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Kittleman for county executive

There may be no race in the state (up to and including that for governor) that pits two so well qualified candidates against each other as the contest for Howard County Executive. Republican Allan Kittleman and Democrat Courtney Watson are both exemplary elected officials who have brought nothing but intelligence, dedication and integrity to their long records of service to the people of Howard County. Both are extremely well versed in the issues the county faces today, and both have run strong campaigns. We regret that choosing one means denying the other, but nonetheless Mr. Kittleman has the slight edge. He earns our endorsement.

Each comes from a political family with deep roots in Howard County. Mr. Kittleman's late father, Bob, was a state senator, and Ms. Watson's father, Ed Cochran, is a former Howard County executive. Ironically, their fathers worked together years ago, most notably on desegregation issues.

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Both Mr. Kittleman and Ms. Watson have long and distinguished careers in public service. Mr. Kittleman served on the County Council and now represents the county in the state Senate. Ms. Watson was first on the Howard school board and now serves on the County Council.

Even their political philosophies are similar, despite their political party affiliation, with Mr. Kittleman a relatively liberal Republican and Ms. Watson a relatively conservative Democrat. Though the race has been contentious at times, it takes some effort to find truly substantive differences between them on the issues. The larger contrast is in their general approach to the job.

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Ms. Watson has spent much of her campaign presenting herself as a candidate who will continue the work of current county executive and lieutenant governor candidate Ken Ulman. She points to top school and library systems and progress on downtown Columbia. It's a solid approach for the Democrat, especially since Mr. Ulman has been a popular leader and one whose legacy will ultimately be seen as having left the county better than he found it.

Mr. Kittleman also sees the county in a positive light, and though he is less apt to cite the virtues of Mr. Ulman, he isn't running as a repudiation of the incumbent either. He has focused much of his campaign on issues that don't get a lot of attention, such as the achievement gap in schools, and he has proposed family support centers as a way of improving communities. He also stresses that the tax burden on county residents, when combining the property and fire taxes together, is too great.

Though Ms. Watson would also make an excellent county executive, we believe Mr. Kittleman is the better choice because he would bring a fresh approach to leadership of the county. In addition, his record on the state level shows that he is willing to buck his party take principled stands on important issues. Notably, he publicly endorsed marriage equality before many Democrats — including Gov. Martin O'Malley — despite near uniform opposition within his party. He also supported the repeal of the death penalty and co-sponsored legislation to decriminalize marijuana and ban discrimination against transgender people. That kind of independence would serve Howard County well.

And although political party labels generally don't mean much in local office, Mr. Kittleman's is a plus. Maryland is stronger when it has two viable political parties fostering a competition of ideas, and Mr. Kittleman's brand of moderate conservatism makes him exactly the kind of candidate who can help make that possible. All else being equal — and in this race, it largely is — that's an important consideration.

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Nonetheless, we sincerely hope that this won't be the last we hear of Courtney Watson. She has shown herself to be an immensely gifted and dedicated public servant, and we hope she will find many more opportunities to share her talents with the community.

We also make endorsements in Howard County's three competitive council races. In the race to replace Ms. Watson in District 1, we endorse Democrat Jon Weinstein over Republican Kevin Schmidt. Mr. Weinstein's experience on the county's Spending Affordability Advisory Committee has prepared him well for the job. In District 2, incumbent Democrat Calvin Ball's experience in representing Columbia during a time of revitalization earns him the edge over Republican newcomer Ralph Colavita. And in District 5, we endorse Republican incumbent Greg Fox. His role in encouraging government transparency has been vital, and he deserves to be re-elected.

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