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November 7, 2005

Raising the Bar

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

The City of Frederick election is over. All of the ballots have been tallied, and 30% of the voters of the city have spoken.

Yep, that's right. The future of the city rested in the hands of a mere 30% of the electorate. Every time you read an editorial letter over the next four years criticizing one the decisions of Mayor-elect W. Jeffery Holtzinger or any of the newly elected aldermen, it would be appropriate to speculate as whether the writer even voted. Chances are they didn't.

The absentee vote count actually affected the outcome of the election. Instead of her third place finish last Tuesday night, incumbent Alderman Donna Kuzemchak-Ramsburg dropped two places to finish fifth overall.

Donna has been an aggressive advocate for her beliefs, and a passionate defender of Mayor Jennifer Dougherty. Many pundits suggested that her third place primary finish was an indicator of general election trouble.

Her strong showing as of the final tally on election night seemed to quiet those claims. No doubt her precipitous drop due to absentee votes will renew that speculation.

I heard about a conversation she had about her change in status. Instead of looking to lay the blame on Mayor Dougherty - or the gang of three GOP aldermen in the Dougherty Administration - Donna showed a commendable level of wisdom, maturity, and insight.

I already liked Donna personally, even if we didn't always see eye-to-eye politically, her stock really shot up in my eyes, and I predict we'll see her emergence as a statesman (er, stateswoman) over the course of the Holtzinger Administration.

Donna blamed no one but herself for her drop from third to fifth. In real terms, it means nothing to be second, third, or even fifth. Only the top vote getter receives a perk, and even that is a dubious honor. As mayor pro tem, the top vote getter would be tapped to fill in for the mayor in a period of incapacity or unavailability.

Frederick's mayors have approached that definition very differently. While I was employed at City Hall, former Mayor James S. Grimes would have me notify Alderman Meta Nash if his schedule required he be away from City Hall for an extended period. For Jim Grimes, even a one-day absence was unusual (except during Fair Week).

Mayor Dougherty has taken a different approach. She sees it as a ceremonial duty to notify the mayor pro tem, so we've seen newspaper stories where Alderman Bill Hall complains about a trip she's taken of which he was unaware.

So Ms. Kuzemchak-Ramsburg stepped up and accepted the responsibility for her fate. I find this very refreshing; an honest self-assessment by a politician is a welcomed change. Even more refreshing is how she did it.

She attributed her shift in vote totals to the fact that she was a loud and confrontational antagonist against the gang of three. Instead of blaming them, though, Donna suggested that if she had taken a more measured tone, voters might have been more open to her re-election.

There is ample evidence to support her theory. Incumbent Alderman Marcia Hall was equally enthusiastic in her support of Mayor Dougherty's agenda, but was also considerably less confrontational in her dealings with her Republican colleagues.

I see Donna's epiphany as a very good omen for the next four years. Certainly there will be disagreement; some no doubt will end up in the news.

Even the mayor-elect seems to acknowledge this phenomenon when he says he expects dissent, and he goes so far as to suggest there is a problem if they don't have to work through some policy differences.

Looking back through the election rear view mirror, I see some interesting aspects to Election 2005. Market Bagel-n-Deli owner Randy McClement has made his mark as a future political force to be reckoned with, whether he runs for office or not. Shame on the Chamber of Commerce for overlooking this dedicated businessman in their endorsements.

Joanne Ivancic (I-VAN-SICK) showed herself to be knowledgeable, engaging, and enthusiastic. The Green's are here, and it looks like they'll be here to stay - thanks to Joanne's very credible effort. I found myself nodding agreement with several of her ideas.

Tom Slater did a very good job of showcasing his long history in Frederick. I really expected him to be higher in the vote count, but his chairmanship of the Democratic Party probably hurt in the general election. It's tough when you have to attack the GOP because you hold a partisan position, and vice versa.

Ken Berlin really impressed me with his ideas and his effort. I still think he outworked every candidate, save Mayor-elect Holtzinger. Ken will be player in the future, and deservedly so.

James Joyce showed us all that he wasn't afraid to work. His only liability was name recognition, and that still seems to be enough of an obstacle to keep a good candidate like Jim home when the votes are counted.

Bishop Samie Conyers came so close that it squeaks. He did a fine job, and he tried hard to forge some unusual alliances. It looks like he still has some work to do, although his congregation is no doubt happy to keep him in the soul-saving business.

A quick synopsis of the aldermanic winners other than Donna K-R shows Mayor Pro Tem-elect Marcia Hall as the lady everyone seems to like, and with good reason. She learned the same lesson Donna just learned; only she learned it during her last term, not at the ballot box (I mean the touch screen).

Al Imhoff goes from being the smartest guy who had trouble winning an election to the smartest alderman-elect. Expect big things from him, but hopefully he'll learn to abbreviate all of that knowledge during board meetings. We Fredericktonians can't stay up that late, no matter how worthwhile the lecture! I'm just kidding, Alan (or am I?).

David 'Kip' Koontz gets to show us how he'll bring people together. He promised that during his campaign, and I know him well enough to know he'll do his level best to fulfill that promise. Way to go, fellow Kiwanian!

Paul Smith also gets to sit on the big dais at 101 North Court Street. I expect him to be full of tough, probing questions. I also expect him to treat citizens and employees with respect, thoughtfulness, and interest.

Finally, a word about Ron Young. Anyone who disparages his numerous accomplishments and lifetime of achievement is either a fool or a jerk. Ron Young single-handedly led this city through a renaissance, and we all owe him our eternal gratitude for his vision, stewardship, and commitment.

Several factors aligned to put Mr. Holtzinger in the big second floor office. That is in no way a diminution of Mr. Young's record and future potential. Mayor elect-Holtzinger is smart enough to see that, and you can expect he will be seeking advice and counsel from the former four-term mayor.

I'll save some observations about our new mayor for a future column about his transition effort. I'm honored that he asked me to assist him. The bleary-eyed FNP Forum bloggers have already lit into me, accusing me of controlling Holtzinger's puppet strings along with former Mayor Grimes.

While I love to read the blog threads (there are some very creative writers over there, even the ones who hate my guts), if you think either Jim Grimes or I could control Jeff Holtzinger, you really don't know the guy.

He is his own man, and, in my best Mr. T voice, "I pity the fool who tries to tell Jeff Holtzinger what to do," especially if he doesn't like the advice. This mayor will ask for differing opinions, and then he'll do what he believes to be right, regardless of who offers the opinion.

Give this guy time and he'll do great things for Frederick!

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