Howard County Councilwoman Courtney Watson joined the 2014 race for county executive today, pledging to safeguard the affluent Baltimore-Washington area's much-celebrated quality of life and to "do more, achieve more, for our citizens."
In prepared remarks, Watson, a 51-year-old Democrat from Ellicott City, lauded the achievements of the council's Democratic majority and County Executive Ken Ulman, also a Democrat. She vowed to "work hard to end homelessness in our county," and "to make our school system world class while bringing equal academic opportunities to each and every child."
Now in her second term on the five-member council, the county native and daughter of former County Executive Ed Cochran will face Republican state Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, son of the late state Sen. Robert H. Kittleman, in her bid to succeed Ulman. Barred by term limits from seeking a third four-year stint as executive, Ulman is now the running mate of Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, who hopes to succeed Gov. Martin O'Malley.
Kittleman, 54, of West Friendship, is trying to become only the second Republican elected to the office since it was established in 1968. "I welcome her to the race," he said. "I look forward to a positive campaign in which we debate the issues facing Howard County."
Political activists in the county of 290,000 do not expect either candidate to face a serious challenge in the June 24 party primaries. The filing deadline is Feb. 25.
Watson — vice president of sales for Rossmann-Hurt-Hoffman Inc. insurance in Ellicott City — had been expected to enter the race for the open seat. She was mentioned as a potential executive candidate as far back as 2006, when she left the county Board of Education to run for the council.
She said the question for voters is who is best able "to continue the progress that we've made in Howard County," with its glossy record of recognition for quality of life, libraries, citizen health, use of technology and high-achieving public schools.
Last month, the school system announced that its 12 high schools ranked among the top 50 in the Baltimore area, as measured by the 2012 average SAT scores.
"That didn't happen by accident," Watson said, attributing the record of success in schools to "very dedicated county executives who made investments for the quality of life."
The school system, she said, drives the county's economic fortunes, and has long been known as a reason why many people move to Howard from other parts of Maryland and even from overseas.
As executive, Watson said she would continue the county's environmental protection efforts and its plan to eradicate homelessness, with recent surveys showing some 200 homeless people living in Howard. She said the county could do more to improve quality of life for older residents by helping to coordinate existing services provided by the county, private and nonprofit organizations.
Kittleman has made a point of his ability to appeal to Democrats, touting his legislative votes in favor of same-sex marriage and against capital punishment while describing himself as a fiscal conservative. He brought Sen. Bobby Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat, to the stage to attest to his ability to reach across the aisle.
Watson said political ideology plays little role in the work of county government, though she clearly has a partisan edge in Howard.
Since the Republicans lost their majority on the council and the county executive seat in 1998, Democrats have held sway. The executive, four of five council members and eight of 11 members of Howard's General Assembly delegation are Democrats.
Voter registration figures show Democrats outnumber Republicans 92,934 to 56,580, with 41,819 not affiliated with any party.
"I don't see it as a question of who is more moderate," Watson said, referring to the choice between herself and Kittleman. "It's who has the experience to drive our county forward."
Job: Vice president of sales, Rossmann-Hurt-Hoffman Inc. insurance
Resides: Ellicott City
Education: B.A., Loyola University Maryland