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Cecil County Exec: Pam Howard Defeats McKnight for Democrats

April 3, 2012
By Nancy Schwerzler

(UPDATED 11:23 pm) Pam Howard, the former Cecil County Treasurer, soundly defeated her chief rival, North East Mayor Robert McKnight, for the Democratic nomination for the county’s first County Executive. With 20 precincts reporting, Howard had 54.9 percent of the vote to McKnight’s 37.1 percent.

She will face County Commissioner Tari Moore, victor in the GOP primary on Tuesday, in the November general election for county executive

Voter turnout at the polls was reported “very low” all day by county election officials.

The third candidate in the Democratic race, Winston Robinson, a senior financial officer for the city of Wilmington, trailed his better-known rivals, with 7.8 percent.

McKnight was the first to file his candidacy last summer, and his campaign was highly visible throughout the county, with roadside signs and advertising in local print newspapers. He also had a vigorous online presence with a website and heavy paid advertising on Facebook.

McKnight raised more than $13,000 for his campaign, according to his filings with the state elections board, and the majority of his donations came from individuals and business entities linked to the developer Clark Turner. Turner’s companies are developing the large mixed-use Charlestown Crossing housing development and own a former religious retreat campground in North East that has been proposed for development.

In candidate forums, McKnight emphasized his 20 years as the town’s mayor and said that since the town operated under a charter, he had the experience to run a Charter county government. In some of his ads, he ran excerpts from the town charter and the new county charter—which was approved by voters in 2010—to suggest that they were comparable. The town has a current operating budget of about $2.7 million while the county’s budget is over $163 million.

Apart from his part-time post as North East’s mayor, McKnight holds a full-time job with Glorious Presence church, with the titles of Pastor and Elder. In campaign materials and responses to candidate questionnaires, McKnight cited his status as a “Christian” and “Christian husband” as part of his qualifications for office.

Howard, who served 12 years as an independently elected county Treasurer before her narrow defeat in the 2010 election, was a largely invisible presence on the campaign trail this year. Her campaign was almost entirely self-financed, with few road signs and minimal advertising.

Since taking a job in Aberdeen after losing her last election for Treasurer, she only had nights and weekends to devote to her campaign. And her well-known campaign companion, her horse, Gilbert, was too old this time around to accompany her to community events.

However, her long tenure as Treasurer and multiple past campaigns for office gave her broad name recognition throughout the county. During candidate forum appearances, she emphasized her managerial experience and her long record of being an independent fiscal watchdog over taxpayers’ money.

And she pointed to her low-budget campaign as an asset: “I’m not supported by any special interest groups,” she said at a Democratic forum. “I’m not beholden to anybody.”

Longshot candidate Robinson financed his own campaign, with nearly $4,000 in his account, according to state election records. Before working in Wilmington, he previously worked in the Cecil County Treasurer’s office under Howard.

In candidate forums, Robinson offered detailed views on county issues and opined that operating the county government was “not the same as running a business.” Robinson said the county government was not out to make a profit, but to “deliver services,” and if people want those services, they have to be willing “to pay for it.”

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8 Responses to Cecil County Exec: Pam Howard Defeats McKnight for Democrats

  1. Patrick Tuer on April 3, 2012 at 10:48 pm

    Congrats to Pam Howard!

  2. Pam Howard on April 4, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    Thank you, Cecil Times, for mentioning my good buddy Gilbert! He is enjoying his retirement but may come out to help me a little bit during the campaign. I think he would be happy to carry a grandchild and a vote for Pam Howard sign. Many, many thanks to all my supporters!

  3. Michael Burns on April 5, 2012 at 11:32 am

    Pam Howard is uniquely qualified for the new County Executive position with 20 years in the Treasurer’s office, including 3 terms as elected County Treasurer. She is well regarded, independent, competent, and honest.

    And though Tari Moore is also an excellent candidate, and person, the best way to end the Smipkin hold on the Council is to have Tari complete her term there on the County Council. Otherwise, the Smipkin-dominated Republican Central Committee will appoint another of their own to fill her vacancy, and we’ll have at least two more years of their shenanigans, probably more.

    Charter government is supposed to bring us self-rule. We won’t have it until the Smipkin pestilence is eradicated. Electing Pam Howard as Executive will give us the fresh start we deserve.

    • James Abbott on April 12, 2012 at 9:49 pm

      If the role of County Executive is to control appropriations, deposit and invest county funds, and advise on debt management for Cecil County, then I would agree that Pam Howard has the qualifications to do the job.

      However, those responsibilities belong to the County’s new Director of Finance – not the County Executive. After much research, I believe Tari Moore is far more qualified and really has what we need for our first County Executive.

      It’s critical to understand not only the replacement process on the Council should Moore be elected – but more importantly the check and balance system Charter government has in place to circumvent bad decisions on the part of County Council members.

      If Moore is elected as Executive, the Republican Central Committee has to submit 3 names to the County Council. It’s the Council who selects the replacement – if they cannot choose (as in the case of a tie vote), the County Executive chooses the replacement.

      What we need to know is that the County Council (under Charter) has significantly less power and authority than the current County Commissioners. And more critically – ANY bad decisions made by the council can be vetoed by the County Executive. An override would require FOUR votes from the County Council. Not likely going to happen with Hodge and McCarthy balancing things on the Council.

      I am confident that this check and balance system provides assurance there will be oversight and correction on bad decisions – but we need an excellent County Executive to make sure that happens. In my opinion, Tari Moore is that person.

  4. Michael Burns on April 13, 2012 at 11:36 am

    Mr. Abbott,

    I appreciate the clarifications, and a good reminder to review the Charter.

    Intriguing scenario, as it gives the Smipkin cabal considerable incentive to back Democratic candidates for the three contested offices, though unknown whether they can influence any of them. Any thoughts?

  5. M. Miller on April 14, 2012 at 6:16 am

    Mr. Abbott is leaving out a very important point in his comments. The county executive would still have to select a name from the Central Committee’s list. So it is guaranteed that a Smipkin would be appointed to fill a vacant County Council seat.

    If, as he assumes, McCarthy and Hodge are elected to the Council, the Smipkins would still hold a controlling three vote majority– even if they did not have the four votes to over ride a veto by the executive.

    That means the Smipkin majority could just refuse to act on any bill that the Executive wanted to put into law. This is a recipe for stalemate and inaction.

  6. Patrick Tuer on April 15, 2012 at 7:50 am

    In two years, Diana and Dunn will be gone as well and Cecil County will return to normalcy.

  7. F Gaylord Moody III on April 20, 2012 at 9:26 pm

    Pamela Howard hired competent staff in the Treasurer’s Office, generally able to keep that department on auto-pilot for a couple years. In spite of all the hubbub about her lack of people skills, her track record of surrounding herself with competent honest people should not be under estimated. To emphasize, the most important job of a competent honest executive will be to surround herself with competent honest staff.

    Pamela Howard has demonstrated for over a decade that she has both: moral fiber and a critical management skill.

    There is much discussion presuming an executive must be a strong leader; I prefer to think a more reasoned plan for our future will emerge if the council is stronger.

    After the election, I would envision a council of Mr. Hodge, Dr. McCarthy and Ms. Moore capable of doing the heavy lifting to create the first long-range plan. Political activists seem to disregard that the Charter is a minimal sketch; the first council will write the blueprint to be passed down for perhaps the next twenty years.

    Having a fundamentally honest, ethical elected executive with an exceptionally talented majority on council may be what county voters should support. The precedent of a cooperative relationship between council and executive is critical to our future.

    But as tempting as that prospect is, Pamela Howard was never a big-picture person and failed to articulate persuasive arguments when she made unpopular but necessary proposals. If the election turns on the ability of the candidate to articulate a vision for the future, no doubt Tari Moore will win. But, if Pamela Howard’s supporters doggedly remind voters that the vindictive faction in the Republican Party will deny Ms Moore of her vision, and if Ms Howard remains above the fray in council races, she may be elected the first county executive.

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