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Schuh for county executive [Editorial]

ElectionsLaura NeumanDining and DrinkingRestaurant and Catering IndustryMartin O'Malley

Perhaps the most hotly contested — or at least the nastiest — local race in the state this year is the Republican primary for executive in Anne Arundel County. Incumbent Laura Neuman, a political novice who was appointed to the job last year after John Leopold resigned in disgrace, is fighting a challenge from Del. Steve Schuh, who had been planning for this race before most people in Arundel political circles had even heard of Ms. Neuman. They are spending unprecedented sums of money for a primary in Anne Arundel, and most of it appears dedicated to tearing each other down.

Let's try to dispense with a bit of the nonsense. It does not matter to Anne Arundel voters (or at least shouldn't) whether Ms. Neuman's childhood was truly hardscrabble or merely disadvantaged, nor should it matter exactly how often she has voted in Republican primaries. Likewise, the precise number of people working on Mr. Schuh's campaign who once also worked for Mr. Leopold is a red herring, as is the question of what he did or did not do when a group of Hell's Angels showed up at a restaurant he owns but has no role in managing.

What does matter is who can best manage the county and who has the right vision for Anne Arundel's future. And the truth, as much as the candidates may try to convince you otherwise, is that either one would be a good choice.

When Ms. Neuman burst onto the Arundel political scene, she offered a breath of fresh air as a successful businesswoman and non-politician who came to clean up the mess made by the scandal-ridden Leopold administration. She came across as a bit wide-eyed, like a tourist in a foreign country, when she described the anachronistic and dysfunctional county administration she encountered. She had some initial stumbles, for example her veto of the county's stormwater fee without any real practical or political plan for what to do instead, but generally speaking she has performed well. She has acted responsibly on taxes and spending and has made good hires for key posts.

Mr. Schuh is a more conventional choice, though to tar him as a career politician, as Ms. Neuman has, is a stretch. He, too, has been very successful at business, first in finance and more recently as the owner of a multitude of small businesses, mostly restaurants. He has served two terms in the House of Delegates where he quickly won notice as an astute critic of Gov. Martin O'Malley's budgets. Finding a Republican in the General Assembly who'll tell you that the Democrats spend too much is easy; finding one, like Mr. Schuh, who can explain the details and offer a plausible alternative is much harder. Where Ms. Neuman is open and engaging, Mr. Schuh is serious and sometimes a bit stiff, but along with his earnestness comes a depth of understanding of how government works.

Ms. Neuman's status as an outsider should be a huge advantage, but unfortunately, she has neutralized it over the course of the campaign. She may profess not to be a politician, but she's certainly acting like it, at least in the pejorative sense of the word. Her campaign literature portraying Mr. Schuh as a liberal (most memorably by transforming his face to resemble the famous Barack Obama "Hope" campaign poster of 2008) is patently absurd, and the evidence she cites to support it is misleading.

More troubling is her reliance on a developers' lobbyist, John Pantelides, for fund-raising. Ms. Neuman insists he is "semi-retired" and volunteering for her campaign out of genuine conviction, but it is nonetheless disturbing to see solicitations for her campaign from someone who is, in fact, still registered to lobby in the county and who advertises himself as "the man to see" in Anne Arundel for zoning changes and expedited permits and approvals.

It's illegal for lobbyists registered with the state to solicit money for candidates, and County Councilman Jamie Benoit sought to extend that prohibition to the county level. Ms. Neuman and her allies on the council have blocked the measure, which she criticized as politically motivated. But would a non-politician care about political motives, or would she care about doing the right thing?

This not to say that Mr. Schuh has conducted himself as an angel during the campaign. He hasn't. He's collected bundles of developer money and a smattering of checks from lobbyists. The fact that he spoke Ms. Neuman's estranged mother at one point in the campaign is particularly odd. Ms. Neuman complains that her attacks on him are about his record — albeit a distorted version of it — and that his campaign's attacks have been personal. She has a point. Call them even on the unsavoriness front.

What that leaves to differentiate them is the question of how each would run the county, and there's a substantive difference between the two in that regard.

When Ms. Neuman talks about the job, she comes across as a capable, detail-oriented administrator. She's apt to point to things like her efforts to upgrade the county's email system to improve service and cut maintenance costs, or to overhaul the way 911 operators process calls to reduce response time. Her signature initiative is the "Commission on Excellence" — a panel of county residents she selected whose job was to make recommendations on best practices for every department in the county.

Mr. Schuh, on the other hand, presents a broader vision for the county as a beacon to the rest of the state for how conservative governance can deliver a better economy and a high quality of life. He sees the county, with assets like the NSA and Fort Meade, the state capital, the Naval Academy and 500 miles of Chesapeake shoreline, as a potential dynamo, and he presents detailed ideas for how to achieve it. We have some concerns about how all his promises for tax cuts and more spending on police and school construction would add up, but his ideas are about long-term change, not quick fixes.

Truthfully, Anne Arundel County would benefit most by having both of their talents, minus the mudslinging. But as we have to choose, we pick Mr. Schuh on the basis of his broader vision. He has our endorsement in Tuesday's Republican primary.

To respond to this editorial, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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