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November 20, 2007

Another Political Cabal

Roy Meachum

In a curious way Jennifer Dougherty's dive back into election campaigning may be related to the example set by James E. McClellan. The ex-mayor could have been inspired by Frederick's former political boss.

When "Doc" McClellan ran this county, nobody would dare to seek public approval without asking his permission. When I moved here, nearly 25 years ago, the head of the legislative delegation flicked off challengers in the way a dog scratches fleas away.

The former full-time vet wiped out a delegate's political career. The elections that year introduced me to the single-shot ballot; instead of distributing votes around to the legal number, Dr. McClelland decreed there should be no distributing, beyond the few chosen by him and his henchmen.

The county was aligned with the rest of the state and ruled by conservative Democrats who looked down in disfavor at any individual that challenged their authority.

Then Commissioner Galen Clagett aroused their enmity by talking openly about moving along to Congress when Rep. Beverly Byron retired.

Unfortunately for the man who collected the most votes in the previous election that was a seat the good doctor once desired for himself. A more immediate problem came with Mr. Clagett moving into his next chosen post: delegate to the General Assembly. He didn't, thanks to single shooting and Mr. McClellan's determination to maintain control over the county's legislative branch.

For his sins, real or imagined, against the political organization, as I was told, Mr. Clagett rapidly went into a political decline. As the saying goes, he could not buy a 50-cents share in Frederick's political future until and unless he agreed to kiss the ring worn by the legislative chair. He didn't, and so he danced out of public office for more than 10 years, until "Doc" McClellan retired.

What really did him in, however, was the lack of respect and regard displayed toward Anita Stup.

Quite the opposite of her predecessor and county commission president, Ms. Stup rarely raised her voice or insisted things must be done her way. Certainly not everyone in Winchester Hall joined her fan club.

But Mr. McClellan learned, to his own dismay, that women in politics cannot be treated the same way as their male counterparts. What would have been business as usual turned into a major event when he tried to get his way.

She called it "bullying;" he had nothing public to say. When she ran for the General Assembly the next time around, he decided to retire. He could no longer boast he ran the county delegation.

The first true manifestation of Frederick's new cabal came with Jennifer Dougherty's election as the city's first female mayor. With Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in the governor's race, the road appeared clear to make good on the claim: While the county and city were once run by Good Ol' Boys, the women had taken over.

Then, things changed at near-blinding speed. Mrs. Townsend went down, kicked and back-stabbed by every Maryland Democratic leader. On the same day, county voters decided they did not want to exchange Senator Mooney for then delegate, Sue Hecht. Commissioner Jan Gardner managed to retain her seat in Winchester Hall. But there was still something off-enter.

To complete the cycle, the first example of women's claims to run Frederick, Ms. Dougherty, lost her job and in the primaries. No one could cite the last year that happened. The new cabal's cry was the Good Ol' Boys had gotten their act together again. The winner was former city Mayor Ron Young, a very certifiable GOB.

But not so fast, Mr. Young was upended by a non-politician. Jeff Holtzinger received City Hall's master key, they say, because Ms. Dougherty and her entire crew worked for the Republican nominee. They didn't mention rafts of GOBs went along with Mr. Holtzinger; most had left the Democratic Party because they no longer could support its claims.

Here's the paradox faced by Jennifer Dougherty and her cabal mates, who are by and large Democrats. Only the exceptionable can hope to win; the tide turned against their party.

Moreover, I am told Ms. Hecht was recently diagnosed with a serious illness. She has been the chief rainmaker for the cabal. Serving in a high-level post in the statewide Democratic organization, she made serious contacts that she was willing to put behind local races.

If her ailment turns out be true, what happens to the movement she started, in combination with Ms. Gardner? Who else can inveigle candidates to run against strong Republicans, which is what happened when Candy Greenway ran for Mr. Mooney's Senate seat?

Ms. Greenway was, by the way, the only recognizable figure in the new cabal to show up for Delegate Clagett's main fund raiser. In the past, every candidate from his party would have been there, as I observed on It was eerie, like hearing a single hand clap.

As said, Ms. Dougherty's filing for Maryland's Sixth District congressional billet makes no sense unless treated as part of a larger scheme, one that involves selecting Democrats to run against Republicans in districts where Republicans have virtually given up.

The hope they can come together, in Maryland, for sex, politics or religion this Saturday or the following week, makes little sense unless you really believe the moon is made of cheese.

We'll see.

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