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Lifestyles of the mid-level bureaucrats [Editorial]

Lifestyles of the mid-level bureaucrats [Editorial]

The workings of a political machine can be a fascinating spectator sport, every bit as complicated as the off-season dealings of professional sports teams or the Hollywood insider reports on who is dating whom and the movie sets where they met.

The reasons such comings and goings prove so fascinating to different people are as varied as, well, the people who show an interest in the behavior of people they have heard of, but never met.

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In the case of monitoring the activities of those involved in the professional sports and entertainment industries, part of the attraction certainly involves the unusually high level of physical prowess of athletes and the generally extraordinary good looks or charisma – or both – exuded by performers of various kinds.

In politics, the motivations for keeping track of elected officials and their close aides can be similar, but there are added elements. People in government office can have direct effects on the lives of substantial numbers of people, which means while they don't necessarily have the good looks of an actor or the physical prowess of an athlete, they do have power.

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Then again, in the American system, that power is limited because it is shared among so many people. In addition to the 536 people elected to U.S. offices, many thousands more serve in posts in the 50 states, 3,000-plus counties and countless towns, cities, villages and boroughs.

Despite the numbers of people who hold small- to mid-grade elected office, it remains interesting to talk about the relationships they have with one another. In Harford County, these relationships have been coming into relatively sharp focus over the past several months as a new county executive, Barry Glassman, has set his agenda and picked his top advisers.

Given that Glassman is a Republican, as was his predecessor, David R. Craig, not to mention the executive before that, Jim Harkins, it might be expected there would be a little more overlap in the leadership positions in various county departments, but that hasn't been the case.

Relatively few people in high profile positions from the Craig Administration remain in the Glassman Administration. While the Craig Administration retained a number of people from the Harkins Administration, there was a lot of personnel shuffling.

Part of the reason for the change of faces in county government since Glassman's election relates to personal relationships and personality. Just because Glassman and Craig are Republicans, doesn't mean they see eye to eye on everything.

Another reason, however, is the unusual situation of Maryland electing a Republican governor in Larry Hogan.

The political scene statewide in Maryland has been dominated since the Civil War by Democrats, though there have long been pockets of Republican strength. As a result, the advisers available to appoint to high posts at the state level are largely Democrats. On those rare occasions when a Republican takes the governor's office, the number of potential cabinet members, agency heads and deputy directors waiting on the bench is relatively small.

Harford County, by contrast, is in the opposite situation. From a population perspective, it is the largest Republican stronghold county, with an excess of GOP advisers sitting on the bench waiting for a chance to be traded up to the next field of play.

The passage of Harford County officials into high mid-level positions in the state government was facilitated when Craig ran for governor, lost in the Republican Primary to Hogan, but remained an active supporter of Hogan in the General Election.

He was rewarded with a cabinet level appointment, but it appears he also had the new governor's ear when it came to putting some of his former advisers in key state positions.

Among them are:

Russell J. Strickland, Craig's former director of emergency services, who now leads Maryland Emergency Management Agency.

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Former Harford treasurer Kathryn Hewitt joined the Maryland Office on Aging as director of fiscal services.

Jim Ports, who served as acting head of the county Department of Community Services, is deputy secretary of operations for the Maryland Department of Transportation.

Robert Thomas, Craig's chief spokesperson from 2007 until moving to a community outreach post with the county Department of Emergency Services in mid-2013, is media relations for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

Then there's Pete Gutwald, Craig's director of planning, who moved on to the City of Annapolis, which elected a Republican mayor last fall to replace a Democratic incumbent.

They may not be ready to start in the big leagues, or play leading roles on screen or stage, but the people in politics in Harford County have some behind-the-scenes story lines that, at least to political spectators, are pretty interesting.

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