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September 22, 2005

Their Own Worst Enemies

John W. Ashbury

It would seem that several autopsies are being performed on the results of the recent primary election in the City of Frederick. It is unlikely that the causes of death will ever truly be known despite abundant evidence.

However, there is little doubt that the loss by incumbent Mayor Jennifer Dougherty could be labeled suicide, as her actions over the past three years seemed to be self destructive all too often.

How else to explain her inaugural speech in 2002 in which she spent much too much time criticizing her election opponent - Jim Grimes. She didn't seem to understand that she got more votes than Mr. Grimes and therefore she shouldn 't waste time mopping up the spilled milk.

She immediately picked a fight with the president pro tem of the Board of Alderman, denying him a seat on the city's Planning Commission. And it was inevitable that newly elected Alderman David Lenhart, whose political philosophy is diametrically opposed to hers, would become a thorn in her side. But she never rose above the fray, choosing instead to wallow in the mud.

Then there were her frequent legal battles, all too often brought on by her reliance on poor legal advice from people not on the city's payroll. And she was very picky in choosing which opinion from the Maryland Attorney General' s office she should accept and which to reject.

A real revelation of her failure to comprehend the obvious during her administration came two days after the primary when she confronted Alderman Joe Baldi about remarks he made to the press that he was happy that the mayor would not be serving a second term.

The mayor said she was surprised that Mr. Baldi would be gleeful over her loss and that she wouldn't be in City Hall after January - or something to that effect. Finally Joe displayed a backbone and told her that he had run for mayor because he didn't want her to serve a second term. End of conversation.

And that brings us to the post mortem for Mr. Baldi's loss to Jeff Holtzinger, a former city engineer and newcomer to the political scene.

Rampant are stories that Alderman Lenhart was responsible for Mr. Baldi's defeat because he introduced an amendment to the city's charter that reduced the residency requirement to run for mayor from three years to one year. These stories have some facts wrong.

Mr. Lenhart's amendment passed on a 3-2 vote in January after being delayed several weeks by a death in Mr. Baldi's family. Mayor Dougherty vetoed that action, ignoring - once again - advice from the attorney general that the three-year requirement was likely unconstitutional, thus laying the groundwork for two more lawsuits.

Former four-term Mayor Ronald N. Young, who had been talking about running for months, filed suit in the Circuit Court for Frederick County challenging the residency requirement. He had lived barely outside the city limits for several years before moving back in May 2004. The mayor's attorneys were successful in getting the matter transferred to federal court in Baltimore.

In the meantime, Alderman Lenhart filed suit, saying that the mayor did not have the authority under the charter to veto a change to that charter approved by a majority of the aldermen.

In May a federal judge ruled that, in fact, the three-year residency requirement to seek the mayor's office was not only illegal under Maryland's Constitution, but it also violated the U. S. Constitution.

So Mayor Dougherty came back to Frederick with her tail tucked between her legs, as the saying goes, and proceeded to rescind her veto - which she also does not have the legal authority to do according to several prominent Frederick lawyers - thus opening the door for William Jefferson Holtzinger to throw his hat into the ring, despite living in the county at the time. He has since moved into the city.

Legally, when the mayor withdrew her veto of Lenhart's charter change she set in motion a 50-day waiting period before that change would become law. During that time there was no residency requirement to seek the office of mayor.

Had Mayor Dougherty allowed the 3-2 vote on the residency requirement to stand in January, Jeff Holtzinger would not today be the Republican candidate for mayor. Thus, if anyone is to blame for Joe Baldi's loss on September 13, it has to be the mayor - and not Dave Lenhart.

Another excuse for the Baldi loss being bandied about is that he was cajoled into running by people determined to defeat Mayor Dougherty - at all costs. Another part of this scenario is that once Mr. Holtzinger entered the fray these "movers and shakers" saw him as a better chance to defeat the mayor and thus their loyalties were split.

What is missing in all of this is Joe Baldi's record as an alderman over the past three years.

Joe is affable and well-liked. You will be hard-pressed to find a single person who doesn't like Joe. But you will trip over people who were unhappy and dissatisfied with how he sided with Mayor Dougherty on major issues.

Joe Baldi seems to have been motivated for most of his three terms as an alderman for all the right reasons. He has worked tirelessly for his constituents, proof positive that he has been an asset to our community.

Of course, the fact that his opponent in the race was a new face, a political novice who said all the right things at forums and to the press, and whose knowledge of the city's infrastructure far exceeded all the other candidates combined, may have had a more telling effect on voters than anyone predicted or expected.

Ron Young has a fight on his hands. Early consensus was that Mr. Baldi would be his opponent in November. "The best laid plans..."

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