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November 15, 2005

Political Nice Guy

Roy Meachum

The first time I met the Honorable Richard Weldon he was not yet "honorable," a title given by this society to all elected officials, deserved or not. He was, in fact, on his way to becoming a loser.

The Brunswick boy's first grab for the brass ring of high office came up very short. Administering the county's claim to the railroading hall of fame, as town manager, Mr. Weldon apparently lacked a name that rang a bell when voters stepped up to the machines and chose the new board of county commissioners in 1998.

In fact, any and all encounters we had during that ill-fated (for him) race, left little or no impression. As the expression goes, I wouldn't have known his face if he had run me down in the street.

Rick's like that. (Having paid obeisance to editorial propriety, please allow me to revert to normality. I simply cannot think of the Republican delegate as "Mr. Weldon.";)

On casual meeting, he never quite mumbles but speaks in measured tones, rarely inflecting his words. His eyes engage without challenging. His body language says "relax." All of which makes him particularly dangerous to those disposed to underestimation.

In Rick's case, the mild manner conceals a raging extrovert, a ham in the truest sense, as everyone who has caught his theatrical performances can attest.

For several years he "starred" in shows by Brunswick's company of players, appearing in a variety of roles: comedy was his forte. Then he moved his "act" to the Weinberg Center where he gained several thousand new fans by impersonating the sheriff entirely too close to the madam of "The Greatest Little Whorehouse in Texas."

In a real sense, he had moved on Frederick's bigger stage - while still home-based in Brunswick - when he became the Frederick's chief operations officer in Jim Grimes' second term. He stepped into the backwash of the Jade Wu mess.

For newcomers, let me explain: Ms. Wu had inveigled, with the help of friends in high places, a killer contract to manage the Weinberg Center for the Arts. When her lack of talents and interests had been ascertained, contriving her departure left the Grimes administration short on considerable good will. Worse days were to follow.

Rick at least found his directions around City Hall when the NAACP presented the case of how the association's president had been shadowed on orders of the chief of police, an appointment inherited from Mr. Grimes' predecessor. While that rhubarb remained hot, the infamous Black Book scandal broke.

All Rick's talents for conciliation, fence-mending and those other arts of statecraft taught by the Italian master Machiavelli were brought into play.

Most of all, he needed every ploy he could muster to help the mayor keep his volatile temper under control. The provocations proved too much, and Jim Grimes told voters he would never run again. When he changed his mind, it was too late.

But by then, Rick had reached Winchester Hall, receiving appointment by the governor on the recommendation of the local Republican Central Committee to replace Ilona Hogan. She resigned for a high-flying position with Bechtel, in part because of great frustration. Basically, Ms. Hogan was fed up with the high shenanigans and low tactics of her fellow commissioner, Lenny Thompson.

As a part of the deal, the new commissioner told the GOP he was willing to run in the next election, to make the job really his own. But redistricting intervened.

For those who may have dropped into the political galaxy only yesterday, perhaps I should explain that redistricting is that legal excuse that comes every ten years. Each census allows the sitting party to trim and slice, cut and chop jurisdictions to reshape the universe in which only its adherents reach office.

No such happened in Rick's case. Maryland's nabobs were Democrats, especially Gov. Parris Glendening. But when the way that part of the Third District wound up was chiefly attributable to his friend and closest ally, former Delegate Charlie Smith.

And Charlie fretted awhile; he had always meant to go back into the fray along the banks of the Severn, where he had been lord of all he surveyed; of course in the '70s his vision was limited.

But a funny thing happened to Mr. Smith on his way to a new political career, he changed his mind. He has chosen instead to pursue late academic credentials, grabbing at a master's and thinking, maybe, about a doctorate. Only maybe.

In the event, with his mentor's considerable help Rick received release from his pledge to the central committee. He ran for the slot that had Charlie Smith's name on it. It was the fulfillment of a dream. He had always wanted to serve in the General Assembly.

And there he sits, in the House of Delegates where he figures to stay a while.

In the event, a passel of political friends and general well wishers gathered at the Francis Scott Key Holiday Inn last night to honor Rick Weldon. These are the things I might have said but chose this medium instead. He's a political nice guy.

Woodsboro - Walkersville Times
The Morning News Express with Bob Miller
The Covert Letter

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