In the only debate before Election Day between Democrat Steuart Pittman and Republican Jessica Haire, the candidates for Anne Arundel County executive sparred for 90 minutes. They disagreed on many of the county’s biggest issues, such as how to handle future development, taxes and crime. But there were a few times when the rivals agreed.
Here are some things we learned from Tuesday’s debate.
Both oppose the Odenton landfill project
Perhaps Pittman’s most frequent critique of Haire, the first-term Edgewater council member, is that she took tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from a Silver Spring developer — and associated employees and family members — that is attempting to build a landfill in Odenton.
A coalition of community groups called on Haire to return the money and filed a public information request to view all Haire’s communications with the company about the landfill. Herb McMillan, who finished second to Haire in the Republican primary in July, then wrote a commentary in The Capital urging county residents not to vote for Haire because of her association with the developers.
During the debate, Haire said she was happy to have a chance to go on the record against building the landfill and reiterated that the company’s donations do not make her beholden to their wishes.
“I’m going to say it loud and clear, I’m opposed to the landfill. Let me say it one more time, I’m opposed to the landfill,” Haire said.
Pittman has consistently opposed the project which has been discussed for 30 years. He blocked its development by purchasing land where a proposed entry point was located to instead construct a new school.
“Our legal team believes that we can fight to keep them from going for another entrance,” Pittman said. “They believe that our legal team will back down and that they’ll get another entrance and I think that is why they invested a quarter-million dollars in trying to acquire a new county executive.”
Both oppose turning Greenbury Point into a golf course
After a group of passionate county residents created a social media campaign to protect the more than 200-acre peninsula of Greenbury Point in Annapolis from being turned into a golf course, both candidates said they are opposed to any changes to the property.
In August, Naval Academy Golf Association President Chet Gladchuk’s request to make the park a golf course was denied by the Navy, which owns the land. He said he’s adjusting his proposal and sending it in again. The Navy has said they are not interested in changing the park at this time.
While Pittman submitted an opposing request to lease Greenbury Point and maintain it as a nature preserve, Haire had not yet had an opportunity to weigh in on the topic. She said Tuesday night she also wishes it to remain as it is.
“I like it with passive trails, passive recreation. I think it’s beautiful. It’s open. It’s accessible. I don’t think it needs to change,” Haire said.
“I don’t believe it will happen,” Pittman said of the golf course project.
Both agree climate change is a threat but diverge on how to combat it
With increasingly devastating storms and flooding affecting the county, including two tornadoes in the last two years, Haire and Pittman agreed climate change is a critical issue for the county executive to address over the next four years but disagree on how to go about it.
Pittman touted the joint resilience authority which is still in its early stages but, once on its feet, will seek funding for infrastructure projects and use the county’s existing infrastructure to improve its response and resilience to climate change.
“We have a plan that identifies the low-lying parts of our county, the most vulnerable, and it’s time to start getting to work,” Pittman said.
Haire, who represents Shady Side on the council, has previously voiced concerns about the communities on that peninsula and those across the West River in Mayo. Both are just feet above sea level. But she has questions about the necessity for the authority and how it will raise money. She said Tuesday the best thing for the county to do is improve its infrastructure including stormwater and flooding management.
“I think we need to be looking at the county on the whole from a flooding perspective and engineering solutions,” said Haire, who has a degree in engineering. “I think there’s a lot of really cool, innovative ideas that we can be proactive about moving forward.”
Both agree to accept election results
The final question of the debate, one submitted by a county resident, asked the candidates a simple question: Will you accept the results of the election?
Maryland Policy & Politics
Numerous Republican candidates in federal, state and local elections, including Dan Cox, the Republican candidate for Maryland governor, have refused to say they will accept election results. Cox, a loyalist of former President Donald Trump, equated doing so to saying a surgery went well before it takes place.
Haire needed only one word to answer the question, saying “Yes” several times.
Pittman said he would “absolutely” accept the results but lamented a recent decision by the Anne Arundel County Board of Elections to delay counting mail-in ballots until two days after Election Day. Earlier this month, Cox lost an appeal of the state’s decision to allow counting mail-in ballots ahead of Election Day.
“Three members of the board felt like they wanted to go with the Dan Cox position on this,” Pittman said. “We won’t know the results right away but we will accept them whenever they come.”