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As Long as We Remember...

September 9, 2005

My Sixth Vote

Roy Meachum

When Pushkin and I troop over to the Armory next Tuesday, it will be the English pointer's second trip for a Frederick mayoral race; this is my sixth time around.

The mildest was the first (1985), mainly because the electoral process was still dominated by a political machine controlled by conservative Democrats, all males and properly dubbed the good ol' boys (GOB). Republican candidate Donna Lane had to be drafted; she walked, not ran, while incumbent Mayor Ron Young skated home free.

The following year (1986) the machine flaunted its power by snuffing commissioners President Galen Clagett's near-certain chances of moving into the House of Delegates. But that was also the election that signaled the GOP 's rising power, as epitomized by Commissioner Anita Stup, who moved into Mr. Clagett's former chair.

In 1989, to avoid almost certain defeat in the primary by the GOB, lifelong Democrat Paul Gordon switched parties and won comfortably in the general election, ousting Mr. Young, who had spent the previous four years demonstrating he was ready to move on. It's unfair to say he was bored with the job, but he found himself frustrated by obstacles beyond his control, notably federal regulations that prevented finishing his visionary concept for Carroll Creek.

That mayoral campaign was buoyed by anger directed against the four-term incumbent, notably the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). The GOB bitterly resented the very notion of unions. Mr. Young never demonstrated a matching degree of bitterness but gave lip service to throwing a monkey wrench into FOP plans to fully professionalize a department that was still hampered by ties to Frederick's bucolic past.

Having enthusiastically accepted the cops' help, Mayor Gordon proved vehement in his anti-union stance, especially when it came to the FOP, which he tried to break and castrate. Unsuccessfully.

Mr. Gordon never provided credible reasons for the decision not to seek a second term, but he faced stubborn challenges on all sides, especially his former supporters in the FOP. I cannot recall any struggle by Alderman Jim Grimes to capture the Republican nomination.

Over on the Democratic side, the battle for the party's banner turned into a donnybrook between a pair hoping to become the city's first minority mayor. They were both newcomers: Jennifer Dougherty and Gary Hughes. Both professionally and personally, I supported Ms. Dougherty. She lost.

There was a giddy spell after the 1993 primary when Mr. Hughes savored the hope of becoming the first African American to preside over City Hall. He didn't. Various reasons were given. His color and having Mr. Young as his campaign manager led the list.

Tucked in, and seldom mentioned, was the reality: the GOB system was rapidly falling apart. Democratic control was on the way out, its departure hastened along by then-Delegate Anita Stup. The Republican lady shapes up as the most popular local politician I've known.

In the following year's elections, the retirement of Del. James E. McClellan and Sen. Charles Smelser sealed the system's fate; although staunchly a member of the GOP, Jim Grimes, during his first term, proved a fellow traveler for the Democratic machine. His GOB fašade became a major factor in my backing Alderman Fran Baker in her 1997 bid, while there was no question of my professional respect and personal fondness for the Hood alumna.

Adopting Mr. Gordon's strategy in reverse, the birthright Republican became a Democrat, saying her dear father would spin in his grave. She lost anyway, claiming she had been victimized by underhanded tactics perpetrated by her opponent's advisors. I wanted her to become Frederick's first woman mayor; it didn't happen.

Mrs. Baker has never forgiven Mr. Grimes, which contributed to her backing Ms. Dougherty in her second bid for City Hall; in between she had run unsuccessfully for a commissioner's seat.

In columns, I lined up against Ms. Dougherty four years ago. Since her first race, I had come to know more of a personality that I felt to be both angry and vindictive. Moreover, it seemed Mr. Grimes had become more mellow thanks to his marriage, which came at the outset of his second term; he abandoned his GOB ways.

In the middle of 2001's spring, the incumbent mayor demonstrated forcefully he was very unhappy on the job. He publicly blasted The Frederick News-Post, which had crusaded for releasing details of the "black book," actually computerized records kept by a local madam.

In the general election, Jennifer Dougherty campaigned on the slogan: Open Government. It was taken as a promise she would turn over the black book's list of names to the media, waiving a legal answer to a court case mounted by the local paper and the Associated Press. (It didn't turn out that way. As her predecessor she was hampered by the insurance company's fear of the city incurring ruinous suits from the madam's client. A judge finally let it loose. No fireworks.)

Ms. Dougherty really won because Mr. Grimes' vacillation had turned off all except his most hard core proponents. In addition, she enjoyed the all-out campaign help from her current opponent, Ron Young.

Mr. Young became a whirling dervish in his fellow Democrat's campaign; he not only taped radio and TV commercials boosting her candidacy, he also went door-to-door, selling her attributes.

The Saturday night before Tuesday's voting, I saw him working Fourth Street. When no one answered his knock, he slipped Dougherty fliers under the door, adding a personal note that he would vote for her, if he could. At the time, he had moved into his second wife's house; the property touched the city line but on the county side.

In fact, Ron Young never left Frederick. He roamed the downtown frequently, during all the years he worked for state government. His contacts stayed very much alive. In 2003's summer, I first heard that people were urging him to run against Ms. Dougherty; he eventually threw in his hat, but only this past spring.

The incumbent's efforts to bar the candidacy of her once-fervid supporter involved a veto she cast over the aldermen's vote to change the charter, easing the residency requirements, which would have made the former mayor eligible. Early in 2004, after his marriage's breakup, he had moved into Worman's Mill development.

Interestingly, the state's attorney general's office issued at least two advisories that held her veto unsustainable, on any legal basis. She decided to go to court, where she lost.

A federal judge ruled the city's residency requirements were too restrictive. At that point she withdrew her challenge in a Frederick court to Alderman Dave Lenhart's suit charging her veto had been illegal. Mr. Young filed the proper papers shortly afterwards.

In this sixth local mayoral campaign I have observed, there is a furious anger that's caught me by surprise, even though her temper and vindictiveness had prompted me to doubt Ms. Dougherty's suitability for elected office.

Ms. Dougherty, moreover, has come up with a series of false claims that make little sense. She does not maintain fewer employees on the public payroll than were there Mr. Young's final years, when the city was a little more than half its present size. How could she, given the boom in local residents since 1988? It makes no sense.

She made every effort last week to charge Mr. Young's name appeared in the black book. A Mr. Young was there but that of the former mayor's son; Blaine Young denied the allegations. The mud thrown at the father came back on Ms. Dougherty, on the local scene and in a pair of Washington Post stories.

The incumbent mayor goes into this weekend wounded and by her own mouth. Young's campaign reported a record one-day contributions after the black book brouhaha. Does that mean the former mayor will skate to victory again? Not hardly, as we southerners say.

Jennifer Dougherty commands a loyal legion, heavily female, made up of people who honestly believe she is being attacked solely because she is a strong woman. They are mad enough to pack the voting booths, while Ron Young 's supporters are not apparently so riled up.

The victor will be, as usual, determined by the turnout, always a distinct minority for primaries: normally less than 20 percent. This one could be different but we'll have to wait and see.

Over on the Republican side, the leading contenders are a pair of nice guys. Joe Baldi and Jeff Holtzinger are both very qualified. Stan Mazaleski makes an interesting dark horse but he lives too far out in the county to be taken seriously. Mr. Baldi will probably take the GOP gold ring home, but don't count Mr. Holtzinger out.

Pushkin and I will see you at the polls.

Woodsboro - Walkersville Times
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