"Columning," as this racket is sometimes called, relies totally on other people's mistakes, usually politicians. They are naturals because they wield public power. And distribute the public purse.
The golden age of my 24-year Frederick career arrived by serendipity. For an all-too-brief span, John "Lennie" Thompson presided over Winchester Hall while Jennifer Dougherty ruled all things municipal.
With his flamboyant white suit and powers of sarcasm to match, Mr. Thompson overshadowed the Board of County Commissioners even before he became president. He occupied the top chair with a fail-proof majority.
Both Jan Gardner and David Gray were easily bullied into doing whatever pleased Mr. Thompson's fancy at the time. Commissioner Gray maintained a ghostly presence; when left to his own devices, he made peeping noises only when poked. No-growth was the mantra he mouthed while trying – and failing – to unseat state Sen. David Brinkley.
The real victim of Mr. Thompson's macho domination was Ms. Gardner. When challenged by his normally dictatorial manner, she tended to tear up and reach for the nearest tissues. Not remarked on at the time, her oh-woe-is-me characterization actually triggered widespread sympathy.
Unfortunately for local columnists, especially this one, in the most recent county elections, Mr. Thompson barely managed to sneak back in; his rabble-rousing tuned down because of that reality.
The big winner? Democrat Jan Gardner. Her reign has been consummated chiefly in deep fog; she releases details in a manner that can obfuscate exactly what's going on.
In public, she reveals a confident and firm image, especially noteworthy because there's a single fellow Democrat on the board. The GOP managed to capture the majority. She ascended through courtesy of Republican Gray. (He returned to Winchester Hall amidst voter acclamation, chiefly on the basis that he talked in public very little.)
Jan Gardner practices the principle that rejects the premise you must stick your neck out to accomplish anything at all. On public matters, she is cautious and meticulous, to the point that she has all but disappeared from the general view.
By way of glaring contrast, Jennifer Dougherty's single term as Frederick mayor was remarkable for fractiousness, belligerency and constant tumult.
Her personality fermented such turmoil that the president of the Board of Aldermen abandoned public life altogether. When Pushkin and I encounter Bill Hall occasionally on our daily promenade, he smiles and soft-shoes around discussion of any official, past or present.
The strife and viciousness generated by the Dougherty City Hall caused Alderman David Lenhart to take his family off to Georgia, out of harmful gossip's way. He felt the rumors spread by the former mayor's cohorts were hurting his children.
And they still continue.
As you know, the city's Democrats at their first opportunity sent Jennifer Dougherty back to her saloon; she became Frederick's first sitting mayor rejected in her party's primary. The campaign was noted by her honor letting loose a stream of invective and non-PG words at her rival, the winner ex-mayor Ron Young.
Surprising everyone – especially the candidate overwhelmingly endorsed by most Democratic leaders – at the last minute Ms. Dougherty filed to become her party's nominee against Republican Roscoe Bartlett.
As I wrote for TheTentacle.com at the time, front-runner Andrew Duck treated the newly filed candidate with barely concealed contempt. He told me Super Tuesday night that throughout the Sixth Congressional District, when known at all, Ms. Dougherty carried a negative stigma.
Exactly one week later Mr. Duck's world turned upside down; he was not alone in sporting egg on his face. What few people knew at the time, Ms. Dougherty was the beneficiary of a massive "phone bank" that called voters until late Election Day.
Despite their early endorsements, Democratic officials lined up solidly in the ex-mayor's camp, lead by Del. Sue Hecht. After being thumped by Republican state Sen. Alex Mooney, she spent waiting time working for the state party. That access enabled Ms. Hecht to deliver important names to Ms. Dougherty's primary campaign, including the phone-bank.
Approaching November's general elections, the delegate – buttressed by Commissioner Gardner and others – certainly has a shot at delivering national and state money to the Sixth District race. Funding from those organizations have the potential of negating Congressman Bartlett's considerable war chest advantage.
In addition, for the first time in my 25 years in Frederick I was called upon Saturday by Democratic volunteers seeking to build a stronger-than-ever organization this election year. Those efforts strike me as unrelated to the presidential race.
All over the country Democrats have been successful this year in rooting out long-serving GOP congressional incumbents of a certain age. Frederick's Roscoe Bartlett fills all those qualifications, which may have been why Ms. Dougherty filed.
At any rate, remembering the lady's rancorous performance in City Hall, I am not alone in wishing those abominable tactics never reach the halls of Congress.
The biggest danger comes from the possibility Roscoe Bartlett lets friendly polls and well-meaning friends allow him to believe the conservative voters in the district will keep on returning him until he chooses otherwise.
In fact, this autumn Dr. Bartlett faces a life-and-death confrontation, politically. He must pull out all stops and pay out his treasury to prevent falling in the category of so many of his GOP colleagues.
Understand, calling the congressman's attention to this reality militates against my personal and professional interests. Ideally a columnist operates in a political guerilla war's ambiance. In that explosive situation, we can usually target a behind to kick.