As candidates submitted campaign finance information this week, Republican county executive candidate Jessica Haire criticized Steuart Pittman for accepting donations from developers after she was berated by Pittman and community organizations for accepting tens of thousands of dollars from a Silver Spring developer and its employees.
In her latest TV ad, “Pay Me Pittman,” which launched Monday, according to a campaign news release, Haire notes that her Democratic opponent took a donation from Conifer Realty, a Rochester, New York-based developer that recently purchased five acres in Odenton to build Blue Oaks at North Odenton, a workforce housing project.
At a meeting in March between Conifer and the Odenton Town Center Advisory Committee, Andrew Hanson, vice president of development at Conifer, said the units will be affordable for people making $20,000 to $65,000 a year.
Haire leveled her criticism of Pittman as the first general election campaign finance reporting deadline arrived on Tuesday. Pittman received $2,500 from Conifer in April, according to his campaign finance report. He also brought a bill before the County Council that would offer the developer a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement. Under the agreement, the developer would pay the county a negotiated fee rather than regular real estate taxes. This type of agreement is often used to incentivize developers to build affordable housing, as in the case of Blue Oaks.
At a July County Council meeting, seven payment in lieu of taxes programs, including one for Blue Oaks, were approved by the four Democrats on the council — Allison Pickard of Glen Burnie, Sarah Lacey of Jessup, Lisa Rodvien of Annapolis and Andrew Pruski of Gambrills. All three council Republicans — Haire of Edgewater, Nathan Volke of Pasadena and Amanda Fiedler of Arnold — voted against the agreements.
“He put that bill [in] in June and then pushed it through the council on a party-line vote,” Haire said. “It shifts the tax burden to the rest of Anne Arundel County residents so the company that’s getting this large tax break is not even an Anne Arundel County company, it’s not even a Maryland company. It’s a New York-based company.”
Haire said the issue is not about the merits of the payment in lieu of taxes program, it’s about Pittman’s hypocrisy.
“Pittman, for the last two months, has been screaming and trying to manufacture outrage over [my] campaign contributions,” she said. “Meanwhile, he’s doling out tax breaks for his donor. That’s wildly hypocritical.”
However, Pittman said he’s proud to be supported by Conifer or any other affordable housing developer as he’s intent on supporting the construction of more affordable housing in Anne Arundel.
“We have a shortage of teachers, bus drivers, police officers and what I’m told is that if we say no to affordable housing, we’re saying no to our small businesses [and] we’re saying no to our schools,” Pittman said. “We’ve got to have places in this county where people can live and afford to work these jobs.”
A coalition of Anne Arundel County community groups including Forks of the Patuxent Improvement Association, Woodwardville Preservation Society, Greater Crofton Council and Crofton First wrote a letter in July requesting that Haire return more than $250,000 in campaign contributions from Silver Spring developer Halle Companies and its employees and associates. Halle has been working for decades to get a landfill built along Patuxtent Road that many community members oppose. The Capital found that Haire received approximately $200,000 in donations from people or entities sharing the Halle address, employed by Halle — according to company information — or sharing addresses with Halle employees.
The proposed Chesapeake Terrace Rubble Landfill has been tied up in the courts for around 30 years. However, Pittman said the landfill cannot get built under his administration as building approval will require a certificate of use from the county. Additionally, the special exception the landfill developer is working with only includes one entry point, a site where the county purchased land to construct a new school, West County Elementary School. Because that land is now spoken for, Pittman said the landfill has no recourse under the county Office of Law’s interpretation of the developer’s documents.
The amount of donations Haire got from Halle is around one hundred times more than the $2,500 he got from Conifer, Pittman pointed out.
“I think one-hundredth of what the Halle Development people did to put a dump next to a neighborhood is legitimate political fundraising and I stand by it,” he said.
The payment-in-lieu-o-taxes program has been used by the county for years, he said, and is an appropriate form of tax relief for the benefits affordable housing bring to the local economy.
But to Haire, the issue is not the amount of money, or the benefits to the economy, or how wise it is to build affordable housing. The issue, said Haire is doing favors for donors.
“This is not about contributions. Who he has as campaign supporters is not my issue,” Haire said. “He has been trying to scream that somehow because people are giving me donations that I’m going to do them favors. He’s accusing me of something he’s speculating about. It’s inaccurate. It’s untrue. It’s never been my practice.”
Meanwhile, Pittman is already providing benefits to a donor of his, Haire said.
According to campaign finance data submitted by the Tuesday deadline, Pittman has around $615,000 in cash on hand, while Haire has about $225,000. Pittman has spent about $50,000 on his campaign since early July, while Haire spent about $275,000 to defeat several challengers in the recent Republican primary. Pittman had no challengers.
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“We’ve spent a lot of money. We’ve raised a lot of money, but we’ve been working hard for over a year to put our message out,” Haire said. “I can feel the excitement with folks. I can see it and feel it everywhere I go.”
In the July primary, Haire received 16,358 votes, or 44.4% of the vote, to defeat her main challenger, former Annapolis Del. Herb McMillan., who got 14,292 votes or 38.8%.
Pittman said he also feels confident.
“I feel very good,” he said. “The momentum is palpable.”
Pittman is seeking a second term as county executive, having defeated incumbent Republican Steve Schuh in 2018. In that race, Pittman got 52.3% of the vote to Schuh’s 47.6%.
The general election is Nov. 8.