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July 17, 2007

Three Time Loser: Part One

Roy Meachum

Politicians' mentalities can amuse. I do not mean the basic conceit. After all, someone must win. Why shouldn't it be me, they say. I applaud that approach. Indeed, why not? The lottery's millions can be attributed to the basic notion. Why not me? I whole-heartedly cheer risk takers.

There is no hospitality in my heart, however, for those who ignore the people when they speak through the ballot box, and repeatedly. George P. Mahoney fits that category in Maryland. Harold Stassen ran for president of the United States so many times that he became one-line jokes for comedians. His name alone brought laughs.

There's nothing funny about the word on Frederick's political rialto: Jennifer Dougherty has her self-named restaurant for sale. This matches another whisper that her landlord refuses to renew her lease and not for political reasons. If either turns out true, it would be personal business for most others.

But Ms. Dougherty flatly refuses to retreat to the privacy that an average person deserves. One way or another, the defeated ex-mayor manages to crawl back into the public eye. She not only attends but gives speeches to City Hall public meetings, smiling and fawning on the claque she brings along.

Anyone else could receive gold stars for participation in the governmental process. As has been true her entire political life, Ms. Dougherty is playing another game. And that goes back to the buzz along Frederick's rialto, which apparently confirms both the being-kicked-out and selling-her-restaurant stories.

In how much confidence I don't know, but the woman who was queen in all the city's reaches let potential backers know she plans to take her new-found profit and sock-it into the next mayoral primary, in 2009.

For anyone keeping track, that also will mark the 20th anniversary of her maiden political voyage, which by the way I supported. For me, she was the ultimate anti-establishment candidate. Unfortunately for her, as you know, Gary Hughes apparently occupied the same corner, as an African American. He won the Democratic primary that year, with solid backing by the party establishment.

Only later did I hear about her insistence on making reality conform to her particular view reduced to the aphorism: "My way or the highway." Her reputation took on a decidedly negative caste, at least in my mind.

When she tossed the hat-she-never-wears into the Frederick County commissioners tilt, in 1994, memory says I did nothing to either harm or hurt her candidacy. Being one of five meant that her fiery temperament could be balanced. She came up third in the primary and seventh in the playoff. No banana again.

Sitting atop the pile when votes were counted was retired Col. Mark Hoke, perhaps her direct opposite. He operated openly, which magnified his flaws; supporters prized his openness for a virtue amidst closed-door politicos. He withdrew the next time around, walking away and tossing back over his shoulder something like "horse hockey" - probably his favorite dismissive phrase.

Jennifer Dougherty scarcely registered on the seismic political scale for the next decade; presumably she was busy operating the saloon that she now is selling. Her mother minded the Irish Shop in Bert Anderson's Everedy Square. Wherever her father, as we now know, he was almost certainly planning and promoting his daughter's next political move.

With her first two grabs for office falling flat, the Dougherty clan got lucky in 2001. Mayor Jim Grimes' failure to declare, frankly and openly, for re-election spawned general confusion.

At one point, he said out-loud that he had been hounded from office by the Frederick News-Post which had shifted ownership. After guiding the city paper for several decades, George Delaplaine stepped aside almost immediately after the pre-turn-of-the-century elections. The loss of his friend but frequent critic brought consternation, and not only to the Grimes' camp.

Relying on the sitting mayor keeping to his public declaration, popular Alderman Meta Nash decided to grab for the City Hall golden ring. She filed shortly before the deadline for that year's primaries. Mississippi-born, Ms. Nash had always been a Democrat, but she had found much to like in the sitting mayor's two terms.

Within literally hours, cheered on by Frederick's political establishment, Jim Grimes had decided to try again; he did not make up his mind by himself. I was involved but to the extent I argued the community's future should not be dictated by editors who boasted of their intent to bring him down. When the mayor, in our final conversation, protested he wouldn't run, I bowed out telling him "Do what your conscience says."

The delay and palpable indecisiveness played into two-time loser Dougherty's hands. The "smart money" betting on her being swept away by the better known Meta Nash, buttoned up for the primary; the power brokers waited to see, which means they stayed out. Without their help and given Ms. Nash's close links with the incumbent, Jennifer Dougherty won.

Incumbent Grimes' loss in the general election was of his own invention. His months-long indecisiveness was symptomatic. Turning out an election film that was reduced to saying how great a mayor he was piled on his other mistakes. Having a uniformed city cop tout his virtues was totally dumb.

His campaign that year may have been among the worst managed I have observed in Frederick, because of mercurial tactics, dictated by himself. There was no space for his volunteer manager who virtually gave up in the final weeks, explaining that he had been out of the loop from the beginning.

When all was said and done, Mr. Grimes retrieved what he said he wanted all along: relief from political pressures in his personal life.

Not incidentally, back in the Frederick News-Post newsroom, the late managing editor, Michael Powell, crowed in a scrawled sign pasted in an inside window: "We won!"

These thoughts continue tomorrow.

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