Getting elected isn't easy. Staying elected can be even harder.
Contested primaries for the two major parties generally means four or more people are in the running for a particular office. Certainly, not all races are contested, but there are plenty of primary races contested by more than two people from each party.
And that's just to get elected. Once in office, a public official's record is subject to scrutiny by challengers looking to gain advantage. Challengers, meanwhile, only have to say what they're going to do.
For a lot of people who have held elected office in Harford County, this translates into a trajectory that limits most people to four or maybe five four-year terms. Sometimes they leave after that, sometimes they are replaced by the voters.
After a hard-fought re-election campaign four years ago, Sen. Nancy Jacobs chose not to seek re-election this year. It is impossible to predict whether she would have won this time around and, in all fairness, she had considered not running four years ago.
Still, her 20 years in the Maryland General Assembly are three four-year terms short of the time served in elected office by Harford County State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly. When Jacobs was first elected to the legislature, Cassilly was celebrating the start of his fourth four-year term in office.
This week, he was sworn in for a ninth term as the county's chief prosecutor. If he completes the term, he will have served in the office for 36 years.
The 32 years he already served is all the more remarkable given the nature of the job he has been elected to over the years. As the head of the office whose job it is to prove the state's case against people accused of crimes, state's attorney is the kind of post where it's easier to irritate people than make friends. By contrast, a delegate or senator can always profess to be on everyone's side.
Cassilly, who was wounded fighting in Vietnam and is confined to a wheelchair as a result, challenged sitting state's attorney Pete Cobb in 1982 when he was a prosecutor working in Cobb's office. Cassilly was promptly fired and cartoonist Donald Holmes penned a sketch published in The Aegis of Cobb booting wheelchair-bound Cassilly down the courthouse steps. A sympathy vote is partially credited with putting him in office in that election, as he was a Republican running against a Democrat at a time when most elected officials in the county were Democrats.
Cassilly has faced few challenges since 1982 and it's hard to imagine any sympathy factor being at play for such a long time. Typically, while voters are willing to give someone a chance, they're not particularly willing to tolerate perceived poor performance in office, at least not over the long haul (again, there are exceptions).
Joseph Cassilly's general reputation has been one of doing a decent job and this has translated into other members of his family having at least a small advantage when they have run for public office. One brother, Robert Cassilly, was rather easily elected to the Bel Air Board of Town Commissioners and then to the Harford County Council. He did not seek reelection to the second post because his National Guard unit was sent overseas.
In 2014, however, Robert Cassilly was again elected to public office, this time to the Maryland State Senate. Another brother, Andrew Cassilly, was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in the same election.
Certainly, Joseph Cassilly isn't the only reason his brothers were able to be elected, but having the Cassilly name certainly doesn't hurt a candidate in Harford County; it's worth remembering that Joseph Cassilly won more votes in Harford County in the general election that put Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in the governor's mansion, and Ehrlich rightly regarded Harford as a stronghold.
Joseph Cassilly has not been without his detractors, and his political ambitions have not always been realized. He has applied for judgeships only to be bypassed and he made an ill-fated run for U.S. Senate many years ago. Still, his ability to be re-elected so many times, even as political winds have shifted, make him something of an icon in Harford political circles.
Of course, like many elected posts, the job of the state's attorney is hardly glamorous, TV court dramas notwithstanding.
As Harford County Circuit Court Judge Stephen M. Waldron pointed out during Cassilly's recent inauguration, the job is to prove the cases made by police against people who have done some pretty bad things. As Waldron put it: "Our front line in Harford County is our police, then the state's attorney's office. ... But all the police work is meaningless unless there is a competent state's attorney to take the evidence and information to court."
Now that another election is over and the pomp of the inauguration is over, the realities of managing a bureaucracy of lawyers is what Cassilly will be returning to – for a 33rd year.