The Anne Arundel County Council on Thursday night appointed as its new county executive Howard County Economic Development Authority chief Laura Neuman, whose drive and business savvy got her a master's degree in business when she hadn't completed high school or college.
Neuman, of Annapolis, is to be sworn in at 10 a.m. Friday, succeeding John R. Leopold, who resigned this month after a conviction for misconduct in office.
"We live in an extraordinary country where a person like me from East Baltimore can have this opportunity," said Neuman, an Annapolis resident for more than two decades. Neuman turned around a company from near insolvency into a multimillion-dollar enterprise.
She appeared poised, though stunned, as she accepted congratulations from council members and others who had packed the council chambers.
"I was honored to be considered," she said.
Earlier in the evening, Neuman articulated a vision to have the county promote its assets, take advantage of its location and build its economy, while restoring the integrity of a county government whose image has been tarnished. She said she made it her business to try to work with everyone.
"My approach is to try to find some common ground. And we usually do," she told the council.
Neuman, 48, was selected on the third ballot, knocking out acting County Executive John Hammond, Del. Steve Schuh of Gibson Island, and David Cordle, the chief investigator for the county prosecutor's office, all of whom had some support among the seven council members.
One of the first casualties was former Maryland first lady Kendel Ehrlich, who failed to win a single vote from the council.
Neuman won out over others who had been considered the safe choices — Schuh, who said he will be a candidate for the executive position in 2014, and Hammond, who said he won't.
"I've got a passion for this. I offer my services, if you want to accept them," Hammond told council members during his interview. "I'll be in the same budget office tomorrow." Afterward, he said he told council members that "you guys made a good choice." And said he was not disappointed.
One applicant, former legislator Phil Bissett of Edgewater, dropped out Thursday, and another, Rick Hoover of Glen Burnie, a home improvement company owner, failed to appear.
Several council members said they hadn't heard of Neuman until the application process.
"After I talked with her on the phone for 45 minutes, I said, 'Wow,'" said Councilman John Grasso, a Glen Burnie Republican. "
Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, who named Neuman economic development chief there, said, "I know the citizens of the county will be impressed with her drive and commitment."
Leopold, 70, resigned Feb. 1, in the midst of his second term. Neuman will complete the term, which expires in 2014, giving her a tenure of 21 months.
The council, which had to name another Republican to replace Leopold, gave Neuman a 4-3 bipartisan vote. A resolution after the vote made her a unanimous pick.