There is no one outside of Ken Ulman’s inner circle, or perhaps even outside of Ken Ulman himself, who can say for a definitive fact that Ken Ulman is running for governor of Maryland in 2014. But that doesn’t stop people from saying it.
People have been spreading rumors since Cain said he didn’t know where God could find Abel, and handicapping political races since an Athenian dropped the first stone.
Last March, in a post titled “Governor Ulman,” Ellicott City resident Dennis Lane, who writes the Tales of Two Cities blog, called an Ulman bid for governor “the worst kept secret in HoCo loco politico circles.”
Since then, bloggers and news organizations across the state have followed suit.
In November, an invitation to a fundraiser benefiting the Friends of Ken Ulman circulated online, billed as "the first opportunity to support Ken," who "now desires to attain the Governor’s seat for Maryland."
Within days, the Baltimore Sun ran an article that used the Ulman event as a springboard for a discussion on campaign fundraising. According to the article, Ulman and other potential gubernatorial candidates—comptroller Peter Franchot and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown—have hired professional fundraisers for the race which cost Gov. Martin O'Malley $10 million in 2010.
And the prognostications have begun in earnest across the Howard County blogosphere.
Tom Coale, who aggregates and analyzes regional news in his blog HocoRising, predicted where gubernatorial hopefuls would find support across the state, in a Jan. 11 post entitled "The Race for Second Place." According to Coale, "the winner of the primary will be whomever can grab the most votes in their 'home base' and get second place in as many other counties as possible."
But does the county executive read these blogs? Does he know about the concerns of Patch commenters, Twitter followers and Facebook stalkers? Does venting one’s spleen online make a difference?
“Generally, I’m aware of what’s being said online,” said Ulman in a phone interview this week. “I’m big on social media.”
Ulman admitted he can’t read every word that’s put out there but said that he and his staff pay close attention to the rumors swirling around the local watering holes.
“We work hard not to get caught up in [negative comments],” said Ulman. He noted that constructive criticism will not be deleted from his Facebook page.
Facebook criticism ranges from opposition to Ulman attending a menorah lighting (“I am opposed to all public religious observances, and would prefer that my elected officials observe their holidays privately, thank you,” wrote one citizen on Dec. 21) to pleas for improved transportation for seniors.
Social media “gives people a voice,” said Ulman, pointing to the blizzards of last winter as a success for his social media presence. Through the Ken Ulman and Howard County Twitter feeds, the public could see everything from power outages to snow plow locations (although not, perhaps, simultaneously) in near-real time.
“We’re one of the in the country,” said Ulman.
As such, Howard County citizens also expect a lot of their media outlets, and blogs are helping fill roles formerly met by the bastions of traditional media.
Ulman recalled being asked to lunch by editors from The Washington Post, only to be told they were closing their Howard County office. Howard County wouldn’t be forgotten, he was told, but it was clear large media outlets were retreating from local coverage to concentrate on national issues.
Today, if you go to the Washington Post’s online Howard County section, you’ll see headlines from 2005. It’s the journalistic equivalent of a ghost town. If you go to the “Local” section for Howard County, headlines feature Alexandria, VA, and Washington, D.C.
Blogs, on the front line of community involvement, act as forums where local issues can be discussed in depth and with a passion not found on the pages of a large newspaper. It would be difficult to thoroughly dissect the pros and cons of turf fields during an evening newscast, for instance, or find the column inches needed to break down every possibility in a local school board race, but there will be a blogger addressing the issue to your satisfaction—and beyond.
Kirsten Coombs, a Columbia resident and frequent Patch and blog reader, said she found value in the depth of local coverage provided by less orthodox forms of media.
“I hope that social media looks at issues that are bigger than just ‘Will he raise my taxes?’" said Coombs. "Newspapers like the [Washington Post] or [Baltimore Sun] aren't going to focus more than a few inches a day on [a local] race and it'll likely focus on the name-calling part of the race with little room on substance.”
Citizens, more than ever, have a way for their voice to be heard, to engage their representatives and know that the message is being heard. Although it may increase the “torches and pitchforks” attitude, as Coale says, it’s also “good for honest government and community involvement.”
Ulman reads local blogs, and hey, he might be governor some day. For the record, the rumor of a gubernatorial run remains, for the moment, just that.
“I’m looking very hard at it,” said Ulman, but for now, he will “just keep doing what I’m doing.”
The gubernatorial primary is June 24, 2014.