The big white campaign banner's words at Ken Ulman's political fundraiser Tuesday night at Turf Valley merely identified him as Howard County executive, but the deep blue outline of Maryland with a big white star in the center gave some in the crowd of about 400 a different idea.
"I think he's running for governor. I don't think he's running for president yet," said builder Harry "Chip" Lundy, a Republican, at the early $1,000-a-ticket gathering before the main event.
"This is the one guy who's established a pretty broad appeal," said Ted Mariani, another Republican at the $100-a-ticket larger gathering.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, a liberal Democrat who spoke in praise of Ulman, wouldn't speculate on what office the term-limited executive might seek in 2014, but said, "He appeals to a broad cross-section of people. They sky is the limit for him."
The annual fundraiser added more than $200,000 to the $440,000 Ulman reported in his treasury in January, according to campaign manager Colin O'Dea. Earlier, the 36-year old Ulman was also circumspect when asked what contributors should expect to get for their money.
"My vision for strengthening the quality of life and finding innovations to challenges" is what they are buying, he said. Ulman, a prodigious fundraiser in a relatively small county, reported raising a total of $1.4 million over the past four-year election cycle.
"People are contributing because they believe in what we've been able to do here" in Howard County, he said the day before the event. But not everyone at Turf Valley was an Ulman fan.
About a dozen protesters used the occasion to line narrow Turf Valley Road waving placards at attendees as they arrived to express their fears that a redevelopment plan for the 800-acre property will boost traffic through their residential street to intolerable levels. The basic zoning for the plan, which would add more than 1,300 homes and a shopping center, was approved in 1986. However, some residents blame county government and the Mangione family that owns Turf Valley for allowing a larger supermarket and more houses to become part of the plan over time.
Other residents, like Helen Carey, welcome the shopping center the Mangiones plan as part of a new, expanded community. "Our community continues to be supportive of that project," she said. "Traffic has been blown out of proportion" by the critics, she added.
The protesters, who included former County Council member Angela Beltram, who is not a Turf Valley resident, waved placards saying "Ulman and Mangione are destroying our neighborhood!!!" Linda Spencer, an organizer, said "every time we turn around, this thing keeps growing."
Inside, the executive shrugged off the protest. "Some people say you haven't arrived until you've been picketed," he joked. "It's the beauty of democracy," he added about the right of people to complain publicly.
Trent Kittleman, the Republican nominee for county executive last year who raised a total of $66,335 for her campaign, didn't attend Ulman's event but had a ready line about the huge cash imbalance between them last year when she was asked what Ulman will use his growing pile of campaign cash for.
"I don't know what he wanted all his other money for," she said, referring to his huge financial advantage over her last year. "He seems to be a consummate politician."
Cell tower blues?
Meanwhile, although Kittleman seems to be out of politics for now, her name was bandied about before the County Council Monday night at the monthly public hearing on pending legislation.
She and T-Mobile are seeking County Council approval for a 150-foot cell tower on her family's 111-acre West Friendship property, which is in the county's Agricultural Preservation Program. Two neighbors representing the Fox Valley subdivision next door came to the council complaining that they haven't been sufficiently informed of public meetings on the issue, which began with a required public information meeting held before Kittleman announced her run for county executive in February 2010.
To erect the pole, one of a series of cell towers T-Mobile is trying to get permission to build along the rural Route 32 corridor, Kittleman and T-Mobile need the council to approve a resolution to remove 875 square feet of Kittleman land from agricultural preservation. The exact site is under discussion with neighbors, some of whom aren't happy about the tower.
Anthony Conti, vice president of the Fox Valley Homeowners Association, was angry at what he felt was T-Mobile's attempt at an end run without informing residents about the council hearing. "We never received any notice," he complained, either of the original community meeting or of the council session. He and association president Rick Gezelle read about the hearing in a weekly newspaper, he said.
Besides, Conti added, he's had T-mobile service for five years and hasn't lost a call. Sean Hughes, representing the telecom firm, said the proposed tower is in the public interest and is needed. The number of cellphones is growing, he said, and "the more people use them, the more antennas you need." He said the tall trees on the Kittleman farm would make it very difficult for anyone in Fox Valley to see the pole.
Kittleman didn't attend the hearing but said she's been working with Gezelle to resolve the issue and doesn't understand all the fuss.
"It's a pole. At the top is some stuff. You see it once, and it just disappears from your radar. Nobody on Fox Valley Drive can see it at all," she said, based on a balloon and a crane T-Mobile placed in the chosen spot to test visibility. The larger issue, she said, is how people with preserved farmland can make enough money to keep it. That's the same issue that's come up in arguments over wineries and other proposed uses of land in rural spots.
"The reality is this farm produces no money," Kittleman said, yet it costs money to keep undeveloped. Even if every acre were growing crops, that would produce only about $2,000 a year, she added. The cell tower will provide enough money to pay the taxes and utilities at least. "It seems so perfect" a solution she said, especially since it's "noiseless and odorless."
If the council approves the resolution, T-Mobile still has to obtain a conditional use from the county hearing examiner, and several of their towers have sparked drawn-out appeals.
One proposed for a church building on Burntwoods Road in Glenwood has now also prompted a federal lawsuit, filed March 18.
T-Mobile is suing the Howard County Board of Appeals for what it claims is the board's "arbitrary and capricious" decision wrongfully denying permission for the tower there. The firm claims the decision is a violation of the Federal Communications Act and was not based on the evidence in the case.