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February 16, 2007

No "Kindler," Gentler Lennie

Roy Meachum

With some awe, I have been listening to WFMD's Frederick Forum lately. After years of giving a hard time to those with whom he's on the political outs, Blaine Young has adopted a public policy of being "kindler" and gentler.

It may go too far to say that butter has trouble melting in his mouth when interviewing folks he's criticized in the past. But he does manage to create an atmosphere that less crackles than soothes.

If pushed, he shoves hard back. If challenged, he stands tall for his personal belief. There's never been anything sneaky or underhanded about young Mr. Young. He is what he is - love for cigars and all. The former Democratic alderman switched to the GOP and with gusto!

As someone who has known the host since his childhood, I believe Blaine has grown up to be a real gentleman. But not a patsy.

When he invited commissioners' President Jan Gardner to take over his first hour last Saturday, while Mr. Young took his family off to the warmer south, it seemed a kind gesture. After all, Ms. Gardner has not always fared well on the Saturday morning program; giving her the microphone was a way to make sure the lady could set the record straight, in her view.

Pushkin and I settled down in the library last Saturday morning to listen, expecting Ms. Gardner to use her silky voice to present her case; she had the chance to expand her appeal to Frederick Forum's audience, which tends to be more conservative than the positions she normally assumes.

Hardly had WFMD program director Frank Mitchell given her a royal welcome, the county board president, with something approaching giddy glee, proceeded to usher on the program John "Lennie" Thompson. She took some effort to deny reports, including this column's, that he was a bully and an obstructionist.

The impression she sought to deny was that every commissioners' meeting turned into a struggle for control. Since this was radio, I had no way of seeing Mr. Thompson's face when she tossed shameless flattery in his direction.

The suspicion existed at the time that during his moments in the sun the ex-board president accepted all praise as his due; the man who never met a personal "I" he didn't like, positively preened. As a politician Lennie seemingly operates on the premise all mistakes belong to someone else.

In the event, Ms. Gardner's drum rolls and celebration trumpets had scarcely dimmed when Mr. Mitchell asked why Mr. Thompson was making his first appearance on Frederick Forum, despite numerous invitations from Blaine Young.

Frank Mitchell's question was answered with a tirade that amounted to a personal attack on the program's regular host, during which he repeated the lie Mr. Young had called him a "Hitler."

He tried the same canard on me, when a column laid out the proposition his hard nose approach to developers was reminiscent of Huey P. Long's treatment of Louisiana's middle class and Hitler's persecution of Jews simply because they were vulnerable. The commissioner ignored Mr. Long; he trumpeted the Nazi reference.

In Mr. Thompson's public comments anyone connected with real estate or the building industry becomes dung stuck to his shoes. He doesn't differentiate.

Separately, Blaine Young had reached the identical opinion that the former county commissioner president was persecuting developers, with no apparent attempt to separate the good from the bad, the goats from the sheep, in Biblical terms.

But there's more. In remarkable slight of hand, the gentleman from Walkersville manages to convert every criticism into blasphemy. His manner reflects "Alice in Wonderland's" Red Queen, whose answer to any questioner was "Off with his head!"

Like demagogues Mr. Long and Hitler, to criticize Mr. Thompson inevitably invoked his attempt at revenge.

All this was known before last Saturday morning. To invite her colleague to share the hour at the helm of Blaine Young's Saturday morning show was either girlish mischief or pettiness of the worst sort.

Surely Ms. Gardner was aware of previous attempts, by Mr. Young, to bring Mr. Thompson on the program. To slip him in through the "back door," so to speak, amounted to incredible effrontery, comparable to a guest spitting in a hostess's face.

No one could have been possibly shocked, including the county board's chief officer, that Lennie would seize the moment to attack Mr. Young. Whatever Ms. Gardner hoped to achieve with her hour in the spotlight vanished in the wake.

The sole winner in the travesty performed in his absence was Blaine Young. He invited her to take over the program in his absence, to provide the commissioner total freedom to say what she thought was important to communicate to the county. She said she wanted to bring along a guest, without saying who. Mr. Young went along.

Ms. Gardner might have felt inviting Mr. Thompson was important for whatever reason, including stroking the very difficult human being, to convert him into a better team player. Her failure to remind him to mind his manners was inexcusable.

Shame on her. She bit the hand that was offered in Blaine Young's promising effort to approach Frederick political problems in a "kindler," gentler fashion.

Lennie Thompson was simply being Lennie, of course.

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