Steuart Pittman’s path to politics is atypical. He's never run a political campaign and he’s never held an elected position. But he doesn’t care.
Steuart Pittman jokes that as the election gets closer, his campaign office gets messier.
“I’ll bet you that’s the biggest difference between the Democrats and the Republicans,” he says, laughing. “Our offices are probably a little crazier.”
He shuffles in between the kitchen and the office. He’s brewing a batch of coffee he’ll eventually forget about.
Pittman shares his south county campaign office with four other Democratic candidates. The office is a hodgepodge of campaign signs, mailers, posters and pamphlets.
The stress of campaign life — which is new for the Davidsonville Democrat — has leaked into his home, too. Business cards are scattered on his bedroom dresser and papers have been stacked into short towers throughout the living room.
In the hours leading up to fundraising phone calls in Baltimore, Pittman’s shooting off emails from his couch.
But in the midst of the chaos, Pittman seems cool and collected. He’s patient, something he said he’s learned from decades of working with horses.
Pittman’s running a campaign for county executive that’s about three times smaller than his opponent’s, incumbent Steve Schuh.
That’s why he’s spent much of his time drumming up support at the community level. By the end of his campaign, Pittman will have hosted forums at 16 different locations throughout the county.
Pittman’s campaign emphasizes affordable housing, poverty reduction and farmers’ rights. He says the issues that have plagued the light rail — drug use, homelessness and crime — are law enforcement issues, not transportation ones.
“We can’t shut down public transportation because we have crime,” he said.
The 57-year-old has secured endorsements from the county teacher, police and firefighter unions by promising to reinstitute step increases, hire more than 100 officers and increase wages.
Samantha Weaver, a public school parent and president of the Nantucket Elementary School PTA, said: “It’s time for a change.”
“I’ve seen the struggle our teachers have to maintain their wages. We need people who are going to support our teachers and they need livable wages,” Weaver said. “Steve Schuh does not follow through on a lot of his promises. In an area where commercial construction and residential construction is continuing to grow, he wanted a smaller high school in Crofton which, in my opinion, is not feasible.”
Pittman has been most outspoken on the topic of development. He thinks there’s too much of it in Anne Arundel County and wants to take developers’ dollars out of politics. He’s attacked Schuh for accepting more than $175,000 in contributions from developers.
He recently announced a plan to bar developers from donating to campaigns when they have applications pending before the county.
The political newcomer has positioned himself as an unrelenting advocate for the environment, dedicated to preserving historic land and protecting farms in south county.
Pittman’s goals are lofty and expensive. But he said he has a solution.
“Over four years, we project increased revenues from Anne Arundel County will be enough to pay teachers back,” he said. “If the economy continues to perform well, it should be enough money to fund my priorities, particularly if we stop subsidizing developments.”
And if the economy fails?
“Then we’ll have to make tough decisions.”
Pittman grew up between homes in Washington, D.C., and Davidsonville. During the week, his family lived on 24th St. and Massachusetts Avenue. His father, a lawyer, was appointed by President John F. Kennedy to head the country’s fallout shelter program as the nation braced for nuclear war.
Pittman, the second of his mother’s three kids, went to a private school for boys, St. Alban’s School. Pittman’s father, Steuart Pittman Sr., had four other children from a previous marriage.
Growing up, Pittman said he was shy and reserved.
“I was not one of the more sociable kids at school,” he said.
Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh comes off as an unassuming politician hellbent on slowing the growth of government. But by night he is an aggressive politician who attacks his opponents and drives race cars.
Steve Washington, a musician and former classmate of Pittman’s, said he remembers the future candidate as “friendly and cordial.”
“Jovial, well-liked, smart, balance of confidence and humility,” Washington said. “Just seemed like a decent guy.”
It probably came as a surprise to Pittman’s classmates when he auditioned for his school’s production of “The Diary of Anne Frank.” He says his role as Anne Frank’s love interest allowed him to break out of his timid shell.
“That gave me confidence that I hadn’t had before,” he said.
Pittman may have been reserved at school, but he was outspoken at home.
“I wasn’t as polite as I am now,” he said. “My problem with my mother was that I was honest. I would tell her everything.”
For Barbara Pittman’s only son, that included tales about parties or nights out with friends.
When summer rolled around, Pittman worked on the farm or scooped ice cream in Washington. His dream job was a veterinarian — specifically Dr. Dolittle, who could talk to animals.
“I trusted animals more than I trusted people,” he said.
Pittman developed his love for animals on Dodon Farm, the family’s 550-acre property that’s belonged to the Pittmans for eight generations.
He said he’s always preferred the country life. He used to hide in the trees after weekends on the farm, hoping his family would drive back to D.C. without him.
Pittman’s family raised horses on the farm, primarily. Before that it was cattle. And prior to that, the property was a tobacco-producing slave plantation.
The farm continued to grow tobacco into Pittman’s childhood. His boyhood friend, Ray, was the son of a black family who lived on the property and grew tobacco there.
Pittman said he’s spent much of his adult life trying to reckon with his family’s history of slavery.
“For me and some of my sisters, as well, it’s just always there,” he said. “You want to respect your ancestors and you want to see the good in them because they’re who you came from, and the whole slavery thing changes all of that. You do carry that forever.”
Post-slavery, Pittman said the family donated the farm to the Catholic Church. They bought it back a couple of generations later.
“We’re not sure exactly what their motivations were,” he said about the family’s decision to donate the property. “We would like to think it was guilt. We do know they were told they would go to heaven if they did that. The deal was that they would pray for their souls every Sunday.”
Now the massive farm serves a few different purposes. It’s a horse training ground. Pittman, his mother and two of his sisters all have homes on the property. His sister, Romey, and her husband own the on-site vineyard.
Despite his fondness for the farm, Pittman opted for a big city for college. He went to the University of Chicago and majored in political science. During his senior year, he added Latin American studies and says he was the first person to graduate from the school with that degree.
“I wanted to see a different part of the country,” he said.
Fresh out of college in 1984, Pittman got his first job with the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, more commonly known as ACORN.
The social justice organization was known for mobilizing communities in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. Pittman’s first assignment was in Altgeld Gardens, a public housing project on the far side of south Chicago. The neighborhood was referred to as the “toxic doughnut” because it was surrounded by hazardous waste.
Pittman said he helped residents work with their housing authority to clear asbestos from the apartment complex and demand local officials rid the area of toxic waste.
“I cared about it because I always cared about people who were most vulnerable,” he said. “I fell in love with people coming together to tell their government what to do.”
Pittman worked for a woman named Madeline Talbott. She helped open ACORN’s Chicago office in 1983.
Talbott said she recruited students at the University of Chicago by passing out signs with slogans, like “Work for Change,” “Work for Social Justice” or “Long Hours, Low Pay.”
On Saturday Steuart Pittman announced he will seek an ethics investigation into a memo sent from Anne Arundel County. Pittman claims the memo — which features county letterhead — was actually campaign materials using county resources.
“He was very smart and very sincere,” she said. “He really wanted to make a difference. He cared about low-income people and he was willing to work hard for not a lot of money.”
Pittman spent two years with ACORN in Chicago before he transferred to the organization’s Des Moines chapter. While in Iowa, Pittman also married his first wife, Karen Cunnyngham — whom he would eventually divorce in 2008 — and had a daughter, Jesse.
The farmer-turned-activist took a brief hiatus from ACORN when he moved back to Washington, D.C., in 1990 to work for the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Pittman rejoined ACORN as the director for national campaigns in 1992 and officially left the organization in 1994.
After Pittman left the organization, ACORN was accused of voter registration fraud several times before its ultimate demise in 2010. The organization put on “Project Vote” events aimed to increase voter participation in urban areas.
Ahead of the 2008 presidential election, ACORN had been accused of paying employees for signing up voters and forcing them to meet quotas, throwing away Republican registration cards and falsifying voter information in several states — including Nevada, Colorado, Indiana and North Carolina, The New York Times reported.
Most of the allegations were unfounded. The nonpartisan Congressional Research Center did not find any evidence of voter fraud between 2004 and 2009.
However, ACORN in 2011 did face fines for fraudulent voting practices in Las Vegas, according to The New York Times.
Despite the controversy, Pittman continues to defend ACORN. It’s where he got his start in community organizing.
“I learned how local government works and I wouldn't trade that for anything,” he said.
Back on the farm
In 1994, Pittman traded in his life as a community organizer for that of a farmer. He returned to Dodon Farm to train and sell horses.
He also raised his oldest child, Jesse, on the farm. Pittman has two other children, twin boys, with his current wife, Erin.
Jesse admits she wasn’t as fond of the farm as her father.
“I spent a lot of my time as a kid complaining about living on a farm,” said Jesse, who now lives in Los Angeles. “I wanted to have neighbors, I wanted to walk over to friends’ houses but couldn’t.”
Jesse said that growing up, Pittman was very direct and honest with her.
“As a father, he’s never tried to put himself on a pedestal as someone for me to revere,” she said. “Our relationship sometimes felt like friends and not father-daughter.”
Pittman and Cunnyngham, Jesse’s mother, split in 2008. Jesse describes her parents’ relationship as “cordial.”
“When they separated, they did it with as much compassion and grace as possible. They have a lot of respect for each other,” she said.
Cunnyngham declined an interview but said she supports Pittman’s campaign.
By 2011, Pittman had thrown himself back into social issues. He founded the Retired Racehorse Project, a nonprofit organization that trains ex-racehorses for second careers in dressage, cross-country jumping and show jumping.
“Really what I was into was taking horses off of the racetrack who retired in early age,” Pittman said. “They have a long life ahead of them if somebody trains them to do something other than race.”
Racehorses typically retire at age 4, Pittman said. About 10,000 thoroughbred racehorses are sent to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico every year, according to PETA.
The Retired Racehorse Project was created to encourage horse owners to transition their animals after they've finished their racing careers. Every year the organization — with a $1 million budget — hosts a national competition and is centered around that purpose, Pittman said.
People who compete in the Thoroughbred Makeover take a horse off the racetrack, spend one year training it, then compete for thousands of dollars in prize money.
The event started at Pimlico, then moved to Kentucky when it got too big for the Baltimore racetrack, Pittman said.
“As a Democrat, people will say I’m a big government guy, and tax and spend, and all of that,” Pittman said. “But what was new about that organization and that whole movement that we built is that it was a market-based solution. It was using free-market capitalism to solve a social problem and that’s how I got rich white men to support it.”
In 2016, Pittman reported a $40,000 salary from the Retired Racehorse Project.
Pittman’s other business endeavors include railing against regulations that shortchanged farmers with the Anne Arundel County Soil Conservation District and a stint as president of the Maryland Horse Council.
“I got involved politically, again, at the local level when I was basically working as a farmer,” he said.
The path to politics
Pittman’s path to politics is atypical. He’s never run a political campaign and he’s never held an elected position.
But he doesn’t think that matters.
Pittman has called his campaign a “grassroots” one. It’s a relatively slim campaign, with a budget that totals about $600,000 smaller than his opponent's.
“He’s burning through money like it’s going out of style,” he said of Schuh.
Pittman’s campaign team consists mostly of volunteers, the youngest of whom are his twin 9-year-olds — Andy and Sam. They hang fliers on doors when Pittman goes door-knocking.
“I didn’t know candidates went door-to-door anymore,” said a Crownsville resident after Pittman introduced himself.
It was a particularly humid and mosquito-ridden day for door-knocking. Pittman, lanky and towering above 6 feet, wore a full suit.
He chatted with residents about development and invited them to a forum at which he’d condemn the Chesapeake Bayhawks’ stadium proposal and endorse a proposal to build a solar field at the Crownsville Hospital Center, instead.
His accent, which normally has a Southern twinge, got stronger as he engaged the rural residents. He starts to talk about horses.
The topic comes up often with Pittman. He’s compared training thoroughbreds and starting his own nonprofit to running a campaign.
“I don’t think I’d have the patience to do what I’m doing now had it not been for training horses for 10 years,” he said.
Pittman has had to run a lean campaign, but in recent weeks it’s been picking up steam.
In early October, he secured an endorsement from former county executive Laura Neuman.
On Monday, Pittman called for an ethics investigation into Schuh’s use of county letterhead for what the Democrat blasted as a political attack.
Maryland Republican Party Chairman Dirk Haire recently accused Schuh and Pittman of playing a game of “tit-for-tat.” Haire exposed a Sept. 24 complaint that accused Pittman’s campaign of violating election law by sending election emails without authority lines.
Schuh’s campaign denied filing the complaint with the Maryland State Board of Elections.
After criticizing Schuh for accepting donations from developers, Pittman announced a plan to ban developers and their agents from contributing to campaigns when they have active projects pending before the county.
While Pittman is a critic of developer dollars, he did accept a $4,000 donation from Dr. William Tham. The Maryland doctor is being sued by Anne Arundel County for allegedly overprescribing opioids.
Pittman has gone on record to commit himself to the region’s fight against the opioid epidemic. The Democrat has called for greater engagement from the medical community and he’s demanded more transparency into the Schuh administration’s Safe Stations. He said he would return the donation if Tham is found guilty.
“I know this guy,” Pittman said. “Dr. Tham had sort of been vilified but if he’s doing bad things, we’ll, of course, return the money.”
At a spacious home perched over the Rhode River in Edgewater, Pittman met recently with a handful of residents.
The owner, Joan Harris, said she wanted to host the campaign event to introduce her neighbors to Pittman.
She called a photo that surfaced last year of Schuh and Roy Moore “repugnant.” Moore, whom several women accused of sexual misconduct, was a U.S. Senate candidate in Alabama.Several women alleged the Alabama Senate nominee sexually assaulting them. Two were minors at the time of the alleged incidents.
Like many county residents, Harris said she is worried about development.
“Schuh has never met a developer he didn’t like,” she said. “I feel like Pittman supports smart growth that is good for the environment and is fiscally responsible.”
Pittman floated around the bright room as he bashed overdevelopment in the county.
Pittman’s wife, Erin, was also at the meet-and-greet. They met in 2006 when she sent him a horse that needed to be trained.
“He’s honest and kind,” she said. “I liked how he was and how he saw the world. He has a way of seeing a need and he hones in and focuses on it. He can get stuff done. He’s tenacious and he doesn’t give up easily.”
Pittman’s path to politics has been atypical. This is his first political campaign and he’s never held office as a public official. He’s managed big budgets, but not for an entire county.