Rules for reservists preclude Harford councilman's fall run

Army's call halts re-election bid

February 09, 2006|By JUSTIN FENTON | JUSTIN FENTON,SUN REPORTER

Highlighting the problem faced by elected officials called up for military duty, a Harford County Council member who has been viewed as a potential candidate for higher office instead had his re-election hopes dashed this week when orders to leave for Iraq became official.

Robert G. Cassilly, a Republican from Bel Air who has been mentioned as a possible contender for council president, was placed on active duty at midnight Tuesday, meaning he cannot be involved in politics - including his fall re-election bid - until his tour of duty is up in a year.

"It's happening too quickly," said Cassilly, 47, a judge advocate in the Army Reserve who leaves Saturday for two months of training at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. "You're asked to change your whole life in the next 30 days. It's been hectic, and I may have suffered from a lack of some degree of planning."

Under a Department of Defense directive, members of the military on active duty shall not "exercise the functions of a civil office," functions that include serving as an elected county official.

A handful of elected officials nationwide have been deployed and affected by the directive.

Tulsi Gabbard Tamayo, a Democrat and member of Hawaii's House of Representatives, ended her re-election campaign in 2004 after learning that she would not be able to carry out her legislative duties during the 18-month assignment abroad.

But Army officials did not know of any other official whose election hopes were dashed. And a spokeswoman said all reservists must follow the same directives, regardless of their civilian standing.

"Whether it's campaigning or holding office, at all times a member must give priority to the performance of military duty," said Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke. "It's very tough for the Reserve soldiers to juggle these things when they are deployed, but they knew that when they signed up."

Del. Anthony G. Brown, a Democrat from Prince George's County, was deployed as a special consultant and missed the 2005 General Assembly session, during which he was told he could not send a taped message to fellow legislators for Presidents Day. He said the military's rules are "overreaching."

"Here's a patriotic councilman, a father of five who diligently serves his community, and he's going to come back and no longer have that privilege," said Brown, who is Democratic gubernatorial candidate Martin O'Malley's running mate. "I find that repulsive, and it's shameful for the Department of Defense to do that."

Brown said elected officials are not receiving the same treatment as other citizens.

"To support reservists and National Guard personnel who deploy, we have laws that protect those men and women when they return," he said. "We have to keep their job open, promote them as they would be promoted, and give them raises. So why are we telling elected officials that [they are] going to be treated different?"

Though he was not aware of Cassilly's case, Maj. Charles Kohler, a spokesman for the Maryland National Guard, suggested that the rules might need amending.

"I think a lot of those regulations were not necessarily designed for the modern times," he said. "As we're using our National Guard and reservists a lot more, a lot of these things have changed."

Lt. Col. Pamela Hart, a spokeswoman with the Army Reserve, said Cassilly could have run for office from abroad if he had filed the paperwork before midnight Tuesday - something he was unaware of until a reporter contacted him yesterday - and had others advocate for him during the campaign. Cassilly, however, could not "physically participate," she said.

In Harford, Cassilly's announcement after Tuesday night's council meeting came as a surprise to officials. The well-liked lawyer had just finished brokering a compromise on an adequate public facilities law and speaking up for development-weary residents during amendments to the county's rezoning process. Afterward, he was swarmed by well-wishers.

In Iraq, Cassilly said, he will be an international law officer with the civil affairs command. He served from 1980 to 1985 as an infantry captain in the Army after earning degrees from the Johns Hopkins University and the University of Baltimore, and he has remained in the Reserve.

"I'm very proud of the kid," said Cassilly's brother, Joseph, who is the state's attorney for Harford and a Vietnam veteran who was paralyzed in combat. "He's my little brother, and I'm just very proud of him."

For his part, Robert Cassilly said he doesn't understand why he can't remain involved in county-level politics.

"I've never felt I had any sway with regard to Department of Defense positions," he said jokingly, but added that he is honored to serve his country and hopes his constituents in District C don't think that he is abandoning them. "I believe very strongly in what we're doing [overseas], and I'm proud to be a part of it," Cassilly said.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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