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Advertise on the Tentacle

June 14, 2005

Modern Frederick's Father

Roy Meachum

Incumbent Mayor Jennifer Dougherty boasts boldly how eager she is to put her record up against challenger Ron Young's accomplishments during the 20 years he sat in City Hall, 16 as mayor.

As a matter of fact, Ms. Dougherty can thank her Democratic primary opponent for her present office and its delightful view. Mr. Young engineered the move of City Hall from what was once the Opera House (and movie theatre) into the 1860s county courthouse building on Court Street; otherwise she would be sitting above what is now Brewers Alley restaurant.

Instead of the cultivated lawn decorated by flowers and statues, she would be fighting the fumes and traffic on North Market Street. Of course, as long as she was mayor she wouldn't have to pay her hefty parking meter fees that downtown merchants believe drive business away.

The City Hall move was among the very last of a long list of achievements that Frederick should give thanks to ex-Mayor Young for. While still an alderman, he fought for implementation of the plan for rebuilding Frederick that started with dedicated citizens. He spent a single term on the board because of the enthusiasm he helped generate about what this city could become. That was 1973.

When I met His Honor 10 years later, after moving here, he told the joke about some folks wanting to name downtown's first parking facility, on Church Street, as the Ron Young Memorial Garage. At that point he was opening up the second garage opposite the present county courthouse building.

While I kidded him in a column for putting up the local version of the Empire State (I wondered where he could find a King Kong for Frederick's first "skyscraper), Patrick Center provided badly needed downtown offices while inflicting minimal damage on the downtown.

Of course, everybody knows Mr. Young championed preserving this community's vital core by setting up the Historic District that ran up North Market Street, stopping at the Seventh Street fountain (which he brought back to life). It encompassed the very heart of the downtown that tourists drive from miles away to see. (Pushkin and I bumped into a Michigan family last weekend; they were enchanted with Frederick's 19th century feel.)

Those original boundaries left room for the neighborhood's worst cases to be negotiated back to life. They furnished no blank check for developers, but allowed the elbow room for the planning commission to encourage restoration and rehabilitation. Mr. Young accepted a proposal, for example, that included the fronts only of structures on Fourth Street.

The first rules limited the Historic District Commission's authority to things that could be seen from the sidewalk, allowing owners to exercise their property rights to add such things as bathrooms on second floor porches (as at my house).

It is important to understand that Ron Young had the wisdom to recognize other people's visions and bring them into being. He has acknowledged indebtedness to folks like Peggy Pilgrim, Margaret Kline and husband Dick.

He enjoyed counseling provided by David Bork, the private consultant the Klines brought in to figure out the most pragmatic way to achieve the basic goal of keeping downtown's charm while bringing Frederick into the 20th century.

The modern era's longest-serving mayor generated his own visions of what this place should be. His veritable genius, however, was in appreciating other people's ideas and converting them into reality. Take what happened to Patrick and Market streets.

The first time I remember driving through Frederick I was headed to Hagerstown's St. James School, where Kay Shouse, a Washington friend's grandsons boarded. I couldn't get out of here fast enough, away from the unsightly clutter and streets that curved down into curbs defying easy navigating.

The year after my then-wife and I brought Emily, a rag mop of a dog, and Truman, my first English pointer, up from Bethesda, we joined a throng strolling down to The Square Corner behind Ron Young. In 1984, that first In the Street lacked booths and bands. We gloried in the cleanliness the mayor had brought to our neighborhood: admirable streets, interesting sidewalks and the buried utility lines that cleared the skies. A great accomplishment! His run for re-election the following year was truly by acclamation: he was, as my grandchildren say, The Man!

With one more story, that's enough for now.

When Ms. Dougherty hypes up her campaign, attempting to paint a self image of a poor female beset by all those good ol' boys, she knows I don't fit the mold. My record shows I like strong women, including Jennifer the first time she ran for mayor (1993).

The rest of the story, as the expression goes: Ron Young was responsible for the most magical Holiday Season I've experienced since my kids seriously questioned Santa Claus. He did not do the hands-on work himself, but he enabled Darryl Routzahn, Steve Chafitz and a host of volunteers to bring horses to downtown Frederick. What an experience!

Wagonloads of tourists and the rest of us rode around on wagons, behind tinkling sleigh bells, singing carols and enjoying the pleasure of living in a city filled with creativity, fun and remarkable people like Darryl, Steve, Dick Kessler and a battalion of folks willing to do whatever it takes.

Most of all, there was Ron Young, kibitzing, telling bad jokes and smiling. I never met a politician I admired more through his first three terms. After 1986, my columns were less fun, for him to read and me to write. He was, as I recognized, a man who stayed too long at his own party. We came apart.

But make no mistake, I welcome modern Frederick's father back into a political arena that badly needs his skills in negotiations, compromise and smiling disagreements. At least through the September Democratic primaries there is no real choice for those of us who have invested our life in the remarkable city he created.

Tomorrow night he's called a powwow at the former Masonic Temple downtown. Having bought the place and started a beauty school, New York New York's Risers make it available for community projects. Ron Young's official announcement qualifies. Show up by 5:30. You'll see Pushkin and me there.

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