A hard run for office

Craig pins election success on experience, initiative

Maryland Votes 2006

November 05, 2006|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,Sun reporter

For the countless hours spent at work and on the campaign trail - trudging through cattle farms, accompanying sheriff's deputies on patrol and dancing the electric slide at a senior center - David R. Craig had made time on a recent weeknight for what's most important: taking his six grandchildren trick-or-treating.

In his dimly lit garage, surrounded by posters from past political campaigns, Orioles pennants and photos of John McCain and Elvis Presley, Harford's county executive traded in his suit for a sweat shirt, jeans and a Chicago Cubs hat, and sawed through a pumpkin, carving two eyes and a pointy mouth into the jack-o'-lantern.

"This is where I do my best work," said Craig, 57. "I don't get done nearly as much as I'd like to, but it means I always have something to do."

Moments like these can be rare. The former history teacher's hearty work ethic has been stretched to the limit these past 15 months as he has worked to prove to the county's voters that he is fit to be elected to a term in his own right. Some had feared his July 2005 appointment - to finish the term of James M. Harkins - might give Craig an unfair advantage in the election.

Craig has done everything he could to prove them right.

"I keep telling my staff that after the election, we'll put it into second gear," he said during a visit to the Police Activities League center in Edgewood. "They ask me, `You mean we're not in second gear already?'"

On the surface, the results have been sparkling: Dogged by accusations that he was too friendly with developers, he vetoed the comprehensive rezoning bill. He has pledged to build or expand seven schools. More deputies were put on the streets. Thousands of acres of farmland were preserved.

But to his critics, those efforts have been either election-year posturing or a sign that spending could ramp up under his watch. As word came down that his 16 years on the council appeared to be coming to an end, County Council President Robert S. Wagner told a reporter that Craig's aggressive style would result in a single branch of government.

"In three years, we will have a tax increase, and [I'll remind you] that I told you so," Wagner said.

Craig said his hard-charging manner is sometimes interpreted as arrogance. The fruits of his first year have shown his ability to get results, he said.

"I feel relatively assured in myself," he said, taking a break from carving a pumpkin. "I'm willing to compromise on lots of things. But not policy, procedure, and definitely not principle."

Craig, the youngest of three children, said his parents "set the bar very high" and expected excellence. His father was a personnel director at Aberdeen Proving Ground, and his mother was a homemaker and worked at a bank. He received high marks in school and sought student government positions at the urging of his peers, who also voted him most likely to succeed.

One of his earliest political memories is from 1956, when he watched the Republican National Convention on television with his grandmother. By age 11, he was passing out fliers for Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., a former Massachusetts senator and ambassador, whom he wanted to see get the nomination for president.

His first foray into politics was a success, winning a seat on the Havre de Grace City Council in 1979. He went on to win seven consecutive elections, rising from council member to mayor, then jumping to the House of Delegates and state Senate. He knocked off several incumbents along the way.

"He was an easy guy to talk to," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, a Washington County Republican who shared Civil War books with Craig. "I found him to be a man of common sense and thoughtfulness."

As his first term in the Senate drew to a close in 1998, he decided to pursue a run at county executive and was matched up in the Republican primary with Harkins, then a delegate. The two had been collegial, going out to dinner on occasion and sharing rides home from Annapolis.

But Harkins' campaign drew blood, claiming Craig was "pro-development" and accusing him of raising taxes and undercutting services for seniors during his term as mayor of Havre de Grace. Craig lost by 2,000 votes, and he said many believed he would fade away.

"I don't think he was down" after the loss, said Roxanne Lynch, the county's director of government and community relations, who has worked with Craig since 1990. "I think he looked at it as an opportunity to spend more time with family and look at what direction he wanted to go in."

His fortunes changed quickly. He jumped back into a familiar role as mayor of Havre de Grace and quietly ramped up another bid for the executive spot. He had raised $100,000 when the opportunity to test drive the position for a year arose. The council, which comprises six Republicans, nearly elected a place holder Democrat before endorsing Craig 5-1.

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