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August 18, 2005

Inside Baseball: Holtzinger Hits Home Run

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

One lesson a short tenure in politics teaches you is that politicians care a lot more about politics than most citizens do. It gets so bad that a phrase has been coined to define a politician too wrapped up in political minutiae. We refer to that as "inside baseball."

We're careening headlong into the political season in the City of Frederick, so here's some classic "inside baseball" stuff that resonates locally. An item of particular interest involves Jeff Holtzinger, Republican candidate for mayor, and his new address. More on that later.

Ron Young has run an advertisement that features tax policy as the primary feature. Mr. Young focuses on the fact that taxes are high in Frederick; and he suggests he can do something about that, while he alleges the incumbent, Mayor Jennifer Dougherty, has failed to act to stem the rise in taxes.

Like most political ads, this one includes some truth, some stretch, and a little sleight of hand. Mr. Young makes the case that Frederick is on a list of locales with high taxes. This is true and totally indisputable.

Less clear - and a little misleading - is the idea that the mayor is directly responsible for the increase in all forms of taxation measured on that list. The reader is left to sort out the difference between taxes that the city controls and those levies applied by other levels of government.

His ad doesn't clarify that the city (and by extension Mayor Dougherty) is responsible for setting a property tax rate, and she and the Board of Aldermen do not control county/state levies.

Mayor Dougherty and her supporters have attacked Mr. Young's credibility for using an ad that doesn't include that important clarification.

So, one can assume that if Ron had run an ad that still showed Frederick on a list of the most-taxed locales in America, but had clarified that county and state taxes add to that burden, Jennifer would have been okay with that. I think not!

This is a classic example of inside baseball. Many in Frederick think taxes are too high. They are not concerned about - nor focused on - the fact that the city does not control income taxes, and that city residents also pay the same county property tax as other county residents.

When people feel the tax burden is too great, that becomes the primary focus. Many people, especially senior citizens, are suffering under a terrible tax burden. It is not all Mayor Dougherty's fault though, and it is both deceptive and unfair to make that claim.

What the ad does is to give Mr. Young the chance to define his approach to the tax debate. He advocates decreasing the cost of government (he appears to have some specific ideas), and to encourage economic development. One could argue Mayor Dougherty has done that pretty effectively.

The mayor and her supporters would be better off focusing on her view of tax policy than trying to make the argument that Mr. Young is trying to mislead people.

People who agree with the mayor anyway will be angry. People who agree with Mr. Young are happy with the ad text. What truly matter are the thousands of voters who will ultimately decide this race.

This will turn on whether or not people feel like they're taxed too much. If so, they'll be interested in Mr. Young's ideas. If not, and there may be people out there who don't mind paying more taxes (although I don't know them), then they'll think he's all wet.

How about some more inside baseball? Every candidate is claiming a lack of civility in the conduct of the city's business. The clamor for civility is so loud you'd think all city meetings are conducted in the squared circle, as a steel cage death match.

Guess what? Very few city voters consider civility a major issue. In fact, civility ranks well below growth, taxes, schools, and public safety.

A number of city residents to whom I've spoken in the last few weeks actually expect the mayor and aldermen to disagree, and not a few have suggested that watching Cable 99 is a fun way to spend a Thursday evening, citing the moans, groans, and rolled exasperated eyes of our elected city leaders as entertaining.

Too much talk about civility is inside baseball, but healthy debate on issues is both necessary and important to a good electoral process.

* * * * * * * * * *

Jeff Holtzinger, Republican candidate for mayor of The City of Frederick, has signed a lease on a house behind McCurdy Field. Jeff says it will make his commute as a midget football coach easier, as they play at McCurdy.

One of his biggest hurdles in this race has been the fact that he didn't actually live in the city. I pointed out his obvious qualifications in an earlier column, but expressed concern over the fact that he couldn't even vote for himself.

Well, he has resolved that problem, and I promised him I would make that clear. I like Jeff a lot; he was a direct-report employee when I served as the city's Chief Operations Officer under former Mayor Jim Grimes.

Jeff knows more about the infrastructure of the city than any candidate in the race, including Mayor Dougherty and former Mayor Young. Jeff holds a law degree and an engineering degree, so he can't be buffaloed by a technician or a lawyer.

Jeff admits he isn't a politician, but his opponent in the Republican primary is a very savvy and capable campaigner. Joe Baldi has proven himself time and again as a consensus builder, a careful listener, and a problem solver.

Time and votes will tell whether Jeff's unconventional approach to running for mayor can overcome Joe's political expertise and constituent service experience.

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