Advocacy Group Taking Shape, Pittman Seeks ‘Common Ground’ on Development Issues

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman (D), second from left, is joined by state Sen. Sarah K. Elfreth (D) and Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley (D) at a Severn River Association event in 2019. County Facebook photo.

While he continues to run the day-to-day operations of Anne Arundel County government ― including the local COVID-19 response ― and begins to plot his 2022 reelection campaign, County Executive Steuart Pittman (D) is pressing ahead with plans for his new statewide political advocacy group, Future Matters.

The 501c4 organization, which he announced two months ago, has scheduled its first issue forum for later this month and has also assembled an advisory board of former officeholders, labor leaders and community activists to work with him.

The first forum, scheduled virtually for 5 p.m. on Jan. 21, is designed to bring together experts and residents from urban, suburban and rural areas to discuss the issue of development: how to encourage investment in crumbling urban areas, avoid overdevelopment and sprawl in the suburbs, and how to preserve rural areas.

Speakers include former Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D); Richard E. Hall, who was state Planning secretary under former Gov. Martin J. O’Malley (D); Alison Prost, vice president for the environment at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation; and Colby Ferguson, director of government and public relations at the Maryland Farm Bureau. (Pittman, a horse farmer, is a former farm bureau member.)

Pittman wants the conversation to focus on how government decisions determine the way resources are allocated ― and how those decisions impact development strategies and policies. Investments in ignored urban areas, he said in an interview, can help preserve suburban and rural areas.

“That’s how people can come together,” Pittman said. “I’ve governed for the past two years trying to find the common ground between the NIMBYs and the developers and everyone else.”

There will be a twist at this forum: Before the experts speak, members of the public will weigh in first, setting the table for how the panelists frame the conversation.

Pittman hopes the conversations will just be the beginning. The idea is for a group of participants to develop a battle plan that could result in state or local legislation or, closer to election time, a political movement.

“It creates a network of people that are talking about these issues, and then we engage when there’s an opportunity to engage,” Pittman said.

On the subject of development, Pittman said one conceivable goal could be the formation of a group, similar to the recently departed 1000 Friends of Maryland, that promotes conservation, smart growth and urban renewal.

As the details of Future Matters’ first forum are set, Pittman has put together a board of advisers. Besides Prost and Hall, the members are:

  • Pat Moran, President of AFSCME Council 3
  • Former Baltimore mayor Kurt L. Schmoke
  • Meighan Davis, Organizational Specialist for the Maryland State Education Association
  • Vincent Leggett, Chesapeake Legal Alliance
  • Ashiah Parker, No Boundaries Coalition
  • Thornell Jones, Anne Arundel Caucus of African American Leaders
  • Carl Snowden, Anne Arundel Caucus of African American Leaders
  • Ellen Moyer, former mayor of Annapolis
  • Jennifer Palmieri, former White House communications director
  • Jim Lyons, senior fellow at Center for American Progress; former undersecretary for Natural Resources at the U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • Russell Stevenson, Chesapeake Legal Alliance
  • Randy Rowel, Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources

Pittman’s goal is to try to host one forum a month ― though he concedes that may not be realistic.

While the date for the second forum has not been set yet, the next topic, Pittman said, “has to be” wealth disparities and how to address them.

And while Pittman doesn’t know exactly where this effort is going yet, he asserted: “We’re in this for the long game. It isn’t about the next election or the next budget cycle.”

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Josh Kurtz
Founding Editor Josh Kurtz is a veteran chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He was an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, for eight years, and for eight years was the editor of E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill. For 6 1/2 years Kurtz wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz regularly gives speeches and appears on TV and radio shows to discuss Maryland politics.