Harford County Executive David R. Craig
For Harford County Executive David R. Craig, budget experience began to be cultivated in high school, before he was 15 years old. He relays the story of his math teacher, who was also the school treasurer. “Every Monday, she would give me the money from the weekend’s sports events, and I would walk it to the bank in town where my mother worked.” The teacher paid him a dime to do this task. “I’ve been working with budgets ever since.” His budget skills will be part of the legacy he leaves when he exits the County Executive seat after more than nine years in office. Under his leadership, Harford County earned the first Triple-A bond rating in the county’s history, but Craig also says his most difficult moments in office were budget-based. ”The last five years have been challenging,” he says. “We did a lot about keeping the County in good financial shape.”
Despite his love of math, Craig points out that his background is in the field of history. After spending 34 years as a teacher and administrator in the Harford County public schools, Craig moved into the County Executive seat with the experience of other public servant positions under his belt. He had already served as a member of his hometown City Council – Havre de Grace – and served as the city’s mayor. He had also been elected a Maryland State Delegate and later a State Senator. When asked what influenced his move from teaching to politics, he quickly responds, “I never left.” Whether he is referring literally to the fact that he currently teaches the history of Harford County at the Leadership Academy, or the valuable insight he provides to his colleagues and constituents, is inconsequential.
He has both taught and learned through his political positions.
Learning the political ropes while he was mayor and while in the Senate made the transition to County Executive smooth, he contends. Had he been a newcomer to the political scene, it might have been different. “For a newcomer, it would not be anything like they expect,” he says. “There’s a lot of time spent on the job and we have no control over certain issues due to the separation between the executive and legislative branches. But it is about getting things done and dealing with economic problems.” His advice to his successor in the County Executive seat: “Know how to work the job and work the decisions. It’s about getting it done.”
Craig got it done by laying a foundation based on his now-familiar six-pillar strategy: Public Safety, Education, Efficiency in Government, Economic Opportunity, Environmental Stewardship and Quality Living. His administration has tackled each of these and can report success in every area. Although he declines to identify his proudest moment in office, his final State of the County address reflects his overall satisfaction with his administration’s accomplishments. He said in the speech, “I can say with a great deal of pride and assuredness that the state of Harford County is strong, solid, stable and successful.”
Yet, Craig says it’s not about pride. He chooses a personal moment: the birth of the next granddaughter after he was in office. He currently has eight grandchildren. He uses the following analogy: “It’s like having three children. If you only pick one that you’re most proud of, then what happens to the other two? We can’t pick just one thing.”
Craig has maintained his family commitment throughout his government tenure. “My family commitment didn’t change,” he says. “I still have a balanced life.” In fact, he recalls a workshop to which he was the first elected official invited to attend. Held at the National Leadership College, Craig arrived with his 360-degree feedback evaluations from his family, colleagues, superiors and employees. After sharing them with the group, the instructor wrote the scores of all 23 participants in a grid on the board. There were two that stood out – one grid with four sets of 100 points and the other with four sets of 0 points. The 100 points belonged to Craig for having perfect balance between his professional and personal lives – as observed by all four of his reviewers in his circle of feedback. Craig reports that the person owning the zeroes picked up the phone and resigned his job that day.
Craig credits his father for instilling that sense of balance. “My father was my biggest influencer,” Craig says. “He gave me good advice and support, both professionally and personally. He taught me that it’s not just about going to work every day. He had a good balance himself.”
At the National Leadership College, participants also took the Myers Briggs test for personality type. Some may be surprised to learn that Craig had the characteristics of an introvert. He, himself, was not. He says he takes that in stride when enjoying some down time. He rejuvenates by solving Suduko puzzles in the evenings. He also gardens and paints – walls, not pictures, he clarifies – and he loves to cook and bake. An avid reader, he reads about 80 books a year, and he makes it a point to work with youth in some capacity.
Craig says he never actually thought about his career in politics and it was not mapped out in any way. “I never had a plan from one thing to the next,” he muses. “I never thought I would be County Executive,” he says. Now that he is aspiring to be Governor of Maryland, he will take his career to a new level, but judging by his campaign website, he does have a plan. His campaign website communicates similar “pillars” to his local ones on the issues he plans to address at the state level: Jobs and Economy, Taxes and Fiscal Responsibility, Public Safety, Freedom/Personal Responsibility, Education, Government Efficiency/Transparency and Environment.
For Harford County, he looks into the future for his children and grandchildren, in the anticipation that they will continue to live here, just as he plans to stay in the County. He trusts the County will continue to “maintain good economic standing, efficiency in budgeting and no debt. I hope it maintains a high level of public safety.”
Referring to the opening lines of his last State of the County address as he reflects on the end of his term, Craig jokes, “I said, ‘Everybody’s going to be happy.’” While he meant the people who didn’t like him, he says he doesn’t take anything personally. He compares being County Executive to being the assistant principal. “Nobody likes him, but that’s who they call when they need something or when something goes wrong,” he says. “Probably the happiest will be my wife.” I95