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September 20, 2005

Genial Joe In Three Acts

Norman M. Covert

One cannot help but consider that Alderman Joseph W. Baldi was snookered last year by some opportunistic folks when he was convinced to challenge Mayor Jennifer Dougherty for her mayoral seat. However, the root of his primary election loss may be a fateful tactical decision on residency requirements.

Mr. Baldi, a three-term City of Frederick alderman, was unexpectedly defeated in the Republican mayoral primary by former City Engineer Jeff Holtzinger. It came down to the absentee ballots with Jeff winning by just 35 votes.

Predictably Joe is disappointed but has kept a solid professional face about this major disappointment for him and his family. He has thrown his support behind Jeff, and will be going home early in January without the credentials of either alderman or mayor and probably wondering whom he can trust.

There is curiously a lot more to this story than a simple recounting of how a dark-horse candidate upended a supposed shoo-in. It also is more than the simple explanation that voters wanted to clean house. One could successfully argue Joe received none of the animosity reserved for the acerbic Jennifer.

Consider Genial Joe’s odyssey from one perspective:

Act One, Scene One. It is 2004. A group of supposed “movers and shakers” of Frederick – would-be kingmakers – barrage Joe with flattering words. They are willing to bet their inheritance on him being the next chief executive of the one of the largest cities in Maryland. They base this on his excellent record, proven integrity and electability. “Wow,” he says aloud. “I’ll talk to Francina about it.”

ACT ONE, Scene Two. As winter peaks in our fair city there is hope that Global Warming will soon ease the daily onslaught of frigid temperatures. Life for Genial Joe on Market Street is a genuine delight. We see him being greeted and told he’s “The Man” and if he would choose to run for mayor he will defeat Jennifer because they are with him.

They raise the chorus: “My checkbook is available and here’s a few bucks for the Friends of Joe Baldi. Say you will, Joe, please, please, please! You’re the man to right the ship of state in Frederick!”

ACT TWO, Scene One. It is a late winter afternoon in an office downtown. The kingmakers are sitting and standing, facing Joe, who is seated at the head of the table. They are in attack mode.

“Think of it,” they say. “We think this is an opportunity to have Jennifer fall on her sword. She definitely doesn’t want to change the residency requirements. Dave (Lenhart) and Bill (Hall) support the proposal. After the board passes it, Jennifer will probably veto it and the voters won’t like it!” They look at each other gleefully and ring their hands in quiet anticipation of the carnage to follow in City Hall.

Joe listens and obviously seems unconvinced that he can benefit from supporting an issue that is: (1) a non-issue; (2) has no effect on him since he has lived on Third Street for many years; and (3) it would only serve to create more unrest between the mayor and board.

Genial Joe senses he is “outheighted” by the stalwart Fredericktonians, whom he knows would not intentionally steer him wrong. In the end he agrees.

ACT TWO, Scene Two. Genial Joe is a voice of reason in the discussion and votes with Bill and Dave abolishing the three-year residency rule for candidates. Mayor Jennifer exercises what is claimed to be an unlawful veto. The Maryland Attorney General’s office advises Jennifer they believe the veto will not stand the legal test. Alderman Dave files suit challenging her veto. Former Mayor Ronald Young files suit challenging the three-year residency requirement.

ACT TWO, Scene Three. Genial Joe kicks off his campaign in a roomful of supporters, proclaiming he’s ready to fight his way to victory and unseat the Wicked Witch of the West. He has money in the account but the campaign does not take on the identity as a movement.

ACT TWO, Scene Four. With the court’s decision that the three-year residency requirement is unconstitutional, “Mayor” Ron files for the Democratic Primary on September 13. In addition, from stage right comes non-city residents Jeff, who files for the heck of it, and gadfly Stanley Mazaleski from Emmitsburg, who join Genial Joe on the Republican Primary Ballot “just for.”

ACT THREE, Scene One. The former mayor is looming with signs dominating the landscape. In a quiet soliloquy, Joe laments that lots of those who pushed him to run for Mayor have now disappeared. “Where did they go?” He is lead to believe that the strategy of letting Ron and Jennifer beat up on each other will serve him and he can save his resources for the general election.

ACT THREE, Scene Two. It is City Hall and Joe is congratulating Jeff on his victory. Jennifer’s voice is heard in the background telling her staff they are “mine until January ….!”

Lights fade, curtains close.

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