After being attacked for lack of county employee support, County Executive Steve Schuh announced Tuesday backing from several county public safety unions.
The unions endorsing Schuh include the Anne Arundel County Police Supervisors Association International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 799 and the TeamstersJoint Council 62, representing county deputy sheriffs sergeants, fire battalion chiefs, deputy sheriffs, corrections specialists and park rangers.
By earning these endorsements, Schuh hopes to push back on political attacks from Democratic opponent Steuart Pittman, who said Schuh hasn’t had the support of county public safety officers. Both county police and fire fighter unions have backed Pittman. Pittman and Schuh are competing for county executive on Nov. 6.
“I am grateful and humbled by the support of these brave public safety professionals for my re-election,” Schuh said in a statement.
Schuh also has been endorsed by the Maryland Troopers Association Anne Arundel County Lodge 13 and Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney Wes Adams, Schuh’s campaign said Tuesday.
The endorsements for Schuh and Pittman represent thousands of different county employees. But unions can’t force their membership to vote for particular candidates, so endorsements don’t mean guaranteed votes for the candidate.
About 20 minutes after Schuh announced his endorsements, Pittman’s campaign released an email announcing a fundraiser supporting public servants and raising money for his campaign from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday in Riva.
Pittman said the announcement wasn’t related to Schuh’s endorsement reveal and that he had not seen which groups endorsed his opponent. The fundraiser had been listed on Pittman’s campaign page.
The Schuh administration has gone to arbitration with the police union twice and has spent taxpayer money fighting over healthcare benefit negotiations in court.
Pittman has made county police, firefighters and teachers’ union support a core tenant of his campaign. He also was endorsed by the Maryland State Lodge, Fraternal Order of Police. That lodge represents Maryland State Police throughout the state.
“I applaud Steve Schuh for his election-year pay raise in this year’s FOP contract, and for following through on commitments by previous county executives to build a new academy and central booking facility, Pittman said. “But police officers expect the county executive to support them every day of every year, and they know that’s what I’ll do when I’m elected. The firefighters and teachers of this county have come to the same conclusion.”
Police union representatives have criticized the Schuh administration’s negotiation regarding comp time, salary and other benefits. Both unions have gone to arbitration with the county during negotiations.-
But Schuh said he believes up to 80 percent of rank-and-file police officers support his administration.
“(The unions) have been hostile to my administration since the first day,” Schuh said while campaigning last week.
Anne Arundel County police union president O’Brien Atkinson disputed Schuh’s assertion on police officers votes. He said officers are made aware of the union’s position and why it endorsed a particular candidate.
Officers are allowed to vote for whomever they want though, Atkinson said. They are not required to sign pledges.
“At the end of the day right now, our members recognize we are still battling over our ability to negotiate for healthcare,” Atkinson said. “I say our members are aware of how the process works and they recognize the issues we have with the county executive.”
Before Schuh’s announcement Tuesday, he had not secured the backing of county public safety unions.
In a campaign video posted Tuesday, Pittman’s campaign reiterated his promises to hire more public safety officers and increase teacher pay.
Schuh also has pledged to hire more police officers and firefighters. His administration has been criticized for not providing enough incentives to increase how many sworn officers are hired.
The department has positions for 755 sworn officers with 684 filled as of the most recent county budget. Despite staffing increases, the department has struggled to fill positions. On Aug. 31, 2014, the department had 710 allowed positions with 666 filled, according to annual reports.
Schuh has pledged to increase staffing to 825 in the next four years. He also has pledged to increase firefighter staffing from 850 to 970 over the next four years.
Pittman has campaigned on increasing police staffing to 825 as well. That number is recommended by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.