Laura Neuman was selected as Anne Arundel County’s next County Executive last night after three rounds of posturing and voting by the republican controlled council. Initially, the selection was a shocker. Especially after the political shenanigans that preceded the meeting.
Del. Steve Schuh was presumed to be a frontrunner and is an all-but-announced candidate for the office in 2014. The issue was the County Council member, Derek Fink is his business partner and the Ethics Commission opined that it was a conflict of interest. Moments before the meeting, Schuh resigned his positions with the restaurant group effectively eliminating the conflict and allowing Fink to support his former business partner.
If the republicans (a majority) on the County Council could hold together, they could have selected whomever they felt would be the strongest candidate to lead the county for the next few years and also to retain the seat in the 2014 election.
The democrats on the council were interested in balancing an effective interim leader along with a county executive that could be beaten in the 2014 election. Schuh was seen as a strong candidate across the board and he received no democrat support throughout the process. During the process, the democrats split their votes to see if the republicans were united in their support of Schuh. They weren’t as Councilman John Grasso (an unabashed Leopold supporter) threw his support to acting County Executive John Hammond.
During the following rounds of voting, The democrats came together in support of what they perceived as the weakest candidate and offered the support to Laura Neuman. With the fractured republicans, someone had to move and the obvious choice was County Council Chair Jerry Walker. Walker had initially tossed his name into the hat for County Executive and likely will be seeking the office in 2014. And as a viable candidate for the office (as opposed to John Grasso), it was in the best interest of Walker to throw support behind the candidate he might be able to defeat.
In the end, the selection was more about political positioning than it was about selecting the best candidate. Without a doubt, all of the candidates were capable of the job and any one of them could have done the job. The issue at hand for the republican led council was to select the candidate that would best advance their agenda (Schuh) and when that failed, to select the one most easily defeated in a primary. As for the democrats on the council, the issue was to select the weakest, yet capable candidate.
There have been several pieces published on Laura Neuman and exactly who she is. Perhaps the most comprehensive one was in the Laurel Patch when she was named Director of the Economic Development Authority for Howard County. In a nutshell, Neuman is a high school and college drop out who was offered an opportunity to earn an MBA through Loyola College. Her career began in an entry level position with T. Rowe Price and ultimately she accepted an unpaid position as CEO of a fledgling tech start up that ultimately was sold for several hundred million dollars. With a large windfall, she established a foundation to offer support for rape victims–Neuman is a rape survivor herself. She was recruited by Ken Ulman, the Democrat Howard County Executive to head the EDA in April 2011 and has been in that position for 10 months.
Neuman is a republican and curiously the only political contribution on record is one to Ulman during his recent run. Ulman is also considered to be a leading candidate for Governor in 2014. Could Neuman be tapped as a possible running mate for Ulman? Would she change parties?
Or in a more interesting twist, might she change parties and run as a democrat for Anne Arundel County Executive as an incumbent? A trojan horse?
Regardless, Neuman appears to be a capable manager and effective leader who has garnered the support of of many. The County is entering into a critical period of the year and she has much to learn in the coming weeks and we hope that the Council will work with her and not against her in her efforts to bring some semblance of respect back to the county.
For more information, please read the Capital’s Alison Bourg’s coverage.