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September 1, 2006

Democratic Headquarters

Roy Meachum

County Democrats established their headquarters across North Market Street, in what was previously a tattoo "salon." Body art has become so respectable now I scarcely know what word to use.

The windows of the very old stone building may revert to plugging tattoo again; but for the moment they're covered with posters pushing the party faithful seeking offices. There are so many that you can wonder why they bothered to put them up. No one could hope to come away feeling riveted to a single candidate.

When Pushkin strolls out the front door, headed for his favorite list of downtown merchants, I glance over the way. I cannot tell you what names are proclaimed, generally in Day-Glo.

Sitting at the corner of Fourth Street but facing North Market, their headquarters is presumably the wellspring for those Democrats interested in breathing fresh life into their sagging party. When I first moved to Frederick some 23 years back, Republicans needed reviving.

The long tenure of Franklin D. Roosevelt's domination had left the political scene whopper-jawed against the party that all but owned the Oval Office after the Civil War. The GOP generally had its way with the exercise of American official power until the arrival of the Great Depression. As the country went, so did this county.

Some 50 years after Mr. Roosevelt took the oath of presidency Frederick remained generally faithful to his party; longtime county residents, black and white, clung to Mr. Lincoln's splendid reputation. The loyalty left them impotent when it came time for the voters to make their choices. Not always.

Here and there on the electoral slates a Republican barged in on what became eventually a very Democrat and essentially Good Ol' Boy system. Ed Thomas shone forth as the foremost example. Although from the wrong side (GOP) of the partisan blanket, he not only managed to keep getting elected but more: He was by repute the master manipulator of Frederick politics.

Before I arrived, state Senator Thomas died, handing over the reins to veterinarian and Delegate James E. McClellan, who was beholden over the years for much of his machine muscle to state Sen. Charlie Smelser. They were generally considered equals in the local political hierarchy.

Dr. McClellan played the outside man employing tactics that turned much of the electorate against him; his exercise of power was blatantly naked and sometimes not very pretty. Senator Smelser on the other hand smiled frequently and usually got his way. I will not quibble with those who say the veterinarian-delegate was stuck with the dirty end of their relationship. In all the time Charlie and I spent together I saw the other side; the blue eyes would assume menace. It didn't happen often, but it was there.

The Democratic traffic on the corner is, at best, desultory; that's a polite way of saying I have personally witnessed no traffic in and out of the former tattoo parlor's door. A week or so ago, a single plastic chair appeared on the sidewalk, signaling that someone had thought of possibly accosting traffic that walked along that stretch of pavement. But if that happened it must have been in the afternoon when Pushkie and I try to take a nap.

Before I forget, let me mention that Sue Hecht for Delegate's headquarters stands in North Market's next block. I've never seen anybody in there either. Ms. Hecht was once the holder of some political strength; that went fast when she decided to challenge Alex Mooney for his senatorial seat, which includes Frederick City.

Del. Galen Clagett, who lives mere blocks away, hopes to hold onto his Annapolis' chair; but that might not be easy. Gov. Robert Ehrlich made little secret that he wanted Mr. Clagett replaced by a GOP adherent. Of course, right now Mr. Ehrlich appears to be fighting for his political life.

With the exception of Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, Democrat "names" have crept into the party tent; their defection four years ago was, as suspected, quite temporary. No longer threatened by Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's femaleness and family power, they appear very united in the effort to get the Republican governor out of the way. And they might make it.

In personal conversation, Mr. Clagett is convincingly casual about his chances, figuring another loss will have little effect on his successful real estate enterprise. He's lost before, as the delegate points out. GOP Delegate Patrick Hogan has the other chair in his pocket, unless one of those political disasters comes his way. Over in the Fourth District, no Republican incumbent appears in trouble.

The Democrat malaise has definitely affected other county races, but there are exceptions. In the state's attorney race the likelihood of an all out battle between Charlie Smith and Dino Flores figures to leave some wounds on the faithful GOP members. Could it lead to the election of Democrat Bill Poffenbarger? Maybe. He's certainly well-organized and funded, chiefly, as I understand it, from his own lawyer's pocket augmented by those he's favored in the past.

The same general proposition appears to apply to other local races. It would take Republican stumbles and goof-ups to bring Democrats in. Not that registrations give the GOP so much of an edge; their opponents seem weary and self-defeating.

People like Bob Kresslein certainly disagreed, at least in public. The chairman of the Democratic Central Committee stood up before the assembled picnic company - and God - and told one and all that November 7 will restore his party to the county governing helm. Not his words but his sincere voice sought to leave the impression the September 12 primary was all over but the shouting. That simply is not true.

For the time being at least, my neighborhood remains Democrat turf. Ron Young's cheerleaders held out on this block and made it through the primary. The general election went to Republican Jeff Holtzinger. Maybe because Mr. Young and his bunch moved to the other side of Fourth Street. Who can say?

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