Harford County Executive David Craig passed a significant milestone in his political career when he came to work this week.
Sunday marked the eighth anniversary of Craig taking the oath of office as county executive and on Monday, he entered his ninth year in the position, becoming the first person to hold the office to serve more than eight years.
Craig was sworn in on Thursday, July 7, 2005, a few weeks after he was selected by the Harford County Council to replace Jim Harkins, who resigned with about 18 months left in his second term after then-Gov. Robert Ehrlich appointed him to head the Maryland Environmental Service.
Craig completed the remainder of Harkins' term, then successfully ran for a full term in 2006 and for a second full term in 2010. The term of office for Harford executive is four years and the county charter limits a person to two consecutive terms. None of the other five county executives elected since the position began in 1972 served beyond eight years.
Both Habern Freeman (1982-90) and Eileen Rehrmann (1990-98) served the maximum eight years in succession. The first county executive, Charles B. Anderson Jr. initially served a two-year term (as county elections were aligned with the off-presidential year state elections) and then a full four-year term, occupying the office six years from 1972 to 1978. The late J. Thomas Barranger followed Anderson for a single term from 1978 to 1982, followed by Freeman and then Rehrmann, who was followed by Harkins from 1998 to 2005.
Craig, who has already announced that he is a candidate for governor in 2014, has been involved in politics for parts of six decades. As an elected official, he served on the Havre de Grace City Council for six years, from 1979 to 1985, and then as the city's mayor for four years before serving four years in the House of Delegates, from 1991 to 1995, and four years in the state Senate, from 1995 to 1999.
In 1998, he ran for county executive but lost to Harkins in the Republican primary. He was elected mayor of Havre de Grace a second time in 2001 and was still serving in that post when he became county executive.
On the day Craig first took office eight years ago, he expressed a "passion for government work," according to the account of his inauguration published in The Aegis and The Record. A few hours earlier, he told a reporter why he sought the position: "I think it's the one job in the county where you can actually effect some change," he said, adding that it wasn't like him "to just sit back and complain about stuff."
Much of that attitude remains, although Craig says if he had to do it over again, he wouldn't have sought the interim appointment but would have waited and run in 2006.
"That's what burns you out — those first two years," he said Wednesday. "People wanted you to do nothing (to prep for running in 2006) and that's not my way." Within a week of taking office, he recalled, he was already getting together his own cabinet and had replaced five of Harkins' top aides, some of whom left of their own accord and others who didn't. He also noted that five of his own senior staff have remained with him from the beginning.
Craig, who turned 64 last month, said he's enjoyed his first eight years as county executive and doesn't plan to be idle or distracted by campaigning for another office. His tenure as county executive officially will end the first week of December 2014.
"I like serving in office; I was already used to all the things that occur," he said. "The personal side has been a lot more difficult to handle than the public side."
Both Craig's parents and his wife Melinda's parents have died since he became county executive and, Craig noted, several were ill for a long time.
"On the positive side, we had four grandchildren born, so we lost four family members and got four more," he continued. "Next week we are selling the house my father built to our daughter, so it will stay in the family." The Craigs have three children and eight grandchildren, and two of the grandchildren are headed to middle school.
As for his proudest accomplishment the past eight years, Craig said overcoming the economic downturn and keeping the county's finances and services strong rank at the top.
"We were hit with a bad economy and were able to keep a well-balanced budget and push aside the bad things that happened in other places," he said. "We sustained what we needed to do to provide services and not wreck the budget."
"The county employees deserve a lot of the credit," he added. "They are very good workers."
Craig said he was used to the politics of his current job from his prior service as a mayor and a legislator, so he's getting some kicks hearing all the talk from prospective candidates about what is going to happen when he leaves office, among them State Sen. Barry Glassman, who has already announced for the position. And, while he's been traveling more as a gubernatorial candidate, he's not slacking off regarding what goes on in Bel Air, he said.
"I think some people were surprised when I announced our two-year plan [late last year]," he said. "We have to get stuff done, there's still a lot to do."
A longtime history teacher and assistant middle school principal in Harford County before becoming county executive, Craig has long been interested in public affairs and has written extensively about local history. With that background, he said he's seen some disturbing trends of late.
"I find fewer and fewer people interested in running for elected office and fewer people who pay attention to public affairs and who go to meetings," Craig said. "Those of the age of texts and tweets just aren't as interested and it's frustrating. Of course, I've got more than 300 e-mails backed up on my computer from the past three days..."