As the political campaigns edge closer to their end, the two contenders for Howard County executive are pursuing different paths to hoped-for victory.
The night before the final candidates forum before the Chamber of Commerce at a Columbia hotel Wednesday, Democrat Ken Ulman hosted a fundraiser at Turf Valley for more than 200 people, though his last report showed $713,000 cash on hand compared with $23,000 for Republican Trent Kittleman.
In addition, he released results from a weekend poll his campaign conducted Oct. 10 and 11 showing him ahead of Kittleman 57 percent to 32 percent among 400 randomly selected voters. Ulman said his campaign fundraising and polling schedules were planned out months earlier and he's simply following that plan. But he's clearly determined not to underestimate Kittleman's appeal in an unusual political year. An earlier poll commissioned by a Republican candidate for County Council showed Kittleman with a narrower deficit of 8 percentage points
"We're in this final sprint," Ulman told supporters at the fundraiser. He asked them to call their friends, urge them to vote and volunteer at his headquarters making campaign phone calls, delivering campaign materials door to door and work at polls on Election Day. "We need you to get on the phone or e-mail people and let them know you're supporting Ken Ulman and why. We need your help. It's all about turnout."
Kittleman said her next campaign finance report, due Friday, Oct. 22, won't show a huge increase in fundraising, but she's continuing the quiet, grass-roots campaign she says will be effective in this anti-incumbent year.
She said she has little confidence in polls
"In 1990, Chris McCabe was 12 points behind with a week or two to go, and he won," she said, recalling Republican former state Sen. McCabe's upset victory that coincided with Republican Charles I. Ecker's defeat of incumbent Democratic County Executive Elizabeth Bobo.
"My plan is to do what I've been doing," she said, which is waving signs at motorists, going door to door and meeting as many voters as possible. She's given out 8,000 copies of her book, "Why Must There Be Dragons, How to Communicate in the Workplace," which she wrote for her consulting business.
She has no fundraising events planned, she said, but "I do a little bit of phoning" for contributions and she sends out direct appeals by mail.
At the breakfast forum held Wednesday by the Howard County Chamber of Commerce, a bit of sniping over perks seemed to reflect the nearness of Election Day.
Kittleman took her shots after Ulman challenged her to list just one thing she would cut from the budget. He has said repeatedly that it's easy to talk about cutting spending without saying where to cut.
She said Ulman should not have spent money to redecorate the executive's office, or used two county police officers as his security detail, paid his staff "top dollar" salaries or created the new Office of Environmental Sustainability operated by political ally Joshua Feldmark. She did not suggest any major budget cuts.
When he got the chance, Ulman then accused Kittleman of diverting Maryland Transportation Authority Police officers to drive her around when she headed that agency, and of diverting other officers to escort celebrities through Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
She quickly denied ever having a police driver, except for one occasion because of a security threat. "That is simply absolutely and totally untrue," she said.
They weren't the only forum participants to trade a few barbs.
Republican District 1 County Council candidate Robert L. Flanagan, who is trying to unseat Democrat Courtney Watson, said he'd order lots more audits of the Ulman administration if elected, and, in closing, said "on the council, I don't intend to be a potted plant." Later in the day, Watson posted an item on Facebook saying that Flanagan "insinuated that I was, in his exact words, a 'potted plant.' What do you think of that?"
Flanagan later said he was commenting on himself, not on Watson.
Generally, Ulman and Kittleman repeated their agreement that Howard County is a great place to live, repeating their sharply divergent views of the county's future.
Ulman says he wants to keep spending on schools, public safety, libraries and parks to make sure Howard stays among Maryland's and the nation's best places to live for decades to come. That's why planning for the redevelopment of downtown Columbia, the U.S. 1 corridor and preparing for the National Security Cyber Command's arrival in the area are so important, he said at the forum.
"We're positioning this county so that whoever is county executive 10, 20, 30, or 40 years from now, the county will have the same quality of life," he said to more than 150 business people at a Columbia hotel. Faced with the worst economic downturn since the 1930s, he's made cuts, he argued, and the county is "not only surviving, but is thriving" while forging ahead on issues like the environment and health care.
Kittleman has a different vision.
"I love this county," she said. "We have a phenomenal quality of life." But Kittleman warned that if the county government doesn't change spending policies when better economic times return, Howard could follow Montgomery County into a severe fiscal crisis that could damage that elite status.
"We need to stop spending money on growing government and put money toward commitments we've already made." By that she means using any excess revenue to pay down the huge, growing liability for health care benefits due future retirees that started at $477 million several years ago and has become larger as the county has held back contributions during the recession."This issue is really the core of why I'm running," she said about the budget pressures.