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February 6, 2007

Madame President Gardner

Roy Meachum

During her first two terms, as readers know, I was less than happy with Commissioner Jan Gardner. Essentially, because it seemed to me she gave in too much to Bully Boy John "Lennie" Thompson.

Ms. Gardner always struck me as an intelligent woman; her eyes said so. But those same eyes sometimes brimmed with tears under Mr. Thompson's crude verbal assaults. I never understood why. Spied at public events, Winchester Hall's ranking female never seemed to lack confidence; she appeared sure-footed, whatever the circumstance.

Yet for eight years Jan Gardner apparently could simply not stand up to the board's bully. Then, back in November, election results made her number one commissioner; unfortunately, with Kai Hagen the only other Democrat sitting at the table, the leader of the pack figured highly unlikely to succeed to the top.

The likely candidate existed in the person of David Gray, the leading people's choice on the GOP slate. For anyone who really followed the four years Mr. Gray sat in Winchester Hall's highest chair that prospect was singularly unappetizing. Mr. Thompson ruthlessly ruled the roost that term.

Whatever Lennie wanted, Lennie got; and what he apparently wanted was to turn Frederick into an isolationist lager, armed and militant against newcomers with the temerity to want to settle here. He zeroed in on water and schools.

He threw an absolute hissy-fit when new Frederick Mayor Jeff Holtzinger worked out the deal to improve the Potomac River's access for local residents. All the other positive votes made mockery of his single "they-shall-not-pass" protest gesture. He cried the only ones that stood to gain were developers. That particular sentiment had become his mantra.

The local world received a shock when people's champion Mr. Gray proposed to pass the ceremonial gavel over to Ms. Gardner. Not expecting the commissioner's beau geste, most Frederick observers dropped their jaws. With a quick recovery, they recognized Mr. Gray was acting for selfish purposes.

After all, when voters awarded him the chiefly ceremonial "robe and beads" eight years before, Mr. Gray threw them in a Winchester Hall closet. He preferred someplace, any place out of the spotlight. While he retained the board's presidential title, he sat neatly aside while Mr. Thompson bulldozed his way to whatever he wanted, scattering insults and put-downs like flowers in the month of May.

This is when "Lennie" earned his bully label, when Ms. Gardner was Kleenex's best county customer and Mr. Gray's eyes took on a haunted look. This was the situation Ilona Hogan chose to vacate, which paved the golden road for Rick Weldon to come out of Brunswick into the wider political cosmos. The very next election he swapped a commissioner's office for that of delegate and that means he is very much less subject to Mr. Thompson's attempted manipulation.

December's swearing-in of the county's new fathers and mother seemed the world turned upside down. Mr. Thompson clawed and climbed back into a commissioner's chair, barely making it. Mr. Gray was slated for the biggest chair when he evoked another storm of comments by suggesting Ms. Gardner should move up the ladder and take the gavel.

What has happened since November has been nothing less than vintage "Lennie" Thompson; he grabbed the spotlight and has refused to let it go. At least he has not been able to reduce commissioners' President Garner to tears. Not yet. Furthermore, I consider highly unlikely the resumption of their bully-victim relationship. She has grown since then. He has not, but nevermind.

The hand that holds the gavel now belongs to her. Her election supporters numbered nearly 10,000 more than his. Still "Lennie" Thompson's voice thunders; unlike the past, he has taken to courting the likes of Bob Miller, host of WFMD's Morning News Express and the most popular radio personality in the community, according to the latest Frederick Magazine. His standing with the Frederick News-Post simply could not be better.

What he could not win at the ballot box, John "Lennie" Thompson seized by a putsch. Ms. Gardner is president but...

There may be method in her decision to stand in the shadows. Obviously Mr. Thompson's standing with their constituents has taken a beating; his attempt to rally the media to his side reflects his unhappiness with the new reality. After all, four years before he led the voting. And there's the rub. He's on the way to become public representative for this board, the third that he has dominated - if that happens.

It's really all in Jan Gardner's hands.

Yellow Cab
The Morning News Express with Bob Miller
The Covert Letter

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