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August 8, 2005

The Race for Alderperson – Part 1

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Last week, the mayor’s race in The City of Frederic’s upcoming election was the subject of my unqualified punditry. This time, I’d like to share my equally questionable perspective on the Democratic aldermanic primary race.

Let’s start with the incumbents, two very strong candidates who are almost assured of making it through to the General Election. The Democrats

Donna Kuzemchak-Ramsburg – In spite of – or because of – her unconditional support for Mayor Jennifer Dougherty, Donna easily makes it through the Democratic primary.

When I wrote about Mayor Dougherty last week, I mentioned the concept of passion. Donna has that same passion, and she is adored by those who agree with her and held in equal disdain by those who don’t.

She has been criticized in some circles for the fact that her husband works for the city. I don’t really understand that criticism, and it holds no water with her rabid fans.

Listening to her public and media statements, Donna is convinced that nothing the mayor does is wrong. If my suspicions are correct, there will be some level of voter backlash at the mayor. While some of this might splash onto Donna, it won’t be enough to impact on her chances for being one of the top vote getters in the primary.

The more interesting unknown is the backlash factor during the General Election.

Marcia Hall – In a move sure to alienate all of my Republican friends, I’ve usually been impressed by how Marcia maintains a professional presence and a positive outlook. Sure, she also usually agrees with the mayor and Donna on technical issues.

That means Marcia will also have to worry about the General Election backlash, because I’d bet the farm she wins in the Democratic primary.

Marcia and I have worked together on several boards and committees. She is gracious but firm, and has a very comfortable communication style. I wondered if she would resist the temptation to get drawn into the mayor’s race, holding back on an endorsement. She hasn’t, as she has been pretty clear that she supports Jennifer.

That notwithstanding, I think she could be a strong candidate throughout, because she doesn’t come across as negative as either Donna or the mayor.

Tom Slater – I feel like I should recuse myself here because Mr. Slater doesn’t think much of my legislative work and doesn’t hesitate to find opportunities to share his thoughts.

That aside, you have to consider him a strong Democratic primary candidate, not so much on specific qualifications as on his long record of service to the party. He recently resigned as chair of the Democrat State Central Committee, so he’ll be counting on his strong party ties to get him through to the General Election.

Tom is one of the more highly regarded family law attorneys in the county. He has done some great work for the Department of Social Services. Every positive experience he’s had translates into votes.

He will not translate well with Republican voters, because his ideology is very liberal and because of the terrible things he has said about elected Republicans. The GOP will be busy reminding Frederick voters of his past statements.

David “Kip” Koontz – Without a doubt, Kip is one of the most capable candidates seeking a seat on the Board of Alderman. He has run for office before, and he knows the game.

Smart guy, hard worker, good schmoozer, and a real “downtown” sort. I really hate that he’s mostly known as the “gay rights activist,” because it seems to diminish his other accomplishments.

A big question mark will be how hard he’s willing to go out and meet voters. He has an interesting mix of philosophies and beliefs. He is well known as a social liberal, but most won’t know that he also enthusiastically advocates for controlling the cost of government.

Kip has developed a network of contacts, and if he can re-energize that network, you’ve got to consider him a primary front-runner.

Bev Shelton – Everyone I know loves Bev Shelton. Bev is smart, enthusiastic, hard working, and has a Rolodex of contacts second only to prolific fundraiser and lovable personality Debbie Williams. Whether she ran as a Democrat (which she is) or a Republican (which she could be), Bev will corral a lot of votes.

Most folks know of Bev through her work with the Frederick County Builders Association. What you may not know is that she has volunteered thousands of hours for charitable organizations.

When most politicians were busy hand shaking and back slapping, Bev was quietly building a huge core constituency. If you haven’t already figured it out, I think Bev is almost a shoe-in, although no-growthers will try to blame her for everything bad that’s happened since World War II. It’s stupid, but they’ll try anyway. Can you tell I’m a supporter?

Ken Berlin – Not well known, but a fairly impressive candidate. Ken has done a lot of research into policy issues facing the city, and has some impressive advisors offering him advice.

Ken is the only candidate for local office I’ve ever met who could hold an intelligent conversation on land value taxation, a fairly esoteric tax concept that shifts the burden for property tax from improved land (like your home) to unimproved land (where homes will be built someday).

I’ve been impressed with how he’s been making the circuit of political and public opinion makers. That’s a sign that he understands that this business is about building coalitions.

Trish Cunningham-Egbert – She is a civic activist who has been working on getting the State Highway Administration to build sound barrier walls along US 15 through Frederick. I have been the recipient of a number of email submissions from Trish.

All of her submissions, whether I was working for the city, the county, or as a delegate have been well researched and written.

She seems to be determined and well spoken. I understand that she attends a lot of meetings, so she probably knows what’s going on in the city. She has been another strong defender of the mayor, so one has to consider that backlash thing again.

Early Handicapping – I see Donna, Marcia, Tom, Kip, and Bev moving from the primary to the General Election. Wild cards: if Tom Slater counts too much on his central committee role to get him through the primary, and either Ken Berlin or Trish Cunningham-Egbert outworks him, he could be left out in the cold.

It will be really interesting to see what affect Mayor Dougherty’s race will have on Donna, Marcia, and Trish, all of whom appear to enthusiastically support her re-election. Similarly, will other Democratic candidates align with Ron Young, and how will those alignments impact them?

Green Party

Joanne Ivancic – Okay, I’ll admit that I’m not a big third party candidate guy. I applaud Ms. Ivancic for her initiative, though. She seems to have a good grasp on the issues, and she offers those outside the political mainstream a truly fresh voice.

Besides, she gets to skip the primary mess and get ready for the General Election!

There’s been an interesting turn of events regarding third party candidates. I’ve read statements from Mayor Dougherty and the incumbent aldermen about opening up the election to allow others to participate.

Years ago, when I was still working for the City of Frederick, Alderman Joe Baldi stepped up and proposed creating a non-partisan election for the city. Republicans and Democrats soundly criticized him for potentially diminishing their collective power.

Back then, when Joe was under attack by the defenders of the status quo, I didn’t hear a peep, not a single one, from the many people who have been clamoring lately for this change.

Mayor (then citizen) Dougherty was silent. Alderman Kuzemchak-Ramsburg, who actually had a vote, didn’t support the idea either. All of the Green Party members who are celebrating now could have made this change years ago if they had had their acts together and listened to Joe Baldi.

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