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Advertise on the Tentacle

June 9, 2008

Political Street Gossip Part Two

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Continuing last week’s theme, this week we’ll examine the next chronological ballot contest – the City of Frederick’s 2009 election for the mayor and Board of Aldermen.


The big corner office on the second floor of our beautiful City Hall building, at 101 North Court Street, is occupied by a friendly, shy, and very humble bear of a mayor, most likely to be seen tooling around Frederick atop his small motorcycle, zipping from meeting to project site to home.


He’s a real anomaly, this mayor of ours. One of the proudest moments I’ve had as a public servant was watching him become our mayor, having aided with the transition of power between the Dougherty administration and his own.


He’s thoughtful and careful (some might say cautious), a reflection of his education in both the law and the principles of engineering. He shuns the spotlight, a rare trait in a world peopled by egomaniacs who position themselves for their best camera angle. Most importantly, he’s almost obsessed by the principle of trying to do the things he said he would do, another very rare characteristic in an elected official.


The cautiousness mentioned earlier is also a potential weakness, though. His seeming hesitation to openly declare his desire to continue to serve as mayor probably reflects his humility, not wanting to seem too eager for re-election.


That same laudable perspective might also betray a weakness. A number of voters might see the hesitation to declare as a sign of serious internal conflict over the decision, something that might or might not be true.


Mayor Jeff Holtzinger has a young family, and all of the costs and burdens associated with high school and college. He has stated several times that the compensation of the mayor’s office, coupled with the time demands that preclude other employment opportunities, makes it very difficult to supplement his family’s income.


His biggest worry isn’t whether voters start to wonder about his intentions. He needs to be more concerned about other candidates, especially within his own Republican Party. At least one, Randy McClement, the owner of Market Street Bagel and Deli, his been carefully evaluating a run for mayor.


At one point, Mr. McClement seemed to say that he wouldn’t run if the mayor was going to. That no longer appears to be an impediment. He appears busy building coalitions and strengthening ties, and those things are exactly what someone in his position should be doing.


Current GOP Alderman Alan Imhoff has long been rumored to be pining for the big chair, and Alderman Paul Smith has been respectfully mum about his own interests. Mr. Imhoff’s recent flap over international travel is a non-story, except for those rabid activists that would complain about any and everything. His involvement in the DC Metro Area Council of Governments is a significant bonus for our area; he looks to become chairman of COG in the next few years, something that would bring us a lot of attention and benefit.


The Democrats’ lining up for a crack at the CEO job look like the crowd at the tractor pull shows at the Great Frederick Fair. David “Kip” Koontz has invested the most invisible effort in developing a whisper campaign; he wants a buzz out there that keeps his name in any conversation about Mayor Holtzinger.


So far, it’s working. Mr. Koontz’s effort has been successful in generating interest. You’d have to call him the frontrunner, but that will change. Alderman Donna Kuzemchak, recovering from a bout with cancer, has always harbored an interest in serving as mayor. Her passion for public service is as high as anyone in the game, but her in-your-face style leaves some unanswered questions about how effective she’d be. Can anyone say “Jennifer?”


Alderman (and Mayor Pro Tem) Marcia Hall might also harbor an interest in being mayor. She has tried to fashion herself as the consensus-builder, but those skills are not nearly as precious – or in demand – as they were under former Mayor Jennifer Dougherty’s contentious tenure.


Speaking of the former mayor, unless she is successful in November’s contest against U.S. Sixth District Representative Roscoe Bartlett (see last week’s article), she will probably consider another go at her old job. And wouldn’t that be one big rainy, ant-filled picnic!


Former Aldermen and Mayor Pro Tem Meta Nash is fully re-engaged in city issues from her post on the Planning Commission. Ms Nash has always been respected as a thoughtful civic official, and her re-entry into the electoral spectrum, whether for mayor or alderman, has to be taken very seriously.


The potential race for aldermen looks to be a “new face” affair. Right off the bat, it’s safe to predict that an alderman who doesn’t run for mayor is likely, very likely, to be re-elected. It’s actually pretty simple. This board seems to be meeting most people’s expectations. Oh sure, there are a number of detractors. These folks are mostly the insiders, the gang that show up at most meetings or have appointments to boards and commissions and consider it reasonable that they should at some point ascend to elected office.


Into this grouping we might place Trish Cunningham, a past defender of Mayor Dougherty. She is an activist’s activist, someone who speaks at meetings, writes on blog sites, and is usually well-informed on the issues. Another person in this role is Jim Ratcheff, a member of the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals, has emerged as leading voice on two blog sites, and seems to be an heir-apparent to the growth management principles espoused by County Commissioner Kai Hagen.


Another board member with a very bright political future is Josh Bokee, a planning commissioner and an executive with Comcast. Josh will be a part of Frederick City’s political future, the questions is simply how long it’ll take for him to be able to run for office. We’d be lucky to have him when he finally decides to go for it!


Another rising political star also comes from the Planning Commission ranks. Roger Wilson, an IBM organizational development expert, is building an amazing reputation in his role as an alternate. He is engaged with several charities and local agencies, which speaks to his community commitment. He just happens to be an African-American, but that won’t even be a factor.


Former Frederick Police personnel administrator Kelly Russell will also likely position herself to be an alderman. She has been involved in a number of high-profile issues and has conducted herself in a dignified and thoughtful way, a good omen for future service.


Perennial aldermanic candidate and city watchdog Bill Ashton serves as a member of the Republican State Central Committee, so it’s unclear as to how interested he might be a run for city office. He has a well-deserved reputation for looking out for city employees, although the news media has used some questionable tactics in relation to his candidacy in the past.


Next year looks to be exciting, a year of surprises, conflicts, and controversy. As the city election nears, you can expect a more recalcitrant Board of Alderman, especially if the incumbents who seek the mayor’s job think the Mr. Holtzinger might be leaning toward another term. Alderman Koontz will become more aggressive, and Ms. Kuzemchak, well, she’ll just be more Donna-like! Ms. Hall will need to just do something, anything to distinguish herself from the others.


Should be fun, in a sick and twisted sort of way!


Next up, the Board of County Commissioners.


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