ANNAPOLIS – Howard County Executive Ken Ulman attended the Democratic National Convention last month for the fourth time in his career, and the second time as a delegate.
While the convention’s purpose was to re-elect President Barack Obama, Maryland Democrats spent a lot of time talking about another important upcoming race – the one to replace term-limited Martin O’Malley as governor. Ulman’s was one of four names swirling around the rumor mill of potential Democratic candidates in the 2014 race.
“I’ve heard the rumors and I’m doing nothing to dissuade them,” Ulman said. “I’m honored that people mention my name … to me it means that people think we’ve done a good job in Howard County.”
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz was one of the delegates who noticed the discussion.
“The past couple of days it seems like the campaign for 2014 has already started,” Kamenetz said, at the convention in Charlotte.
Ulman said the convention provided a great opportunity to network with some of the other state officials he normally wouldn’t interact with.
“It has been great to spend more time with my colleagues from Maryland … getting to know folks better,” Ulman said.
Ulman, a 38-year-old Howard County native, is the youngest contender in the hypothetical gubernatorial race. He began his political career in 1994 with an internship in the Clinton White House, and then worked for former Gov. Parris Glendening in 1997.
“That really started this political odyssey for me,” Ulman said.
In 2002, he ran for a seat on the Howard County Council at age 28 and won. Four years later, Ulman ran for county executive, won and was re-elected in 2010.
But Todd Eberly, professor of political science at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, questions whether Ulman may be out of his league when competing with big-name candidates like Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown or Attorney General Doug Gansler.
“He’s young, he’s a very dynamic and fresh-faced person who I think has a decent amount of appeal along that I-95 corridor,” Eberly said. “But I wonder if he’s going to be the one who’s facing the greatest amount of pressure saying ‘You know what, it’s not your time yet, it’s too soon’?”
Eberly thinks that because all the other candidates are older, more seasoned veterans of the political system, Ulman might get pushed out of the race early.
Blair Lee, a political columnist for The Gazette newspapers, agrees with Eberly and said the only reason Ulman is aiming for the governor’s seat is because he is unable to keep his current seat as county executive.
“I think in the end Ulman is not going to run for governor,” Lee said. “If he was not term limited, he would be running for county executive again.”
But Ulman is confident his rich family history within the state will be an asset that will draw voters to him. He is proud to be a former Terp and a Baltimore Ravens fan.
“I am a product of the region. I am a product of Maryland,” Ulman said.
Besides Ulman, Brown, Gansler and Comptroller Peter Franchot are often mentioned as potential Democratic gubernatorial candidates.
In an August press release, O’Malley tacitly endorsed Brown.
“…I urge Anthony to continue his public service and pursue the greatest level of public responsibility,” O’Malley said, in the statement. “More than any other public official, Anthony Brown has my complete trust in his ability to serve the best interests of Maryland.”
Lee said Ulman will be at a disadvantage against some of the other big-name candidates.
Ulman comes from a, “fairly small county … that doesn’t have a whole lot of votes,” Lee said. “(Ulman) doesn’t have a whole lot of statewide name recognition.”
In addition to Howard being one of the smaller counties, Lee said that because both Gansler and Franchot are white and from Montgomery County, Brown will have an edge because he is the only black candidate and the only candidate from Prince George’s County.
“If you have two white guys from Montgomery and one African-American from Prince George’s … it really increases the odds of the single African-American winning,” Lee said.
Lee said there is, “tremendous pressure … to elect an African-American to statewide office,” in Maryland, a state with a large African-American population.
“How long can white Democrats say to African-Americans, ‘It’s not your turn yet,'” Lee said. “Anthony Brown may be the tipping point.”
Ulman remains confident.
While he commends the work of the other potential candidates, Ulman is sure that his position as county executive provides him with the right tools to succeed at the state level.
Since he began as county executive, Ulman has headed several projects designed to better Howard County. The two biggest are “Healthy Howard,” a wellness initiative encouraging healthy behavior in schools, restaurants, workplaces and recreation and faith communities, and a broadband expansion that will connect all statewide public agencies on one elaborate network.
Ulman said his success with these programs and in his current role will surge him to the forefront of the race in 2014.
“I am the only person I know of (among the potential contenders) who has governed, who has balanced budgets and managed complex agencies and created complex solutions to problems,” he said.
He is confident that neither his age nor his experience level will do anything to hinder his chances at a gubernatorial win.
“I never do anything to lose. I haven’t lost an election, yet. I’m a pretty competitive guy,” he said.