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August 16, 2005

Shootout at FCC Corral

Roy Meachum

Voters in this year's municipal primaries troop into the Armory and other balloting places four weeks from today. Based on the past, less than 20 percent of registered residents will participate, seemingly holding themselves back for the "real thing:" November's general elections. That logic may satisfy GOP members, but it's all wrong for Democrats.

On September 13, when declared Republicans walk up to the computers that replaced yesteryear's paper tickets, they will consider three mayoral wannabes. I can't believe Stanley Mazaleski and his supporters truly believe there's the slightest chance they could party in City Hall next January. For openers, he lives out in the city; he doesn't share our added municipal tax burdens.

Of course the same charge applies to Jeff Holtzinger. Like Mr. Mazaleski, he seized the opportunity offered by the courts. Mayor Jennifer Dougherty's desperate efforts to keep former Mayor Ron Young out of next month's Democratic primary were kicked out by one judge; she then withdrew a blocking veto, which essentially allowed anyone from anywhere to bid for Frederick's top job.

Unlike the totally unknown (to me) Mr. Mazaleski, Mr. Holtzinger presents a rather bedazzling set of credentials for the job. He was the city engineer until squeezed out by Ms. Dougherty; he additionally qualified as an attorney. His years as director of an important municipal department make him particularly qualified. His exceptional background ranks him ahead of any newcomer to seek the mayor's office, at least since I've been around.

But neither credentials nor issues really matter when our version of democracy comes into play; voters inevitably choose the candidate who makes them most comfortable, rarely the best qualified.

Mr. Holtzinger's biggest hurdle comes from the serious lack of name recognition; he served City Hall as a bureaucrat, a status that demands virtual obscurity. If that's the case, you might assume spending big bucks these final days might power him past GOP frontrunner Joe Baldi; you would be wrong.

Hurry-up advertising and promotion work best in a negative sense; blame human nature. It's easier to get the bad around than the good, which often goes unrecognized this side of the grave, as Shakespeare's Marc Anthony observed.

Furthermore, Mr. Baldi possesses a formidable reputation as "a nice guy," even among his critics. He managed to avoid the considerable spit and venom tossed around the past four years by seemingly listening to his own drummer, refusing to be fixed on either side.

Before serving three terms on the board of aldermen, he had paid public service dues, most notably as the local American Legion's commander. I've heard on the street, so to speak, that he proves very reliable on rendering constituent service, which means he has quietly been gaining support out of the public eye.

>From where I sit, Joe Baldi's name should appear in November as the Republican mayoral candidate on voters' computer screens. That's barring the unlikely revelation he has been living at least a triple life, each more heinous than the other.

Wednesday night's debate in Frederick Community College's Jack Kussmaul Theater could be a major factor in deciding which Democrats wind up in the general elections; seven candidates are competing for their party's five aldermanic slots.

The big explosion figures to come, however, in the shootout between incumbent Jennifer Dougherty and Ron Young, who served in City Hall longer than any official in modern history. Ironically, four years ago Mr. Young vigorously supported Ms. Dougherty, working late nights and busy weekends on her behalf.

At the time it seemed most unlikely that the four-term mayor would have another go, but there he is, undermining her claims to having reshaped the city, questioning how she has spent taxpayers' money and, most of all, challenging her confrontational style of public management.

On her part, she highlights his long absence (16 years) from city government, points out his good ol' boy status and delights in catching him out on inaccurate statements, thus undermining his credibility.

Although Ms. Dougherty can count upon neighborhood "cells" and some businesses along the Golden Mile, her insistence on total control enabled Mr. Young to climb into their primary's catbird seat. Put simply: Coming into August, by general consensus, the mayoral race was his to lose. Over the past couple of weeks, carelessness and his insistence on proving himself right has cost some support.

The former mayor still appears to be running ahead; but his chances could suffer over the next four weeks, beginning with Wednesday evening's debates. Winning, including Frederick's highest office, could very well hinge on who can cause the other's temper to snap. Neither enjoys fame as patient with anyone who has the temerity to question her/his positions.

This year's big political show gets under way at seven, they say. Anyone seeking a good seat would be well advised to show up at FCC's Kussmaul Theatre early. And bring along helmets and body armor; the shots could become furious and fast.

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