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October 31, 2005

Ah, The Hubris of Elected Officials

Chris Patterson

The election in Frederick City is only a day away and it will be good to see how many Frederick residents come out to vote, and, of course, who is sent to City Hall for the next four years.

As is always the case, the ego of the politician played a large role in this election season and will do the same as the next four years unfold - no doubt.

Take for example, Mayor Jennifer Dougherty, who lost her bid for re-election as Frederick City's mayor. She is one of the hardest working people in the city and also one of the most intelligent persons to ever hold that office.

Her problem - the cause of her downfall - was not her brain or her work ethic, not even her heart, which is far bigger than most people know. The problem was her mouth and, yes, her ego.

Jennifer's inability to control her need to win and her tongue lost her the race. It had been her race to lose, as was the case with her predecessor - Jim Grimes - in 2001.

We all remember Jim's screw-ups, which included - among other memorable moments - the now infamous campaign television commercial featuring top city officials touting his management skill with pictures of the tumbling Twin Towers in New York as back drop.

Perhaps, if a few residents of Frederick had considered Jim Grimes in the same league with Rudolph Giuliani, it wouldn't have backfired on him so badly.

Both Mayor Dougherty's and Mayor Grimes' chief errors were the result of their hubris. To win at any cost, is to lose, and Ms. Dougherty was so desperate to win that she brought up the Black Book and tried to link her opponent - Ron Young - to it, if only by inference and a joke.

As far as anyone knows, the only Young of significance mentioned in those infamous documents was Ron's son Blaine, and then only for some bad-boy party, not prostitution. But still the mayor went for it; and it was a "Twin Towers" caliber mistake. This town is totally done with the Black Book. No one wants to hear those two words together again.

The reason all this deserves mentioning is that it seems our leaders, who are often strong, farsighted people who work hard for us everyday, lose all sense when they are confronted by a potential challenger who stands a chance of beating them. Their "I'm afraid of losing" buttons jut prominently out of their foreheads next to the "How dare you try and defeat me" buttons.

And despite the many people who care about them telling them they are going too far, they do not listen. The challenger easily pushes their buttons and the elected official leaps into action to do the most ridiculous and self-damaging thing he or she can do. But, gee, they sounded like good ideas at the time, right?

Ah, the hubris of elected officials.

And after losing, leaving gracefully is not something our leaders do well. They go out with loud protestations, blaming everyone but themselves. Sometimes they even take very low, closing potshots at their adversary.or their allies do.

Even four years after his 2001 defeat, Mayor Grimes chanted to the press that anybody but Jennifer Dougherty would be good for Frederick. Is that really true? Certainly we can think of at least a few people who don't belong in that seat and can name several Mr. Grimes would rather die than see in the mayor's chair.

Of course, Mayor Dougherty had to get a jab in at Mr. Young, accusing him of having something to do with the disappearance of her signs. That comment on the night of his win in the primary abandoned any pretense of class.

You might consider Alderman Bill Hall's performance on election night in 2001. Then a Democrat, Mr. Hall ran around Winchester Hall protesting loudly that Jennifer Dougherty beat his good friend Jim Grimes. He promised he wouldn't support "that woman" and would fight her every inch of the way. As a viewer of that spectacle, it was - to say the least - shocking.

On the other hand, to put a positive spin on it, that was one politician's promise that was kept over the last three-plus years.

Joined by Alderman David Lenhart, the two men made the office of the mayor a joke, tearing Ms. Dougherty apart at every opportunity and selling the community on the idea that she couldn't work with her board.

They were right. She couldn't. But it was as much their fault as it was hers, and it is a blessing both aldermen will be gone now, too. Their deep partisan and sexist loathing for Mayor Dougherty hurt them as much as it did her, which is perhaps why Alderman Hall decided to retire from City Hall.

Alderman Lenhart moved away months ago and barely shows up at City Hall these days. Is there a town code or something to make him actually work for his paychecks?

Joe Baldi probably would have won the primary against Jeff Holtzinger if he hadn't taken a win for granted. Or if he hadn't said publicly that he wouldn 't debate him because, after all, what good would that be for him? The message was that Joe was afraid and didn't care enough that the residents needed to hear from both candidates. It appears the voters got his message.

Ah, the hubris of elected officials.

Do any of them truly have the servant's heart we want to see in a public servant? Do any of them really want to do what's best for the city - or the county - or wherever? Or is it just about ego?

Now Jeff Holtzinger and Ron Young are trying to be servants of the people. Jeff is smart, works hard, is devoted to his family and dedicates time coaching for his kids. He's got a good sense of humor, too, which may be something we need a little more of in City Hall. He's not a politician and some people, a lot of people really, consider that a positive thing.

Ron was ousted at the end of his fourth term because his hubris got the best of him and the residents got fed up with it. Has he learned his lesson? Time may tell us, if he wins. Most flaws - particularly egos - just seem to get worse with age, not better.

Of course there are also concerns with Young's pro-development views, his weak stand on an APFO, his big-money friends, back-room dealings and his "throw stuff against the wall and see if it will stick" campaign style. Income tax rates too high in Frederick, Ron? Paaaa-leasssssssssssssssssssse...

Tomorrow will be an interesting day. We shall see how many residents of Frederick get out of their easy chairs to go vote and who takes home the coveted titles of mayor and aldermen.

And within days, if not hours, we will hear a thousand reasons why the candidates lost or won. How many of the candidates will say, "I lost because I didn't work hard enough" or "I lost because my ideas weren't fresh enough" or in any way take responsibility for contributing to the loss?

Ah, the hubris of elected officials. It never fails to rear its ugly head somewhere. Just watch and listen.

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