Cecil County Council Politics: Harmer Has All-Local Donations in Dist. 5 Challenge; Incumbent Gregory Taps Annapolis, Harris $

January 19, 2020


The old political wisdom, “all politics is local,” is being turned on its head in the District 5 race for Cecil County Council, with the incumbent, Jackie Gregory, raking in Annapolis and Washington campaign donations while her opponent in the 2020 Republican primary election, Don Harmer, is relying on Cecil County supporters, according to new campaign finance reports filed with the state Board of Elections.

Gregory has received a total of $6,303 in contributions, political committee transfers, event ticket proceeds and “in kind” donations of services, with expenditures of $1,001. She reported a remaining bank balance of $5,301 in as yet unspent money. Her donations included money from residents of Delaware and Pennsylvania as well as the Annapolis area and other non-Cecil County locales.

The most interesting aspect of Gregory’s campaign finance report, which covered activity in 2019 up until 1/8/2020, is the proportion of her political money that came from state and federal political candidates’ accounts– $2,350 of her total of all funds raised. That figure is almost as much as the $2,638 she received in direct contributions from individuals.

State Sen. Jason Gallion, a Harford County Republican who represents a district (35) covering Harford and Cecil counties, donated $50 from his own campaign committee while Del. Kevin Hornberger (R-35A) transferred $100 from his political account. His wife, Danielle, is a candidate for Cecil County executive and Gregory has been an outspoken supporter of Mrs. Hornberger’s campaign.

And US Rep Andy Harris (R-1), who employs Danielle Hornberger as a part-time district aide and was the top donor to Kevin Hornberger’s initial campaign for state Delegate, showed up with his wife at Gregory’s “turkey shoot” fundraiser and used his federal campaign account to donate $200.

Del. Kathy Szeliga, who represents a Baltimore County/Harford County district and has broader political ambitions, donated $1,000 from her own campaign fund to Gregory. Szeliga, who ran unsuccessfully for the US Senate, is widely expected to seek another federal or statewide office in the future.

And one of the more puzzling donations of the season came from a former Anne Arundel county councilman and failed GOP candidate for a state Delegate seat: Jerry Walker, of Crofton, who donated $1,000 to Gregory from his own campaign account. Walker angered top state Republican leaders when he ran unsuccessfully in a 2018 GOP primary for one of three Dist. 33 delegate seats held by Republican incumbents. House GOP leader Nic Kipke and his allies denounced Walker as a “clown” and accused him of blocking a tax cut for local residents.

However, Walker is described by other GOP politicians as a congenial person who cuts a stylish figure at public events, sporting his trademark silk bow ties. And he is sitting on a campaign fund of over $100,000, according to recent filings to the Board of Elections, so he has a sound financial base to pursue future elective office in the state.

Gregory has been running her campaign for re-election to the County Council primarily with personal attacks on the current County Executive, Alan McCarthy, who is seeking re-election in the 2020 Republican primary. She didn’t even mention her opponent’s name—Don Harmer—until recently when she and members of her immediate family began posting attacks on social media claiming that McCarthy had “recruited” Harmer to run against her.

Harmer, a first-time political candidate, says he decided to run for the Council after many years of involvement in local civic activities and serving on county boards and commissions. And his campaign finance report displays an all-local support base.

So far Harmer has received $4,771 in contributions, including a $1,000 self-donation. Contributions ranged from $1 to $750, and all his donations came from within Cecil County. Expenses so far tally $602, for the usual campaign printing, bumper stickers and buttons, for a net balance of $4,168. Harmer just held his first formal campaign fundraiser, at the Wellwood, a few days ago and the proceeds of that event will be reflected in the next campaign finance filings.

Among his local Cecil County donors were Joyce Bowlsbey, the former President of the Cecil County Council, who gave $100; Bruce England, head of the Susquehanna Workforce Network job training and placement program, who gave $500; Kirsh Title Services, with a donation of $750; Virginia Saunders, a longtime leader of the Republican Club of Cecil County, with a $500 donation; and a $500 personal donation from David K. Williams, of Chesapeake City, a local business owner and head of the Cecil Business Leaders political action committee.

In an interview with Cecil Times, Harmer ticked off longstanding personal relationships with many of his donors, such as coaching a donor’s children on youth sports teams in the county. He said his campaign was shifting into high gear, with new yard signs going out in the next few days.

Harmer, managing partner of the Weaver’s liquor store in Elkton and the longtime leader of the county’s Parks and Recreation board, is challenging the incumbent Gregory, a frequent opponent of county spending for parks and recreation programs. Harmer has been chairman of the citizen-led parks board for four years and a member of the panel for nine years. He is also a current member of the county’s Planning Commission and has been active in various civic and youth sports groups, including serving for 15 years as assistant athletic director for the Tome School.

Meanwhile, Gregory is stepping up her fundraising effort with an upcoming wine tasting and food pairing event.

Although she is an incumbent, Gregory did not go into this campaign season with leftover funds from her previous run for office. She closed her previous campaign finance account, with its final report filed in January, 2018, when she listed a $997 repayment of a personal loan she had made to her campaign. That payment to herself was financed in large measure by a $633 donation listed on that same report from a business owned by conservative activist and blogger under various pseudonyms Vincent Sammons, whose business gave a total of $917 to Gregory’s initial campaign.

Gregory has also come under scrutiny for taking a substitute teacher’s salary from Cecil County Public Schools while serving on the Council, despite county Charter and ethics rules prohibiting Council members from receiving payments from any other “department” of county government. She has also charged taxpayers for tickets to social events and dinner functions in the county, despite clear prohibitions in the Charter and Council rules for such reimbursements.

[SEE most recent CECIL TIMES Special Report on Gregory’s activities here: http://ceciltimes.com/2020/01/cecil-county-council-ignores-legal-rules-taxpayers-pay-for-jackie-gregorys-dinner-events-legal-questions-on-dual-jobs/ ]

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