If the cheers/jeers meter was any indication, Steuart Pittman knocked the ball out of the park in the October 18 debate with Steve Schuh at Maryland Hall. Even worse for Schuh, Pittman seemed to maneuver him to total agreement with Pittman’s main point: it isn’t just about having enough money, it is about priorities.
Early on in the program Schuh proudly pointed out that the robust economy in Anne Arundel, which he obviously takes credit for, was providing $60 million extra every year in revenue. Near the end of his monologue, Schuh explained in excruciating detail how all the things that Pittman wanted to do would cost $200 million (implying it would all be spent in one year).
Well, divide that by four, which is the time frame that Pittman is really talking about, and what you get?
If Schuh were to devote even $50 million to the programs that Pittman is proposing, then four years later all of Pittman’s proposals would’ve been realized. Teachers, police, and firemen would have jobs at higher pay and dramatically improve the services all of us enjoy in Anne Arundel County. That may have brought the wildest applause of the evening.
I asked Pittman afterwards if he had planned that maneuver and he said “Frankly, John, I was terrified. During my debate preparation I came to the point where I just couldn’t figure out what I was going to say. That made me very nervous going into this debate.”
Well if Pittman was nervous it sure didn’t show!
Schuh managed to put his foot in his mouth again when he talked about the Styrofoam ban. His statement that Styrofoam was no worse than any other material going into landfills and nothing needed to be done was met with ridicule and disbelief, even some booing.
Pittman’s emotional presence was powerful while showing himself to be open-minded and sensitive at the same time. When asked if he ever changed his mind, Pittman’s response was extraordinarily personal, thoughtful, and moving. Schuh was mechanical and dry to the point of disbelief. His dryness was also met with stony silence in the hate crimes discussion when he said in a monotone re Grasso’s anti-Muslim posts “he has apologized, and I think it’s time to move on.”
Immigration was the area where Pittman got his biggest cheers. Schuh characterized Pittman as creating a “Sanctuary County” and cast the inmates at the facility only as violent offenders, justifying the program as a protection measure the county. Pittman pointed out that if they’re in jail they can’t exactly be a threat. Moreover, questioning jailed individuals about their immigration status adds to the distrust of government that already characterizes immigrant communities. The facility would better serve the needs of the County by being converted to an opioid addiction treatment facility. That got thunderous response. Mr. Schuh was booed numerous times during the immigration discussion.
Pittman spoke with great authority thanks to his experience from listening to people at his 17 Small Area Town Hall Forums all around the county. For example, on opioid addiction treatment Pittman was able to point out that the Crownsville activists strongly support keeping the treatment centers there.
I was at the Crownsville community forum and it was like being in Vermont — so many committed activists ready to lead. Pittman listened, then offered his unqualified support for their plans to also build a solar facility and many other interesting things on the site. Schuh had declined to acquire the site for the County. Relatedly, at the South County forum people found out that there is new opioid treatment center in Edgewater, and Pittman was able to connect people not only with the South County activists present at the meeting, but also with Brownsville activists. Likewise, he was able to connect South County activists with the new AACT coalition of 22 churches in Anne Arundel County.
Unlike the pathetic “listening forums” run by Schuh’s county earlier in the year, Pittman brought in the right people and not only listened, but synthesized and documented people’s ideas. This enabled him to speak decisively at the debate about community desires and needs.
For more on Steuart Pittman’s plans to put communities first, click here to see a video that lays out his vision.
Can Pittman win?
According to a new Anne Arundel County Community College poll, about a third of the voters are undecided, and the race is a dead heat. The poll found that 64 percent believe we need to ban developers from using big money to influence county elections, 71 percent want to increase teacher pay so that we can retain our best educators, and 75 percent oppose a County Council resolution to limit access to reproductive health care (a resolution Schuh supported and Pittman fought against).
These sentiments, and the alliances created with the Small Area Forums and many other appearances around the County all work strongly in Pittman’s favor.
John Wells is an Annapolis-based activist, writer and photographer.