Former state Sen. Robert Cassilly (R) said one of the first notes he received Monday before his swearing-in ceremony as Harford County executive was a congratulatory text message from Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City).
“Well, I’m not a senator. I’m not even the county executive. I’m not a soldier. I’m not a diplomat. I’m just Bob,” the lifelong Republican recalled when talking to his wife Monday morning. “I’m going to enjoy this for like three hours” before the inaugural ceremony at Harford Community College.
Cassilly’s time without a title ended slightly before 1 p.m. as he took the oath of office to become the county’s leader, succeeding Barry Glassman (R), who unsuccessfully ran for state comptroller against Del. Brooke Lierman (D-Baltimore City).
It’s not unique that Cassilly easily won last month’s general election in a Republican stronghold with 65% of the vote. What is unique is that his family history traces back more than 200 years in the county situated near the Pennsylvania border.
“You look in the crowd [and see] a high school classmate. There’s a coach. It is in your face. I like the up close and personal piece about [being county executive],” he said.
Among those who came to the community college to cheer him on Monday were Republican Dels. Kathy Szeliga and Teresa Reilly and two of Cassilly’s former Senate Republican colleagues, J.B. Jennings and Johnny Ray Salling.
“He believes in the Constitution. He believes in the liberties of freedom,” Salling, of Baltimore County, said in a brief interview before Monday’s ceremony. “I know he will make a difference in his community. I know his heart desires to do what is right for small businesses, big businesses, law enforcement and education. We want to support him in anything that we can do. He knows we’re there for him.”
From prepared remarks on stage, Cassilly, 64, told the several hundred people in attendance his administration will work with municipal leaders, be stewards of taxpayer dollars and partner with major businesses in the county, such as the University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center.
Cassilly hopes his administration can work with the team of Gov.-Elect Wes Moore (D), especially with both men having a common bond of combat service in the Army.
But Cassilly stressed the county will maintain its “guiding principles.”
“While Harford County has changed a great deal over the past 250 years, our guiding principles remain unchanged. Love of God, love of family and neighbor,” he said. “We are not going to govern through political rhetoric. We won’t ask you to believe that we’re doing a good job. We’re not going to ask you to imagine that we’re doing a good job. Talk is not the solution to what we have to do. We are going to deliver results. We’ll break down bureaucratic silos and we’re going to work together as one team to deliver effective governance to all of our citizens.”
A few items on Casssilly’s to-do list this week include attending Monday night’s swearing-in ceremony of Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey R. Gahler (R), speaking with county employees and a possible briefing with agency heads.
“I want to keep my mind open. I want to do things with faith in other people,” he said.
A touch of purple
Although Maryland’s Democratic voters outnumber Republicans by a 2-to-1 ratio, Cassilly represents a county where registered Republicans serve in top offices such as state’s attorney, clerk of the Circuit Court and register of wills.
But Cassilly’s former Senate seat in the 34th District will be held by former Del. Mary-Dulany James (D), who won by nearly 600 votes against former Del. Christian Miele (R). James, whose father was a state senator, will become the first Democrat to represent that district since 1994.
Cassilly will head the executive branch and expects to reliably receive support in policy measures from the legislative branch, with five of the seven county council members registered Republicans.
One of those Democrats, Jacob D. Bennett, elected to represent District F, didn’t attend the ceremony at the community college. According to state Board of Elections results from last month, Bennett defeated incumbent Curtis Beulah (R) by 92 votes.
Unlike his council colleagues, Bennett’s name wasn’t taped on floor seats for guests and the inauguration program doesn’t mention his name. It notes “Council Representative District F.”
Instead, Bennett was sworn-in at the county courthouse Monday afternoon in a quieter ceremony attended by family, friends and other supporters.
The 27-year-old public school teacher said a legal question arose that he couldn’t hold the office because he works as a county or state employee.
Bennett disagrees. He said although the county’s budget provides funding for the Board of Education, it’s a separate entity.
Bennett said he conferred with the state Attorney General’s Office “who assured us we have every right to be sworn-in and no one can stop us from that.”
After the ceremony, Bennett was asked by a reporter if the move to not allow him to participate in the inauguration ceremony was political, he said, “yes.”
“Just because my ceremony was private doesn’t mean it’s any less legitimate,” he said.
Bennett noted how county council members from other counties also work as school employees such as Lisa D.B. Rodvien, who works as a middle school teacher in Anne Arundel County and chairs the county council.
“I am neither a state or county employee for the purposes of determining conflict of interest in reading the county charter,” Bennett said. “We stand by that precedent and our legal understanding of the constitutionality of such a broad disenfranchisement of so many people.”
Sam Kahl, public information officer for the county executive, acknowledged in an email Monday evening Bennett wasn’t invited.
“County Executive Cassilly was not going to literally offer a stage to someone who wants to participate in a public violation of our Charter on a day that celebrates the lawful transfer of power under that very Charter,” Kahl said. “If Mr. Bennett had chosen to resign his employment with Harford County Public Schools, as others before him have done, he would have been welcomed to participate in the ceremony.”
A portion of the charter under Section 207 “Qualifications of Council members” states: “During the term of office, the Council member shall not hold any other office of profit or employment in the government of the State of Maryland, Harford County, or any municipality within Harford County, except a position held by virtue of being a Council member.”
Meanwhile, Harford’s previous council only had one Democrat, Andre V. Johnson Jr., who was elected to hold one of two seats in District 34A in the House of Delegates.
Johnson’s replacement to represent District A will be Dion F. Guthrie (D), one of the six council members who participated in Monday’s ceremony at the community college.
The council only has two incumbents: Council President Patrick Vincenti (R) and Tony Giangiordano (R), who will represent the District C area.
Three new Republican councilmembers are James Reilly (District D), Jessica Boyle-Tsottles (District E) and Aaron David Penman (District B), who ran unopposed in last month’s general election.
The council will hold its first meeting Tuesday.