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January 23, 2007

Seeming Apparition

Roy Meachum

As Pushkin and I were feeding our curiosities Sunday on our daily walk along North Market Street, there appeared an apparition carrying what looked to me like a sandwich box. I could be wrong.

Jennifer Dougherty frequently thought me a gross unreality with a bald head and gray beard during the four years she occupied Frederick's top office. During her stewardship over the city affairs she and I disagreed consistently. Our relationship did not start out that way.

When Ms. Dougherty first ran for the mayor's job, I was her supporter. Her opponent was not Paul Gordon; after a single term he decided he did not want to put his public record up to the public test. He is didactic, but not stupid.

Jennifer, as I call her, did not make it past the primary: she was drowned by Ron Young, who operated through Gary Hughes. Understand there was no Young campaign that autumn. In the event, Mr. Hughes won the Democratic primary; she subsequently ran and lost in a dispirited campaign for county commissioner. Jim Grimes all but handed her the mayoral chair in 2001. She was an "accidental" winner, in the sense that all the variables came together that year.

Her arrival at the top of Frederick City politics had much to do with two major events not within anybody's control: the last sighs of the Good Ol' Boys' system, and the cresting of female involvement in politics. Her election was epitomized for me by a scene from Walter Mills' "Defenders" event at the Lynnfield Event Complex. Ms. Dougherty sat at a table surrounded solely by members of her gender. The group seemed to me to bristle with defiance. That may have been simply a male's reaction.

That was also the year she was recruited or volunteered as the star for Brunswick's 4th of July parade. Whatever the railroad town may have thought about Del. Sue Hecht running against state Sen. Alex Mooney, it responded to downright hostility when Frederick's assertive mayor appeared as part of Ms. Hecht's campaign team. Boos were reported. And I've never heard of that before. Folks in this part of the world are generally so polite.

Meanwhile, back at City Hall, she had adopted a daily management style that might best be described as "take no prisoners." Her antipathy toward Mr. Grimes' supporters took on the touches of paranoia; she wanted nothing to do with them.

In my traditional way, I had settled down to watchful waiting. Once the voters speak, I try very hard to accept their choice; I had when Mr. Grimes triumphed over my great personal favorite Fran Baker. I came to appreciate his pragmatic approach only during his last term. How does anybody benefit when elected officials are subjected to constant criticism from the outset?

Considering my dire opinion of the gentleman in the White House, readers may be surprised to learn George W. Bush's first months in the White House I cheered for his success. Look it up! My News-Post columns during that time, just after his defeat of Al Gore, were deliberately modeled on the hope that he would sponsor and elect programs that I supported. Mr. Bush didn't.

For several years, I lived in the Washington's Fairfax Hotel that was the residence of the former vice president, as a child; but once all the ballots were counted I really wanted the Republican Bush to succeed. I felt the same way about Democrat Dougherty. After all, she belonged to the same party that has never lost my registered allegiance. She didn't.

Pushkin and I recently received a visit from David Lenhart; the former city alderman now lives in north Georgia, but keeps very much alive his interest in Frederick. He was in town to attend Sen. David Brinkley's installation as the minority leader of the General Assembly's "upper" house.

Mr. Lenhart was not a fan of my views his first months in office, nor should he have been. He and colleague Bill Hall came under hard scrutiny for their performances during Ms. Dougherty's initial months as mayor. They were right. I misunderstood.

For whatever reason, the mayor was engaged in castration. But I still managed to retain a positive attitude until she began seriously to try the same tactic on the director of the Weinberg Center for the Arts. I scarcely knew Stuart Seale at the time, but I had some pretensions in his field. I had been a White House advisor on the arts for the Johnson Administration. Mr. Seale had been the target of aldermanic pressure to cut back on his budget. Ms. Dougherty got into that big time.

It struck me as uninformed that last Sunday's News-Post applauded current director John Healey for losing less money, bringing the deficit budget down to less than half of Mr. Seale's time. More important to someone who loves Frederick County and its future is the fact that nothing has happened at the Weinberg Center in the past year to encourage attendance. Never mind, I suppose, the Maryland Ensemble Theatre operates across the street, in the old Frederick Scott Key Hotel. The MET flies the flag.

David Lenhart was not on my side in the Weinberg dispute. We came together when it became apparent that Mayor Dougherty was on a power kick, which had little to do with personal plumbing. Her assistant, a female, resigned, saying to me much later that her former boss functioned on the principle that her opinion was the only one that mattered.

At any rate, her public service - at least at this point - ended when Ron Young rallied the anti-Dougherty forces; he beat her soundly in the last Democratic primary. By way of retaliation, her coterie took care of him in the general election, many switching parties to back Republican Jeff Holtzinger. In his surprise visit, Dave Lenhart asked how Mr. Holtzinger was doing, in my opinion.

Since Frederick's mayor stays out of the media, for the most part, I was happy to tell the former alderman that the man must be judged a success. I hear rumors about frictions in City Hall; after all, politicians will be politicians. Nobody wins an election without strong opinions.

But, in general, the main players in this administration can be said to pay attention to a republic's cardinal rule: Don't disturb the electorate between elections unless you have some good news. Basically, voters want to be left to their own devices: making a living, sleeping and eating - not necessarily in that order.

Mr. Lenhart appeared pleased that the city was running like that; as for the county he was less than surprised that Commissioner John "Lennie" Thompson was continuing to be the rampaging spectacle of East Church Street. But he already knew; he reads TheTentacle.Com and the newspapers on-line.

As for his former nemeses, I had nothing to report, but that was last week. And what may have been Jennifer Dougherty appeared on North Market Street only Sunday. I smiled and greeted her: "Hello, Jennifer." I didn't hear her reply.

It may have been my hearing aid was turned down, or the figure could have been an apparition.

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