Howard County Executive Ken Ulman cleared the first hurdle to the State House on Tuesday night, June 24, as he and gubernatorial running mate Anthony Brown clinched the Democratic nomination with about 50 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results.
With the team's victory Tuesday, Ulman becomes the Democratic contender for lieutenant governor in Maryland's November general election, and, given the state's solid Democratic base, has strong potential to be the first Howard Countian to serve in the office.
No matter the outcome in November, in fact, a county resident will hold the office — Boyd Rutherford, who along with gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan won the Republican nomination, lives in Columbia.
For Ulman, 40, the win represents the next step in an ambitious career trajectory that began in 2002 when the Columbia native, then 27 and a lawyer, ran for County Council in west Columbia's District 4.
After just one term on the council, Ulman set his sights on the county executive post. In 2006, he defeated Republican opponent and fellow council member Chris Merdon to succeed departing Democratic executive Jim Robey. In 2010, he coasted to easy re-election, defeating challenger Trent Kittleman with 62 percent of the vote.
In his final state of the county speech earlier this year, Ulman, who is term-limited, reflected that running for county executive as a one-term, 32-year-old councilman was a move that some must have considered audacious.
But looking back on his eight years in Howard's top job, his self-assessment was that he leaves the county a better place.
"The state of Howard County is accelerating and strong, forward-focused and vibrant, healthy and nimble, and poised for future success," he said.
Ulman's two terms as executive have been marked by progress on development in downtown Columbia as well as progressive policies that have sometimes attracted national attention.
Ulman's initiatives include Healthy Howard, a nonprofit partially funded by the county to provide access to health services for Howard's uninsured population before the Affordable Care Act was implemented; and, more recently, the Roving Radish, a food truck that is set to start delivering meal ingredients sourced from local farms to participants this July.
He also has played a leading role in coordinating the Inter-County Broadband Network, a project linking government buildings, schools and some businesses in the state to secure Internet access.
When the county was thrust into the national spotlight after a double murder-suicide at the Mall in Columbia this January, Ulman was often filmed alongside Howard Police Chief William McMahon. His budget proposal in March included expanded funding for mental health resources and a task force to examine where the county can do better in its treatment of mental health issues.
As lieutenant governor, Ulman's role would not be well-defined. The state's Constitution says that the lieutenant governor, who is next in line to succeed the governor, "shall have only the duties delegated to him by the Governor."
Paul Herrnson, director of the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Connecticut, said, 'The lieutenant governor generally plays a role a key adviser to the governor."
Herrnson, a former University of Maryland professor who had Ulman in his class, described him in his student years as a "very bright, hardworking person with a good ear for policy and politics." He said Ulman "brings executive experience [to Annapolis] which Brown, as a state legislator, hasn't had."
Herrnson also aid Brown and Ulman's success — and the fact that all the major Democratic candidates for governor this election cycle hailed from outside of Baltimore City — highlights the power of the Baltimore/Washington suburban electorate.
"I think the major point is the suburbs are now increasing in importance and Baltimore City is decreasing," Herrnson said.
Guy Guzzone, a delegate from District 13 who sat on the council with Ulman in 2002, lauded the county executive for "incredible talent for managing people and running government."
As lieutenant governor, Guzzone said, he can picture Ulman focusing on technological innovation, economic development and higher education to "build infrastructure for the future in Maryland."