Editor's note: The Republican and Democratic candidates for Cecil County executive were both interviewed the week of Sept 14-18. What follows are their responses to questions put to them by the Cecil Whig during in-person interviews. These interviews are being offered to voters at this time due to the nature of the 2020 election cycle and the opportunity for voters to cast their ballots by mail prior to the Nov. 3 election.
Cecil Whig: Do you think that Maryland's policy response to the COVID-19 pandemic is right for Cecil County?
Danielle Hornberger (Republican candidate for Cecil County Executive): I think that Maryland, as you know, has a broad expanse of a variety of different counties with different situations and needs and so forth. As we know, Cecil County is much more rural. We don't have people who are living on top of each other, we don't have as much public transportation, we just don't have some of the scenarios and situations — we don't have as much travel that you see in the middle of the state, or even, we're seeing now an uptick in Ocean City, in Wicomico and Worcester county where Ocean City is.
I do think that our superintendent, and our school boards have really responded, in my opinion, in the situation that we have, pretty darn fantastically, because I think that we are aggressively trying to get kids back into school. And that's fantastic. I met with Dr. Lawson last week, and he said that we look to have about 50 percent, I think he said back in by October. If there is an outbreak — let's say there's not an outbreak. Let's say there's two kids in North East High School — they're not shutting it down. Let's say there's an outbreak of 35 kids in North East High School. We're not shutting the entire school system down, but that school will be closed for two weeks. I think that makes sense in the world that we live in, in the county that we live in. So I'm really happy with that.
CW: How have your meetings and conversations with local business leaders informed your ideas about how to bring or shape economic development in Cecil County?
DH: That is one thing that I pride myself on, that I've done a lot of. I've certainly had a very grassroots campaign. I have met with a lot of constituents, and a lot of those constituents are small business owners. I kind of just drove up and down 40 and all of the municipalities and knocked on doors. And so a lot of those small business owners, they basically say taxes are too high. Property taxes are too high, the same classic things that you hear and that I have talked about. Those things are certainly important to them. Building and giving deference to small businesses, small business owners and their families, rather than necessarily a lot of the warehouses that we've been seeing. I am not 100 percent anti-warehouse. I'm certainly not anti-economic development. But I think we need to, and the business owners that I've spoken to have really prompted me to look more at putting into small businesses in the area, letting them build, because they're really going to give back because they live here, for the most part. Their families go to school here with my son, who goes to school here. So those things are important. accountability is important.
I think that a lot of people in Cecil County feel like there's been a lack of accountability, transparency, that maybe the same certain few who are wealthy developers or wealthy business owners are getting more attention than just your average business owner, your average citizen. So like, we need to be accountable to everyone, not just a certain constituency, not just Republicans, not just — and I'm not saying that's what's happened — but not just a certain group, not just certain folks who have been large donors or could be possibly large donors. We really need to respect everybody in the county.
CW: Does that for you start with the going up and down knocking on doors on 40?
DH: Yeah, it does. And that's I think one of the things that really helped my campaign and helped me garner 61 percent of the vote — it was because COVID hit right in early spring. Most, I don't know if the other candidates were even planning on door knocking, but I know that they didn't up until that point, at least for county executive. And I definitely was door knocking in the cold, in the rain. We need to talk to people, we need to hear what people want to see county executive Danielle Hornberger doing differently.
CW: In a recent county council meeting, they stated that the county may lose as much as $12 million in income tax receipts. How would you plan to accommodate a budget hit that size?
DH: These are predictions right now. Also, I'll say we're also predicting to see an $8 million surplus. So we can't just look at the positive side of things, we can just look at the negative side of things. We have to look at everything holistically. I always like to take a holistic approach to everything. I mean, even with economic development — if you look at economic development as just, we're gonna go out there and make sure that we pull in these great companies to come and build here. Well, if you don't have the workforce, if you don't have great schools, if you have an opioid epidemic, all of these things feed into your economic development and how well that's going to actually go for you. So it's the same thing. You need to look at it holistically.
CW: Do you have ideas about where you would want to take money now that's being currently distributed in a way that you would say is uneven?
DH: I have seen some things that stand out. I think that it needs to be looked into much deeper, because we really aren't gonna know what the full situation is. I can look through the budget and highlight, and I see things that jumped out at me.
One of the things that jumped out at me and we talked about back in the spring, I think, was there are all these positions that just stay empty. They're always empty. Right, so why? Why do we leave them there? And one of the reasons is because government hates to say, 'Well, if you take that away...' They feel like they're never going to get that back. And it's like, 'We need those jobs. We may need those jobs.' That's fine, but right now, instead of having 15 of those positions open, let's say, let's keep four of them in the budget. Let's use this money to prop up the workforce that we do need to help. You know what I mean? Little things like that, I think, can make a big difference.
CW: In light of national demonstrations against racism and brutality in policing, what do you think about groups in Cecil County calling for police reforms?
DH: Well first of all, I think that everyone should have the right to assemble. I believe in free speech. So these things are all positive, right? But what I also think is that right now, we have this group on this side of the street screaming, and another group on that side of the street screaming, and nobody's actually listening. And that's a horrible thing. I'm saddened by that situation right now. I think that real action and success takes place when people come to the table and see each other as human beings and are willing to listen to each other as human beings. So I hope that moving forward, that can happen. Recently, I read in your paper the 'Black Lives Matter' screaming, and then the 'Trump Four More Years' screaming and I'm like, no. No, no, no, no, no.
I just think that everybody needs to be heard. That being said, people need to not come to the table with demands. Does that ever work, in any relationship? It doesn't work. So how do we build a relationship so that we respect each other so that we go 'Oh, you know what? You're kind of making sense now.' You know what I mean? That's what I think needs to be worked on.
CW: One thing these groups are calling for is to ban the use of chokeholds in the Elkton Police Department. Another thing that they're pushing for is to have a voice in the selection of the next police chief in Elkton. To what degree would you support either of those?
DH: First of all, I haven't seen or heard of a situation in Cecil County police, where it's anything like what has happened on the national level. Thank God. But it really is — I've sat with Sheriff Adams — it's a stringent process that candidates go through. I think they get — I can't remember his exact numbers, but it's basically like, after going through everything, they get one person a year or something that's actually a viable candidate, that becomes someone that works for our police force. So look, I am not in law enforcement. I can't imagine being one of the families that has had to deal with their loved one going through one of these horrific situations with a bad cop or multiple bad cops. That being said, I can't imagine being a good cop in law enforcement in a life or death situation, and not being able to do something that is meant to be safe. It's meant to be a safe procedure to save my life if it comes down to it.
CW: Do you think politics have become too partisan?
DH: Yeah, I do.
Like I was saying before, it needs to not be where we, where we judge each other as — that's a Republican, that's a Democrat, that's a female, that's a male, that's a young whippersnapper that doesn't know anything, that's an old lady that doesn't have any business being here anymore. I mean, these are the things that we really still hear. And it blows my mind. One thing that I can say that I've learned in my years of politics, because I know I have a history in politics. I not only have governmental history, but working for Congressman [Andy] Harris for the past couple years, for the past seven or so years being heavily involved in our party, but also witnessing my husband and his colleagues down at the state legislature — it is all about relationships. It just is. And I see work getting done across the aisle for the good of everyone. And I used to be one of those people who judged, 'They're down there spending our money going out to eat or what have you.' And the reality is, they are down there working for us. And when we break bread together, you turn into a real person to me. We start talking about your kids or your siblings, and then I have something in common with you, and then we're going, 'I kind of like this person, and I want to work with him. I want to help him get that bill through when he calls me and asks me, if it's not something completely against my morals and whatever, or my constituents' requests.'
CW: Is there something that you think most Democrats or liberals do agree with or believe in that you are interested in learning more about or reaching across the aisle to work on?
DH: It's hard, because it's also almost going, 'Well, liberals think this way, and conservatives think that way.' So I hate to do that. But because I really do think we are also — I mean, we get these snapshots of people, including myself, on Facebook, and yes, it is what we put out there. But there's so much more to us. That's two dimensional. I think something that I'll say conservatives and liberals I believe really have in common is wanting to help people. I really do. So, is that something I'll look more into? That's something I'm working on all the time. And I think that's a good thing.
CW: Do you have anything you would want to follow up on from what we've been saying, or any final thoughts?
DH: I am working on a contract with Cecil County. So in essence, what this is, is an outline of my goals, my agenda that Cecil County residents can hold my feet to the fire on for the next four years of my administration, God willing. So, there's that. I think that that's important. I think a lot of us have been disheartened over the years with politicians who have slick ads and don't follow through. So I feel like if I provide this contract, it's something more meaningful. I want it to be taken as meaningful and serious, and I like I said — hold my feet to the fire on it. One more thing — the current administration has proposed basically a tax increase in the guise of saving us money. In the last couple months of the administration here, and it's going to be brought forth for the public hearing on October 6, at the county council meeting. I really hope that others take a look. I will be putting that bill out. What this bill does is it allows or provides more executive powers. Some in my position, who would possibly be in this seat would say, 'Great, more power.' I don't agree with that. I think that we have checks and balances for a reason. I think that from what I have heard, what I feel is that we need transparency. And there's a reason why 77 percent of the voters voted the way that they did. They don't necessarily like that power grab. And they definitely don't like an increase in taxes.