll try to convince them that the county needs a leader from the outside, someone without direct experience in government.

“The contrast between myself and Steve Schuh is stark,” Pittman said. “He’s a smart guy who’s thought about the issues. And I’ve also thought about the issues. So I think we’re going to have a civil and thoughtful exchange of ideas.”

After a pause, he added: “Civil, I hope. Thoughtful, for sure.”

Schuh said he feels the same way: “I expect this to be a very vigorous but respectful and cordial campaign.”

The two men are are vying to lead Maryland’s fifth-largest county, a politically mixed jurisdiction with urban, suburban and rural communities. The county faces challenges on multiple fronts: finding the right amount of growth and development, keeping pace with needs in public schools, attacking the opioid epidemic and minimizing crime.

The county has had Republican leadership for the last dozen years, with county executives Schuh, Laura Neuman and John R. Leopold, who was convicted of misconduct in office.

Pittman hopes to return the county to Democratic control, last seen under County Executive Janet S. Owens, who left office in 2006.

Schuh has wasted no time in moving into campaign mode. Just days after the primary election, before the results were certified, he launched campaign ads on WRNR and WNAV radio stations in Annapolis.

The ads, which tout his accomplishments on education and public safety, are running this summer at a cost of $15,000, according to the Schuh campaign. The campaign promises that the ads are just the first part of “an aggressive radio, television, social media and digital campaign.”

Schuh is expected to have a better-funded campaign. As of last month, he was sitting on about $1 million in his campaign account, according to campaign finance records. Schuh has been endorsed by popular Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who already has headlined a fundraiser for him.

Pittman had about $300,000 in cash at his last campaign finance report in June. He expects to raise $1 million by the general election in November.

The next round of campaign finance reports are due on July 17.

Both candidates expect to have enough money to go on air with radio and television ads, in addition to traditional, lower-cost campaign strategies such as direct mail, knocking on doors and attending candidate forums and debates.

Pittman is sharing a campaign office in Annapolis with House Speaker Michael E. Busch and other Democratic candidates. A north county office is in the works, too.

Pittman’s campaign logo features three stars, representing Democrats, Republicans and independents.

“We’re campaigning for every vote,” he said. “It’s going to be a grassroots campaign.”

Schuh said he prefers governing to campaigning, but said he has a strong message for the campaign trail.

“The county is in a very good place and we’re determined to keep the positive momentum going,” he said.

Pittman said he’s frustrated with how the county has handled development decisions under Schuh. Initially, he thought about running for the County Council before being persuaded to run for county executive.

“The reason I decided to run is it’s very difficult to have influence in this county and be heard,” he said. “The development interests get very involved in politics and they have too much power, in my view.”

Pittman questions whether growth is good for the county -- and whether too much growth is taxing county services such as schools and the police department.

Pittman has never worked inside government, currently running a family farm and leading a nonprofit organization that helps find new homes for retired race horses.

Schuh, said he has experience in government and business that Pittman lacks. Schuh worked for years in investment banking and is now involved in a partnership that runs local restaurants and other businesses.

Schuh plans to hire more teachers, raise teacher pay, add a fifth police district station, hire more firefighters and give more financial support to addiction treatment providers. And he said he can do it without raising taxes.

“These are things we are going to have to ease in over a number of years,” Schuh said. “It means setting priorities, living within our existing resources.”

Schuh said the development pressures county residents are seeing now are the result of planning and zoning decisions made decades ago. He promises to “hold the line” on development to keep half of the county as rural and open-space areas.

Political scientist and pollster Dan Nataf of Anne Arundel Community College said Schuh and Pittman will focus their campaigns on local issues -- development, crime, quality of life -- but could get caught up in national issues that drive voters to polls.

“I think the challenge for our time is to localize elections,” Nataf said. “Because so much of what’s going on to drive party turnout will be national politics and not local politics.”

Nataf said local Republican candidates like Schuh will want to show voters that they are not part of the national Republican brand led by President Donald Trump, but rather part of the Maryland Republican Party as led by Hogan.

Pittman, meanwhile, will have to decide whether to embrace Maryland’s traditional Democrats such as Busch, or the more liberal wing embodied by gubernatorial nominee Ben Jealous, former head of the national NAACP. But Jealous could be considered “too left wing” for a moderate county like Anne Arundel, Nataf cautioned.

Nataf noted that Schuh has governed without scandal and can point to accomplishments, such as slightly lowering taxes and taking visible steps on opioids, and opening fire and police stations to people seeking treatment. That gives Schuh an advantage over Pittman, who will have to convince voters to make a change.

“There’s a propensity for people to stick with what they’ve got,” Nataf said.

pwood@baltsun.com

twitter.com/pwoodreporter

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