Pittman sworn in as 10th Anne Arundel County executive, lays out 'ambitious' agenda

Steuart Pittman, the Democrat from Davidsonville who won Anne Arundel’s top elective office in his first political campaign, was sworn in Monday at noon as the 10th Anne Arundel County executive.

After taking the oath administered by new county Clerk of the Clerk Scott Poyer, Pittman thanked his family and said he would model his style on former President George H.W. Bush, who died Friday.

“I will seek the wise counsel from both sides," he said.

Pittman addressed the crowd at Maryland Hall in Annapolis and listed several priorities for his administration on gun violence, education, immigration and the environment.

He committed to obtain ownership of the old Crownsville Hospital Center grounds and ending the 287(g) program that trained detention officers to screen inmate immigration status. In a previous conversation with The Capital, Pittman was still reviewing those decisions.

“We started this campaign in a barn," Pittman said, a reference to his farm. “If you want more influence, my advice is: organize. When communities unite we all move forward.”

In a ceremony that began at 11 a.m., the county charter required Pittman to be sworn in by noon. His rise to county leader began in House Speaker Mike Busch’s office, where he discussed running for County Council.

But he came back and elevated his sights on the county executive’s job, Busch said.

“Obviously his message resonated,” said Busch, an Annapolis Democrat and leader of the Democratic party both in the county and the state.

The longest-serving speaker of the House in Maryland history, he had advice for Pittman as well.

“There are going to be days when you wake up and wonder why you ever took the job. And days when it is the best job in the world."

On stage with Pittman and Busch were an assortment of dignitaries, including outgoing county executive Steve Schuh, a Republican from Gibson Island and former county executive Janet Owens. Sitting in special guest seats in the audience were both U.S. senators for Maryland, Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen.

Members of the new County Council were seated behind Pittman for the ceremony. They were sworn in at 3 p.m. with a meeting following at 7 p.m. at the Arundel Center. The 7 p.m. meeting will include interviews with Board of Appeals applicants, according to the preliminary agenda.

In laying out what he called an “ambitious” but not “ divisive” agenda, Pittman committed to a gun violence commission, his response to the June 28 shooting the killed five members of the Capital Gazette staff. He said he “won't rest” until all are safe.

On the environment, he said the county would take the threats of sea level rise and climate change seriously and would pursue no net loss of forest through conservation issues. Pittman plans to hire the first county environmental policy director.

He committed to acquiring the old Crownsville Hospital grounds from the state, something three out of the four previous executives have declined because of the massive cleanup involved in repurposing the site.

The new executive said he would follow through on his pledge to re-examine county immigration policy. Under Schuh, the county signed a contract to hold immigration detainees and had detention center officers go through training on immigration procedures.

“Immigration enforcement will be left to the feds,” Pittman said. “We will issue a report on the impacts of 287(g) and then we will kiss it goodbye.”

On education, Pittman said he would fund a school budget that includes more teachers to reduce classroom sizes. And he promised to pay for salary increases that teachers have long sought.

“We will pay them fairly because they have earned it,” he said.

Pittman said the government belongs to the people, not him.

“Trust in government can be restored,” he said. “We will do this together and we will do it with respect for one another."

In closing, he said would modify the county slogan adopted by Schuh, who liked calling Anne Arundel County “The best place to live, work and start a business.”

The new county slogan under Pittman will simply be: “The best place.”

Guest speakers

Four guest speakers joined the county-executive-elect as representative of average county residents. He planned the event with a community focus, underscoring the message the farmer-turned-politician recited during his campaign.

Brian Holtslander, an Anne Arundel County firefighter; Gary Hoenig, a north county farmer; Josie Urrea, a school board member and Severna Park High School senior; and Janice Hayes-Williams, a local historian, each gave brief remarks.

Williams, who is leaving a position with Mayor Gavin Buckley’s administration in Annapolis for a job in Pittman’s, emphasized county diversity.

“I am Anne Arundel County. I come from every manner of immigrant who has ever stepped on the shores of Anne Arundel County...I come from slaves who were captured in Africa and brought here to work in slavery...In my DNA are the Irish who came here to escape a potato famine,” she said.

She urged those listening to work with the new executive.

“There is one thing he wants you to do. Join him,” Williams said.

Urrea, the student school board member, said she has high hopes for leadership in education from a Pittman administration.

“I really look forward to the direction of the county,” she said. “This includes adequate staffing for teachers and counselors.”

Teacher salaries and classroom overcrowding were a major issue of the campaign, with the teacher’s union endorsing Pittman. Pittman did away with the education officer position created by Schuh and has said he wants a more direct relationship with the school superintendent and the Board of Education.

In his comments, Hoenig said that farming as a way of life is disappearing from the county because of development.

Pittman, who runs his family horse farm, picked Hoening as the owner one of the last working farm in north county. Others have been sold for development.

The Historic Smith Farm spans about 100 acres in Severn. Neighboring families also work and own property on the 230-year-old farm.

“We are stewards of the earth," Hoenig, surrounded by other farmers who carried a green banner onto the stage. “Preserve the farm.”

The final member of the group to speak was Holtslander, a firefighter who said Pittman’s victory was a reflection of his vision that county government should recognize the struggles of its residents and embraces its duty.

“Steuart Pittman shares our commitment to a safer Anne Arundel County,” Holtslander said.

The firefighters union endorsed Pittman during the campaign, citing salaries and other issues facing its members.

The Rev. Stephen Tillett, president of the county NAACP branch, kicked off the event with a humorous note as master of ceremonies.

He joked that Pittman has to be sworn in by noon or the “master of ceremonies” becomes executive.

Entertainment included a performance by the Wiley H. Bates Middle School choir, which received a standing ovation from the crowd at the arts center located next to their school. The Fresh Start Church Ensemble also performed.

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This story has been updated to correct the history of Crownsville Hospital Center. County Executive John Leopold sought unsuccessfully to acquire the land.

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