Cecil County Exec: Pam Howard Defeats McKnight for Democrats
(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.”