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August 9, 2005

The Race for Alderperson – Part 2

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Yesterday my microscope passed over the Democrats and a Green Party candidate for aldermen of The City of Frederick. Today, we turn our attention to the Republicans, including a couple of last minute additions that swelled the ranks as the deadline approached.

The Republicans

A lot of very decent candidates on the Republican ticket, but no one possessing the name recognition of the incumbent Democrats.

Sam Conyers – Sam’s resume seems impressive. Army retiree, started his own church, built a congregation, and has done pretty well in the soul-saving business. Maybe not the usual path to politics, but Sam has some of those credentials, too.

He has served as the chair of the Frederick County Human Relations Commission, and is now filling a political appointment to the Frederick Community College Board of Trustees.

Sam has made several presentations to the state delegation, and he is a very forceful and focused presenter. I recall a particular Friday morning delegation meeting in Annapolis when he argued for a bill for the Human Relations Commission, and stood up to some very strong opinions to make his point.

The bill eventually became law – mostly because of his argument.

One minor drawback is that Sam has run for a number of political offices, and a criticism is that Sam doesn’t really know what he wants to do.

What politician ever does, though?

Justin Kiska – A candidate for the District 3A House of Delegates seat three years ago, Justin was a strong campaigner who was still in the learning stages back then.

His media statements about his aldermanic campaign suggest that he learned a good deal during the 2002 delegate campaign. Look for a well-organized effort from this fiscally conservative, socially moderate Republican.

He’s smart, he handles himself well in front of an audience, and he can debate issues with anyone.

He and his family run the Way Off Broadway Dinner Theater and he’ll score some support from the arts community.

Randy McClement – That’s right, the bagel guy! Randy has opened and run a successful downtown business, gotten very involved in both the downtown business association and the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce. He has built a solid reputation as both a hard worker and a really nice guy.

I was really impressed by his reaction to the civility question, as posed by a top local political reporter. When asked what he thought about all of the civility focus, Randy suggested that “statesmanship” was much more important than civility.

Quoting Benjamin Franklin (you’ve gotta love a guy who quotes Franklin), Randy said he doesn’t care if politicians argue (civilly or not), just that they can get down to the work of the people once they’ve exhausted the rhetoric.

Randy’s announcement and choice of a well-connected local radio personality to help with fundraising spells a strong candidate for the primary.

James Joyce – Jim asked me about running early in his thought process, and has slowly but deliberately done all the right things since then.

He has a good grasp on what it will take to do this job, and seems serious when he says he can work with anyone when it comes to the best interests of the city.

He runs a successful business, and he has strong ties to that community. He seems to be very independent, so don’t look for him to try currying favor with special interests.

I know from second-hand reports that he’s out beating the bushes, meeting with former city officials to get a lay of the land.

His most high profile activity was to get out in front on a residential development issue in his Old Farm/Rosemont Avenue neighborhood. Whether you agree or disagree on the issue, Jim is not afraid to stake out a position. That skill will come in very handy if he is elected.

He suffers from a serious lack of name recognition, but he seems to understand that only hard work can overcome that handicap. Time will tell if he does that work.

C. Paul Smith – A quiet, hard-working attorney who along with his wife has raised a large, well-respected family, and helped several of his sons achieve the rank of Eagle Scout.

Chuck Jenkins, the chair of the Republican State Central Committee, jokes that such an accomplishment must demonstrate incredible time management and prioritization skills.

I was invited to Paul’s candidate announcement. Surrounded by his family, Paul talked about things that matter to him. I was struck by how much common sense he has, and how he has obviously given this decision a great deal of careful thought.

Anticipate a conservative, pro-business, anti-tax advocate who still thinks our city’s best days are ahead. Paul needs to go out and meet as many voters as possible. His success will be directly linked to how hard he’s willing to work.

In light of all of the focus on civility, I’d really like to see someone with Paul’s credentials and personality on the board.

Christopher Froese – I don’t know him, don’t know what he stands for, and I am at a total loss to write anything positive or negative. I’ll be watching Mr. Froese to see where he falls on the political spectrum, as I suspect will most of the voters in Frederick.

I don’t see any big “coattail” factor in the GOP primary. It can’t hurt any of the candidates to align them selves with Joe Baldi. It might be interesting to see if any actively seek out Jeff Holtzinger’s support, but only if he were to relocate into the city before the primary election date.

The Converts

The ranks of Republican contenders for alderman swelled by two just as the filing deadline was passing, with both Alan Imhoff (former Independent) and Ronald Bird (former Democrat) switching their affiliation to Republican in order to run.

Alan Imhoff – I’ve often called Alan one of the smartest people in Frederick. Unfortunately, his efforts to seek elected office have always fallen a little short. Alan is a personal friend, and I was really wrestling with how to handle his contemplated run for mayor this year.

He spent several months in torment over his firm belief that he was the best possible person to serve as Frederick’s chief executive, and I was leaning towards agreeing with him. Alan adores his wife and children, and when his wife made clear to him she preferred he not run for mayor, he acquiesced.

So now he switches his political affiliation, and not for the first time in his personal history. The knowledge of planning, land use, zoning, and transportation issues that made him an attractive mayoral candidate could help him in his run for alderman.

The real question is whether Republican voters will embrace someone who had switched their affiliation. Imhoff is a strong candidate and can probably overcome that liability.

Ronald Bird – Same deal, sort of. Mr. Bird is actually known to city voters, as he had aspired to knock Alex Mooney off of his District 3 State Senate throne.

Now here’s a real political mind teaser for you. Can a candidate who sought office as a Democrat, who aggressively attacked a popular (?) Republican, switch his affiliation and try to seek Republican votes for a lower level local office?

No offense to Mr. Bird, but I think not. If he had run as a Democrat, he wouldn’t have to deal with that fallout. I recall thinking that he seemed to be a qualified candidate for state office, so I don’t doubt he has the necessary qualifications to serve as an alderman. I’m really interested, though, in hearing what revelation caused his political conversion. In order to convince GOP voters to support him, he’ll have to have a pretty good story to tell.

Early Handicapping – Originally, I thought the Republican primary would be a no-brainer. I figured that all of the candidates, other than Mr. Froese, would make it through. Then Alan Imhoff switched his affiliation, and turned everything upside down.

If Alan can overcome the party switch thing, I’d be surprised if he didn’t make it through the primary. Randy McClement and Sam Conyers benefit from a higher public profile than the others. If Paul Smith and Jim Joyce really work hard to knock on doors and attend neighborhood functions, you can’t count them out! Hard work can (and sometimes does) overcome name recognition! Time will tell if Ron Bird can overcome his run against Sen. Alex Mooney in 1998, but look for Alex to weigh in with Republican city voters about Mr. Bird!

Early, early Handicapping – Unlike many of my Democratic friends, I don’t think it will be a Democrat sweep in the General Election. That doesn’t mean I think that Republicans will take all five seats, either. I think it’s highly possible we’ll see two, maybe even three GOP aldermen, depending on the mayor’s race.

Much will turn on what happens with the mayor’s race. The primary battle between Mayor Jennifer Dougherty and former Mayor Ron Young could really divide the Democrats, and depending on how personal it gets will determine how deep the division runs.

One sad note: Frequent alderman candidate and Monocacy Village resident Bill Ashton has decided not to seek office, after giving it a lot of thought. While he’s sometimes a little too intense, Bill has been a true advocate for neighbors of the airport, a friend to city employees, and someone who possesses a real love for his City of Frederick.

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