Weekly Letter: Baron Voyage

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The words Baron Voyage are embroidered on about a dozen French berets. We made them for a going-away celebration, the going away of Pete Baron to live with his wife and daughter in Paris.

Yesterday was opening day of the 446th session of the Maryland General Assembly. I witnessed the leadership swearings-in in the House Chamber and stopped by to pay respects in the Senate Chamber. I then did a tour of receptions in Annapolis where elected officials and advocates for various causes mingled to discuss the issues of the day and the forthcoming flood of bills that may or may not address them.

There’s a lot of goodwill and praise on day one, and I never get tired of being told by people who observe how we govern in this county that we’re doing a good job. But the experienced leaders understand that I’m only a cog in the wheel, the first cog, but a useless cog if the others don’t work. They know that we only get things done if we have great staff.

That’s why I’m devoting the rest of this letter to Pete Baron.

As I reflect on the last five years in this job and the big policy wins that we’ve delivered for the people of this county, Pete looms large. 

He began on the day I was inaugurated in 2018 as Director of Government Affairs, but for the six months before that he served as my campaign manager. When my daughter flew in from California to help out on Election Day that year, she worked under Pete’s supervision. 

“That guy is really good,” she told me. 

“How could you tell,” I replied? 

“He makes everyone he talks to feel like they’re important.” 

She was right, and that never changed. Pete demonstrated respect to everyone, and he saw something good in them all, whether political ally or foe.

Pete is a seasoned political strategist, having worked for Speaker Mike Busch, Progressive Maryland, SEIU, the Maryland Hospital Association, and a whole lot of political campaigns. Experience really does matter, I’ve found, in the game of strategy that all success in government is built upon. Familiarity with all of the levers of power - the voters, the advocacy organizations, campaign donors, the departments of government, the County Council, the Maryland General Assembly, the Governor’s Office, the Federal Delegation, the courts - is a prerequisite to navigating through them effectively.

But even though I gave Pete the title of Chief Strategy Officer in the second term, he knew, and the rest of our leadership team knew, that Pete was really just a member of a team, a part of a brain trust of people who collaborate, speak up, argue their points, and don’t always get their way. Even Pete hasn’t always gotten his way, but when he hasn’t, he has always immediately done the pivot and figured out how to do what’s been asked of him in a way that protects the team. It’s in those moments when I appreciate Pete the most.

Pete and I like each other. We’ve been through a lot, been through stuff that really matters, and done things that both of us care about deeply. But anyone who’s been a staffer for an elected official knows that part of the game is to control the boss, or at least keep him or her out of trouble, without them knowing it. That didn’t work out so well for people working under Donald Trump, but between Pete and I, it’s been only a minor source of friction. 

Yes, there have been times when I wanted to bring legislation to the County Council that we didn’t have the votes to pass, and Pete pushed back hard. Pete was working to build trust with members of that body while I just wanted to deliver good public policy. But in retrospect I can honestly say that Pete always did the right thing in the right way. I shudder to think where we’d be if Pete Baron had not forced me to compromise in my moments of arrogance. 

Pete has a wicked sense of humor, so I thought maybe it was a joke when he came into my office last fall and told me that the international aid organization that employs his wife wanted her to be based in France, and that they planned to make the move. But it was real.

I discovered in that moment just how much I loved this guy. I was proud of him. Pete is the father of a nine-year-old girl named Ellie and the husband of an amazing woman named Anka. His constant attention to his work had always worried me a little. I wondered how things were going at home. Learning that he is willing to leave a job and a life here that he loves so much to be a stay-at-home dad in a country where he doesn’t speak the language, and that he’s actually looking forward to doing it, came to me as a relief. I could only think about what a good man Pete Baron is.

And I didn’t worry about how it would impact our team. I didn’t worry because those of us who’ve been working with Pete, and I in particular, have soaked up so much of what he generously shares that it’s forever embedded in how we operate. We may do it silently, but each of us will simply ask “What would Pete say,” and we’ll know how to proceed. 

Thank you, Pete. Baron Voyage.

Until next week…

Baron Voyage

Steuart Pittman

Anne Arundel County Executive