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May 27, 2008

Joe's Bench

Roy Meachum

It took place in front of Joe Cohen's cigar store; the one with the walk-in humidor - although these days not a lot of folks walk in. Uncle Joe, as he is called, also maintains a bench against his North Market Street window.


Not every time, but now and then, Pushkin gets Uncle Joe's biscuits while I'm seated on the bench. From time to time, other people share the boards, betimes even Joe himself. He's feeling real sassy these days; his Manchester-United football club eked the top world honors. The runner-up was Moscow's Arsenal. (I drove by their stadium.)


The sole owner of Joe's favorite football club is a name not unknown in NFL circles. Malcolm Glazer parlayed his Tampa Buccaneers to have a go with Manchester-United. My friend couldn't be happier, at least in season: that's his home town. Otherwise he likes to chat about politics. The bench helps.


Pushkin had his fill of biscuits last week; he stretched out beside me. It was a day the heavens sing; after the mid-March kind of cold earlier, the blue skies sparkled in the beautiful sun. Memorial Day this year couldn't come soon enough.


My holiday surprise arrived in the figure that plopped down on the bench that afternoon. In his time, Bill Hall appeared fair to give politics a good name. As city alderman, I never knew him to speak anything but the truth. The emotions you saw were what you got.


Jennifer Dougherty's devotees hate his guts. That was strong and well-meant. Bill is incapable of playing games, of any sort. During Ms. Dougherty's single term in City Hall, he sat on the board as the champion vote-getter; he racked up a bigger count than the lady who presided.


Bill Hall was the board's president pro tem; that means in Frederick a sort of deputy mayor. Only he never got to play the role. Her Honor was supposed to hand over the government reins when she left town. He remembers when she even left the country and neglected to notify him.


Bill related that amazing fact leaning forward on Joe's Bench to make his point. At the time it happened there was quiet speculation: was she breaking the law by not turning over power to the man designated by charter and affirmed by voters? Nobody sought a legal opinion. Presumably she made arrangements if some tragic accident happened to her. It never came to that.


Bill's legion of admirers contributed heavily to making Ms. Dougherty a one-term mayor. When asked the lady's chances for taking home the Sixth Congressional District, he initially ducked. His observation was she's a "lucky" politician.


The trend in off-elections has been toward turning the incumbents out, especially Republican long-timers. Roscoe Bartlett, the district incumbent, has been around a while, as I reported in a recent column. Tenure, age and his GOP membership make him a prime target for Maryland Democrats.


However, I hear the state and national parties are reluctant to take up a club against Dr. Bartlett. They are supposedly going all out to grab Maryland's First Congressional District, according to sources. In this case everyone I've talked with fudges his/her bet when it comes to Ms. Dougherty. We all agree this shapes up as the biggest brawl since Bev Byron left the seat.


Bill Hall and I talked about how Roscoe Bartlett's deep pockets, loaded with campaign donations, could possibly not be enough. We agreed the Western Maryland representative must wage an all-out fight, starting yesterday!


It's not enough to consider her abysmal record in City Hall. While she and cordons of cheerleaders shout how marvelous she was in running Frederick, the first woman chief executive demonstrated a remarkable talent for keeping everybody riled. She blames Bill and his Republican team mate Dave Lenhart, who moved all the way down to Georgia to get away. His City Hall terms were very hard on his wife and children.


Bill Hall is a Frederick man; I met his brothers by chance in the Market Street Y.M.C.A. His roots locally were bested only by the late Alderman Bill Lee, who left a rich legacy of serving the community. Many thought Bill Hall would step into those much honored shoes. I remember the shout-offs with Ms. Dougherty were literally hard on his health.


There's one more important aspect of my friend on Joe's Bench that day: Bill Hall is not a man to cross. A very warm and generous friend, he does not take lightly attempts to manipulate the truth or him. Any body watching the sessions when Ms. Dougherty was mayor knows that my old friend has a temper. As I said, he is not a man to cross.


I'm not alone in wishing to see Bill Hall's name again on a ballot. At the thought, he grins that all-over-his-face grin and shakes my hand. He walked into the beautiful day.

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