Weekly Letter: Tiptoeing Around Elephants

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This letter each week is about governing. Politics is part of governing, but I have to be careful what I say about politics here. County ethics law says I’m not supposed to use the prestige of office or public resources to campaign for specific candidates. 

On the other hand, I try to be brutally honest here about the goings on that impact decisions I make as County Executive and the big going on this week has been an election.

What I will say is that I endorsed three candidates in tight primary elections, and was thrilled that all three won by significant margins. 

The three candidates that I backed all had long lists of accomplishments in their current elected positions. They were what farmers call work horses, not show horses.

None of the three had personal money to invest, and all three were up against big money. A local state senator overcame a celebrity’s national money, an incumbent mayor beat back a media mogul’s dark money assault, and a fellow county executive came from behind to win handily against a billionaire’s personal investment of some $60 million.

I say these things because my trust in voters to choose wisely ticked up a few notches on Tuesday night, which makes me feel a little better about November 5, when voters will face a choice between decency and deceit, between democracy and doom. 

Now that I’ve tip-toed around the elephant in the room of government today, here are some highlights of the week that also truly matter.

Langton Green cut the ribbon yesterday on their extraordinarily awesome rehab of their housing for 59 developmentally disabled adults on Arundel on the Bay Road. It couldn’t have happened without county, state, and federal financing that was cobbled together by our amazing team at Arundel Community Development Services. Tours of rooms led by happy residents was a great way to start the day.

AACPS Superintendent Bedell, Fort Meade Commander Colonel Sapp, Councilwoman Hummer, Fort Meade Alliance leaders, and yours truly got a tour last week of the ongoing work to completely modernize and expand Meade High School. We are so lucky to have the resources in our district that it takes to turn our schools into places that students want to be, and to have such great public and private partners rooting for the students’ success. The work is scheduled to be completed in December. 

Now that the County Council has passed both the Region Plans and the Comprehensive Rezoning for two of our county’s nine regions, I’m getting emails from residents who weren’t happy with how some parcels were zoned, asking that I exercise my authority to line item veto some things that the Council approved unanimously. 

In most cases my staff simply responded to the requests with the news that the bills had already been signed, but I made a decision to explain at length my rationale for supporting the Stakeholder Advisory Committee and Planning Advisory Board recommendation to rezone a parcel on the South River at the site of a notoriously dirty marina on a state highway. 

The rezoning could allow the marina owner to move forward with a plan to redevelop the site as an ecotourism destination, with a green roof, dining, a wedding venue, public kayak rentals, and rooms for visitors who arrive by water and land. 

I promised that residents would have an opportunity to comment on any future design and that traffic and environmental impact would be strictly regulated by county law, leaving the river far cleaner than it is today. But as is often the case in these land use battles, opposition remains. I’m hearing from some that I’ve sold my soul to a developer.

The day of the week that impacted me most was Saturday. I arrived early at Iglesia Hispana Emmanuel for the funeral service of Miguel Angel Luna, the fifth of six workers whose body was recovered after the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse.

I spoke to his widow, Maria Del Carmen Castellon, and was struck by her radiance and energy, despite the fact that she had been worshiping at the church since 7pm the previous night. I also spoke to some family and friends, all of whom described Miguel as a good, good man. 

One woman told me that the county needs to do a better job of getting the word out in the Latino community about the excellent training that students can get at CAT North. Her daughter then explained how her mentor at CAT North had encouraged her to compete in the state masonry competition, and that in her second year she had been the Maryland winner and gone on to compete in the nationals in Georgia. 

After the service, we caravaned to Glen Haven Memorial Park cemetery, passing the extraordinary memorial to all six of the workers who died on the way. 

The service at the cemetery was mostly singing and clapping led by two mariachi guitar players, and the speakers spoke Spanish. One woman draped herself over the coffin as she cried out for Miguel. I learned later that it was his sister who had come from El Salvador. 

Maria then took the microphone and gave thanks, to all who attended, to Miguel for the time he had given her, and to God. She then raised her hand to the sky and sang. 

Anne Arundel County has just over 5,000 immigrants from El Salvador living and working among us. I walked away from that burial with a deep sense of gratitude that these people chose this place to live.

Steuart Pittman
Anne Arundel County Executive