Familiar names vie for open Senate seat in Harford

When it comes to picking their next state senator, many Harford County voters will choose between two familiar names.

The Democrat is Mary-Dulany James, a four-term state delegate whose father, William S. James, was a Maryland Senate president.


The Republican is Bob Cassilly, who served on Bel Air's board of town commissioners and on the Harford County Council — and whose two brothers are also running for office in Harford this year.

Both James and Cassilly believe they have the experience and vision to represent Harford's interests in Annapolis, replacing Nancy Jacobs, a Republican who is retiring after 16 years in the Senate.


"This is a watershed moment for Harford County," said James, who says she can work for policies that will help Harford develop its high-tech manufacturing sector, boosting the county's economy.

Cassilly also wants to make a difference in the economy. "We're not living up to our potential as a state," he said.

The two are facing off in the 34th District, which includes the communities of Edgewood, Abingdon, Aberdeen, Havre de Grace and Bel Air.

It's a Democrat-leaning district in a conservative county. About 48 percent of the district's voters are Democrats, 36 percent Republicans, and the rest are independent or belong to third parties.

Despite the registration disadvantage, Cassilly believes he has room to persuade independents and Democrats to vote for him. He knows he'll have to work with Democrats in Annapolis, where Republicans are vastly outnumbered.

"I'm willing to work with anybody and everybody," Cassilly said.

James is seeking to appeal to non-Democrats with campaign mailers that note her votes against gas- and sales-tax increases and carry the tagline "Independent, Like Us."

"This isn't about what party you're from. It's about who you are and the people you represent," she said.

James, a lawyer, was first elected to the House of Delegates in 1998. She said she believes that in the Senate, where there are just 47 members, she can accomplish more for Harford.

"Senators have ability to effect change more quickly," she said.

James said she wants to work to improve public schools and community college offerings in Harford as a pipeline to prepare young people to work in a burgeoning tech sector anchored by the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground. She also hopes to improve the business climate, including re-evaluating the state's business taxes.

Cassilly, a lawyer and Army veteran, has been busy in politics since the early 2000s, when he was elected to Bel Air's town board, then later to the Harford County Council. He went to Iraq in 2006 as an Army reservist and eventually served three yearlong tours of duty. He helped set up the provincial government, first as a soldier and later as a civilian.

Cassilly said he was inspired by working with Iraqis, and that his overseas experiences opened his eyes to the problems of government in Maryland. "I felt disconnected when I came from all we were fighting for, and my state was not achieving what it should be achieving," he said.

Jacobs' retirement gave Cassilly an opening to get back into politics in Maryland.

Like James, Cassilly said his top issue is improving Harford's economy. He said the burdens of taxes, fees and regulations are weighing on businesses. Too often, Democrats say that more government programs are the way to lift the economy, Cassilly said.

"I'm not against government, but that's not where you get the entrepreneurial drive to grow the economy," he said.

He argues his experience in local government will help in proposing strategic cuts to the state's budget. He said he understands the impact of budget cuts, as it wasn't so long ago he was debating the merits of relatively small government purchases, such as police cars.

Cassilly's other interests include improving traffic safety and increasing teacher salaries. He said he knows he'll initially spend time learning the ropes. "I'm not going to Annapolis with a large list of to-do's," he said.

Both candidates come from families with a strong interest in politics in Harford.

Three members of the Cassilly clan are running for office in the county this year: Bob Cassilly is running for the Senate, brother Joseph Cassilly is running for re-election as state's attorney, and brother Andrew Cassilly is running for delegate in District 35B. All three are Republicans; none of their eight sisters is in politics.

James follows in the footsteps of her famous father, William S. James.

He died in 1993 at age 79, after a political career that spanned more than 40 years as a state delegate, state senator, Senate president and state treasurer. A Senate office building in Annapolis is named in his honor, as is an elementary school in Abingdon.

While the candidates reported similar account balances in the last campaign finance report in August — nearly $17,000 for James and more than $18,000 for Cassilly — James is spending far more money. In the summer reporting period, James spent more than $190,000 and Cassilly spent about $4,500.

James has lent her campaign $157,000 and has also received support from the Maryland Democratic Senatorial Committee Slate, which has been sending out pro-James mailers.


Mary-Dulany James

Party: Democrat

Age: 54

Job: Attorney, state delegate

Family: Divorced, three children

Bob Cassilly

Party: Republican

Age: 56

Job: Attorney

Family: Married, five children

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