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June 26, 2007

No-Compromise Politics

Roy Meachum

Politics have been described since before I was a boy as the art of compromise. Former Frederick Mayor Jennifer Dougherty doubtless heard that definition, but rejected it flat out.

Ms. Dougherty accepted any and all arguments, as long as they were what she wanted to hear. While the lady may be gone from the office overlooking Court Street, her philosophy remains intact, refreshed by her constant attendance at public meetings.

Her most recent appearance came last week when Mayor Jeff Holtzinger and the board were trying to find a way to agree on next year's budget. If there had been no meeting of minds, Mr. Holtzinger's version would have passed by default. The absolute deadline comes up Thursday.

Ms. Dougherty put in an appearance to buttress her allies still on the board: Marcia Hall and Donna Kuzemchak - addressed briefly as Mrs. Ramsburg. But the alderman passed the word around that she doesn't want to be known that way. No more. (By the way, the city charter calls every member of the board "alderman;" the feminine case does not apply.)

The ladies and Ms. D thought awarding the police department six additional slots would make Frederick safer and better, or so they said. The ex-mayor dismissed objections, based on costs, as "absolutely silly." (She took no care to explain the label did not apply to her successor. Her failure to exempt Mr. Holtzinger specifically from the "absolutely silly" charge showed she meant him, most of all. In her City Hall days she complained about the lack of respect given her office.)

On her way up to the mike to give her opinion, Ms. D. made a politician's point of insisting on a show of hands from those in the audience who lived in Frederick. It was a grand gesture that meant absolutely nothing. She and her allies have long dominated City Hall meetings, more by numbers, aggressiveness and volume than common sense or intelligence. Their attitude contributed to her loss; it thoroughly irritated voters. More, it grossly ticked them off.

It would be difficult to figure out what real power Ms. D retains; her post-election attempt to woo local Democrats fell flat. She cannot reasonably claim that she is a loyal party member, let alone the party head, as the city's former chief executive.

After all, in the last city elections, she was rejected by her fellow Democrats in the primary, and then went to work against the party's choice, Ron Young. As much as any single individual, she contributed in a major way to the win by Republican Jeff Holtzinger. (She and her supporters "worked the phones" against Mr. Young. Ignore any and all nonsense that they didn't.)

The police department currently has a number of vacancies that it has been unable to fill. How many depends on who's estimating. It's either seven or 14, take your choice. The point, simply put, recruits are not there, especially minorities.

Ms. Dougherty egged on her former City Hall allies for a principle: they wanted to make police - and law-abiding citizens - aware they are on the cops' side, fully cognizant that the jobs could not be filled, not right away. That's political grandstanding big-time!

As you probably heard, Ms. Hall, Ms. Kuzemchak and their fellow Democrat, David Koontz, held on through three mayoral vetoes. It looked very much coming out of the third thumbs-down that Mayor Holtzinger would get what he originally wanted by default. No compromise and his version of the budget would be enacted; that's what the charter says.

Mr. Koontz saved everybody from that embarrassment, and along the way he won four of the six police jobs they wanted. I felt that was a good compromise that came close to what the aldermen (and the former mayor) wanted. I am told the ladies were upset by the need to compromise.

Sounding very much like Ms. D in her stubborn prime, Marcia Hall and Donna Kuzemchak let the world know they wanted the whole deal or nothing. They sounded, my source said, exactly like their once (and future?) leader.

That aphorism about leopards not changing their spots applies. More than any other politician during my years in Frederick, Jennifer Dougherty stood out for a talent in keeping the pot boiling, so to speak.

As the budget fracas demonstrated: The ex-mayor has a genius for creating dissent and provoking battles, where no real basis exists. That's a good thing. She is still reminding people why they voted her out of office.

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