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August 1, 2005

Frederick’s Primary Primer

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

What qualifies this writer to opine on the City of Frederick’s primary election? Nothing specific, but when did lack of qualification ever stop an opinion writer?

In reality, my resume suggests some minimal qualifications: service as the city’s first Chief Operations Officer has given broad exposure to several incumbents; my short tenure on the Board of County Commissioners; and my term as a state delegate has exposed me to the other candidates.

I’ll start with the mayor’s race and follow-up next week with the aldermanic positions.

So here goes, and watch out for low-hanging branches!

The Mayor’s Race

Mayor Jennifer Dougherty – She is a strong incumbent by anyone’s measure. Mayor Dougherty is a tough, no-nonsense, tightly focused leader. She knows exactly what she wants to accomplish, and she has a plan to get what she wants done. She is also an eloquent and pithy public speaker that has mastered the concept of the 60-second sound bite, something many politicians never understand.

The mayor also has a temper, but her supporters call it passion. Passion it might be, but it doesn’t always translate that way. She has suffered from a fairly high turnover rate among her mid- and high-level professional employees, and some of them have started whisper campaigns attacking her micro-management and bullying tactics.

One of her biggest strengths will be her legions of rabid supporters. I’ve given her credit in the past for creating the Neighborhood Advisory Councils, or NACs. These NACs are built-in campaign committees spread throughout the city. I still think she created them as much for that purpose as she did to get new folks involved, but she deserves credit of being smart enough to come up with a great idea.

She has done almost everything she said she was going to do. I’m reminded of Lennie Thompson, president of the Board of County Commissioners. Lennie is very consistent, has his “rap” down pat, and has similar legions of adoring voters who would vote for him regardless of the office he sought.

One interesting turn of events will be how will her detractors use her own campaign toolbox against her. She successfully engineered an “Anybody But Grimes” effort to unseat former Mayor Jim Grimes in 2001. My daily travels in Frederick suggest to me that a similar effort may already be underway against Mayor Dougherty, and I’m surprised at some of the people involved in that effort.

Former Mayor Ron Young – Ron was one of Frederick’s most popular and longest serving mayors. His record of accomplishment is one for the history books, and many of the projects and plans being carried out since he left office were started during his tenure.

Many life-long Fredericktonians are celebrating his return to local politics, and many will happily throw the lever (I mean touch the screen) beside his name.

Ron has established an important legacy in the community, not the least of which are his children, all of whom have established themselves in important business and community roles that will increase Ron’s profile and positive perception.

He didn’t just sit back and reflect on his legacy, either. Since he left the mayor’s office, Ron has served in a senior policy role for former Gov. Parris Glendening (Comptroller William Donald Schaffer calls Glendening “that dummy”).

Ron was the principal architect of Maryland’s “Smart Growth” initiative, and he has traveled the country speaking about how to protect open space while still building new homes and businesses.

After he and Governor Glendening parted ways (rumor has it they weren’t on very good terms at the end – to Young’s benefit), Ron took a job as the city manager of Indian Head in Charles County. Hey, you’ve gotta love a city manager!

City managers are the folks who keep the government functioning while the politicians argue, fuss and fight. By all accounts, Ron has done a good job for Indian Head.

So what are the downsides with Ron? How about the fact that former Mayor Paul Gordon beat him by accusing him of losing touch with the voters?

There is almost no more serious charge in local politics. Paul, not a high profile inspirational leader by any measure, walked through the whole city and told anyone who would listen that Ron Young’s best times were behind him, and that he was so enamored with himself that he forgot about who he worked for.

Ron will have to devise a strategy to overcome that reputation, since Paul still has access to a media outlet to remind people. Ron will also have to develop an identity with the thousands of newer residents who aren’t familiar with his name and past accomplishments. These newer residents are much more familiar with Mayor Dougherty.

Alderman Joe Baldi – Everybody I talk to says the same thing. “Joe is a good guy” is the familiar refrain. I can certainly think of worse ways to be identified by voters.

Unfortunately, being a nice guy in not nearly enough to get elected mayor. Joe is an astute observer of people, and he has worked very hard on several issues that he considers important.

For several years, Joe has been an active participant (and leader) on issues surrounding the airport, the Community Action Agency, and city infrastructure. He chaired the city’s Utility Committee, guiding difficult choices on water, sewer, and road infrastructure.

Joe was always looking for the consensus-building opportunities when I worked in City Hall. He helped me design a management retreat with the mayor, aldermen, and managers and directors.

Joe also was an active participant in the community visioning exercise Mayor Grimes started called Aspire Frederick. Joe rarely missed a meeting, and seemed genuinely interested in hearing what folks had to say about what Frederick should be in 50 years.

The work product from that important effort has been largely ignored, since it was a holdover from the last administration.

Joe pushed the idea of non-partisan city elections several years ago, but ran into the Republican and Democrat party apparatchiks, none of whom could stomach the idea of losing power. This recent hoo-hah about opening up the election to valid third party candidates seems silly looking back at what Joe wanted to do.

Joe’s idea would have been much better, yet we haven’t heard about that in the newspaper.

Joe also has his own built-in core constituencies. He has been active in local veterans groups, and is respected for his help in those circles. Those guys/gals always vote, and they work for their candidates, too. He is also well known in real estate and banking circles.

The downsides for Joe are complex. He has to overcome the perception (unfair though it might be) that he is not confrontational enough. Compared to Aldermen Bill Hall and Dave Lenhart, Joe has a much more subdued approach to battling the mayor.

Also, Joe, as a Republican, is forced to take a back-seat role to the bruising Democratic primary. Everyone wants to see what Jennifer and Ron do and say to each other between now and September, and Joe will be trying to find a way to weigh in.

Jeffrey Holtzinger – Jeff would normally be considered a VERY attractive candidate. He’s smart (an attorney and a civil engineer). He knows more about the city’s entire infrastructure than the other candidates combined (having served as assistant city engineer and chief engineer), and he is still closely connected to the city workforce.

Jeff is a former subordinate employee, and an outstanding one at that. That puts me in a very difficult position, because Joe Baldi is both a friend and the highest profile member of my party seeking the mayor’s office.

Jeff did some outstanding work as the city engineer. He brought focus and professionalism to his work, and he advised former Mayor Grimes on some very complex and challenging problems.

He brings an interesting perspective to the race. He is also a former subordinate employee of Mayor Dougherty’s, so he has first-hand experience in her management style and communication ability. Given the circumstances surrounding his departure, I don’t envision hugs and smooches during candidate debates.

In fact, the only real downside I can find with Jeff is the one thing that would probably prevent me from voting for him if I was a Frederick City voter.

Currently, Jeff could not even vote for himself, since he doesn’t live in the city. If Jeff moves into the city during the primary, he will change the dynamics of the race. If he doesn’t, then I would think that Frederick residents would have a serious problem voting for him.

Stanley Mazelewski – I don’t know him, I have no idea what he believes, nor do I understand his vision for Frederick. He lives up in the north county area, and unlike Jeff, he doesn’t even have a past connection with city governance or politics.

He didn’t start off well. The Frederick County Builders Association held a Primary Election Candidate Forum, and Mr. Mazelewski didn’t even show up.

Since I have no idea who he is or what he would do, I can only speculate about his chances, which in my opinion are two – slim and none. If he’s serious, he needs to move into the city. Otherwise, he qualifies as a novelty, not a candidate.

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