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August 30, 2005

Sexist Mayoral Campaign

Roy Meachum

It's an insulting question I've heard several times: Given Jennifer Dougherty's total lack of regard for human beings, would I accept the performance from her opposite sex member with praise for "a tough man?"

On the record, I didn't. When Ms. Dougherty's strongest media supporter, Paul Gordon, lorded over City Hall, especially in his battle to castrate the Fraternal Order of Police, criticism came easy. Not a tough man, but someone totally dedicated to the proposition he alone knew "the truth."

In the Gordon-era when my phone rang at 8 A.M., I knew it was the mayor. After the briefest of formalities, always addressing me as Mr. Meachum, he would settle down to the reason for the call, which always came after the formula prologue: "What you don't understand."

He then proceeded to recount the obvious, which I understood and had rejected.

Ms. Dougherty follows an identical course, insisting that she alone can grasp the real truth; in her "grasping" she's driven from their jobs a virtual platoon of experienced upper level city employees. She has thoroughly alienated a majority on both the Board of Alderman and the Board of County Commissioners. Her re-election would bring more of the same.

And the possibility of four-more Jennifer years exists.

At the recent Democratic Party "debate," I was flanked by her supporters, women who were thoroughly angry. Leaving the building I ran into a friend not seen for some time. My attempt at a greeting was rebuffed with strong hostility: She is very active in the mayor's re-election campaign. Ironically, 16 years ago she was similarly peeved: She supported Ron Young and I didn't. Go figure!

As posed in that insulting question, gender has everything to do with Ms. Dougherty's political muscle. Her greatest strength seems to derive from misplaced feminism. As Frederick's first woman mayor, she has become a symbol; she broke the city's glass ceiling.

Given my druthers, that distinction would have belonged to Fran Baker, the birth-right Republican turned Democrat to avoid a primary shootout with Jim Grimes' re-election bid. As Mr. Grimes demonstrated himself four years later, Mrs. Baker invented new ways for losing, not the least being the assembly of an advisory group that included former mayor Paul Gordon.

To excuse the reckless disregard for human beings because the abuser happens to be female is a serious blow to real feminism. Lack of consideration and compassion might belong to a male stereotype; it is even more offensive in our society when a woman epitomizes those negative brutalities.

At an open meeting I observed Ms. Dougherty curtly dismiss a suggestion by her operations chief. When a smile and a head shake would have accomplished her goal, she frowned and hissed out her words. In his case - and he is male - I would have seriously considered leaving the table; he stayed and subsequently I've heard reports she treats him no better.

Two of her key female subordinates resigned for reasons never made public. The city attorney quietly joined a prestigious Frederick law firm, but the job wasn't there when she quit. The mayor's personal assistant, hired away from Sen. Barbara Mikulski's staff, simply vanished officially; we see each other occasionally on Market Street, walking our dogs. She avoids any discussion about why she left City Hall. I can't blame her.

The current mayor's ferocious temper and vengeful spirit are well recognized except among those whose vision is blurred by her gender. More than several people refused signs for her opponent because they said they feared what she might do. How many seriously believed the argument who can say, in one instance I know it is the literal truth.

To impugn Ron Young as "a good ol' boy," and therefore undeserving of office, again denies several realities, including his personal alliance with a person I know to be a very strong woman. It also evokes an era that died years ago, when both Del. James McClellan and State Sen. Charles Smelser jointly decided to retire, taking all the muscle out of the system.

Mr. Young's 1989 defeat at the polls signaled the passing of the good ol' boys who had ruled Frederick's political scene for generations. Three years earlier Dr. McClellan had staged the defeat of then-commissioner president Galen Clagett; the delegate considered Mr. Clagett a threat to his personal power.

This time around ex-mayor Young draws his backers from women and men who reject the present City Hall administration as arbitrary, capricious and more than occasionally vicious in its treatment of human beings.

But, women of Frederick, nowhere have I heard a single beep that would justify her performance if only she were a man.

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