Once and Future Mayor?
When I arrived in Frederick, in 1983, Ron Young's tenure in City Hall seemed as secure as the Clustered Spires themselves. Voters had overwhelmingly ratified his leadership for the last two elections. For 1985's race, when he was running for a fourth term, Republicans were forced to virtually draft a nice woman named Donna Lane, whose candidacy scarcely left the gate.
Like the rest of the community, my column solidly endorsed the incumbent, who had taken to being a frequent guest in my house, showing up on occasion for dinner in the backyard, by himself. It was a relationship that seemed to surpass the contacts I had with other politicians in Washington, where both sides operated with transparent wariness.
Of course, I was proven wrong.
As I have written before, when it comes to politics, this is where the rubber meets the road. Washington remained a merry-go-round as my late friend Drew Pearson labeled it, where only occasionally did anyone, on either side, take anything personally.
In Frederick, every media utterance that can conceivably be construed as critical, no matter the intent, draws blood; while the "target" may tend toward a rational view, supporters fiercely agitate, demonstrating - if nothing else - their loyalty.
For a prime example, there's no need to dip into the past. City Hall's present incumbent boasts a host of viragos: females dedicated to the proposition that Frederick's first female mayor suffers from verbal assaults solely because of her gender. Hogwash!
In Mr. Young's case, our presumed "closeness" began to unravel when I treated the opening of downtown's Patrick Center, Frederick's first "skyscraper," as tantamount to New York's Empire State Building, speculating about when the local King Kong might appear. He was not amused.
The then-mayor's musing about the possibility of gondolas on Carroll Creek prompted "O Solo Ronnie!" In that column, I pondered the possibilities of His Honor in a striped shirt polling an imported Italian boat and singing. He was not amused. Again. Partially because of frustration.
In fact, I understood at the time, economic and legal complications had slowed to a crawl Mr. Young's transformation of 19th century Frederick into the very model of a modern city while keeping all its charms largely intact. While its origins are generally forgotten, October's annual In the Street celebrates nothing so much as his magnificent vision for his hometown.
Every administration since his 1989 defeat, especially Jennifer Dougherty's, has fed off the collective genius of Mr. Young and his collaborators, women and men who dedicated their time and sometimes their "fortunes" to molding the future we enjoy today.
But after the victory over Ms. Lane, the longest-serving mayor in modern times suffered what might be described as an Alexander crisis, comparable to the great conqueror's despair over the lack of new worlds to conquer. It was not that the then-mayor wanted for new projects.
In fact, during his last term he engineered City Hall's switch to the former county courthouse from the current site of Brewer's Alley restaurant. Remembered best by longtime residents as a segregated movie theatre, the old Opera House offered cramped and tediously inconvenient facilities for the conduct of the government required by a community that continued to boom.
But particularly along Carroll Creek, with or without gondolas, development was stymied by a myriad of factors, principally, in my view, because of a need for both citizens and investors to adjust to the expanded possibilities. The town symbolized not long ago by cows was on its way to becoming a mini-metropolis, because of forces beyond anyone's control. Ron Young's creek project provides expansion space for the inevitable new while allowing the old to remain intact.
Having "conquered" his feasible objectives, the mayor became frankly bored; it happens to all "creative" minds, and if you doubt the use of that adjective for a politician then look up the campaign poster that features a painting of today's City Hall backed by All Saints Church. Above the artwork there appears: FREDERICK. And below: RON YOUNG. His brushes brought the buildings to canvas.
In recent columns I referred to the way he conducted his fourth term as having "stayed too long at his own party." That's how I feel. With no cause to attract his tremendous energy and drive, his disposition and attitude turned sour. Other people provided distraction by means of posing the possibility of statewide jobs, which didn't pan out.
His 1989 campaign molded the pattern seen four years ago when Jim Grimes provided a textbook example of a politician no longer interested in his office. With Mr. Young, his departure was eased by the banding together of all the feathers ruffled by his accomplishments and their price. He was a prime example of the "mighty" cruising for a fall.
He pointed out, for over 10 years, my columns did not help his quest for another term. In fact, on his son's radio show, as late as the spring of 2003, he put the blame for his defeat on my bald head. He subsequently acknowledged he took to shooting himself in both feet, which is what I was trying to say at the time.
In this new century, Ron Young stands for his old job as a practitioner of politics, defined as the art of the possible reached through compromise. Whatever his differences with others, including me, we were all spared the spectacle of public confrontations.
In no instance can I recall when he went out his way to deliberately hurt other people, as has Jennifer Dougherty, on more than several occasions.
Statistics have been provided that demonstrate the financial costs to taxpayers of the last four years; for example, the incumbent inherited a $6 million "nest" that has dwindled to $800,000. This, in spite of her fire sale prices on city owned property, generally below the price paid by her predecessor, which she actually bragged about.
But such "issues" are not this column's domain; I leave figures to accountants and those willing to ply the minutia of meetings. I lack such patience.
Ron Young still possesses flaws aplenty. But rhetoric aside, names of the "best" human beings never appear on ballots. My foremost mentor in local politics taught me years ago what really matters is who runs against whom.
In five weeks, Frederick's longest-serving modern mayor will face the woman whom I supported when she ran for the city's highest office the first time - in 1993. She lost that Democratic primary to a candidate whose campaign was managed by Ron Young!
We'll see what happens September 13.