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Advertise on the Tentacle

June 16, 2008

Political Street Gossip Part 3

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

One set of elected officials sure to change in 2010 is the gang of five in charge at Winchester Hall. Several incumbent commissioners are looking beyond their current board service to Annapolis, interested to trade in the long hours in the snazzy new first floor hearing room for a case of Severn River fever.


The two most virulent cases of move-up-itis seem to be John L. "Lennie" Thompson and Jan Gardner. Mr. Thompson has long fancied himself in the role of state lawmaker, and Lord knows he has enough practice writing draft legislation. In my six years in the House of Delegates, he has personally drafted several dozen bills.


Most die on the vine, but he deserves an "A" for effort. He's written legislation to mandate beverage return systems, to require disclosure of corporate taxes for out-of-state entities, and to outlaw the use of state monies for corporate welfare. He even wrote the framework for an amendment to the state constitution.


Commissioner Thompson ought to be viewed as a potentially strong candidate for any office he seeks, but especially strong for a state House or Senate race. He lives in District 4, and would vie for Sen. David Brinkley's seat, or one of the seats currently held by Delegates Paul Stull or Joe Bartlett. His white-suited everyman is a role manufactured in Central Casting, and he fills it with a flair reminiscent of Jimmy Stewart's Mr. Smith.


Commissioners President Gardner looks to be relocating to Annapolis, if the statements and actions of any politician can serve to foretell their future actions. Ms. Gardner spent considerable time in Annapolis during the last session, fulfilling her role as president of the Maryland Association of Counties. She's also taken on delegation members directly through the media, but more about that next week.


Given that the two of them might be looking to shift offices, what about their colleagues? David Gray, the returning elder of the board, has had a number of health concerns in this, his fourth stint on the Board of County Commissioners. Now that he's unloaded the leadership burden on Commissioner Gardner, he doesn't seem to mind the occasional meeting attendance. While no one should count him out, Commissioner Gray doesn't seem to possess the passion for the work he once did. Not sure he can be blamed for that, though.


Rookie Commissioner Charles Jenkins has certainly had his share of media attention during the first half of his tenure. The darling of Casa de Maryland, he doesn't lack the will or guts to tackle tough issues. He's actually made Commissioner Thompson look calm by comparison, and that's no small feat. He may aspire to serve in the state legislature, but a crowded primary field might be an impediment. Another stumbling block would be his fellow rookie Commissioner Kai Hagen.


Mr. Hagen has made it well-known that he will play an active and high-profile role in shaping the next commissioners’ panel. He has been working to develop his grassroots network, and his use of Internet technology through his own private web forum provides him both a policy platform and a device to capture email addresses. On the policy side, his forum affords him the mechanism to promote people who agree with his view and the vehicle to spotlight those with whom he disagrees.


Having followed his methods, one can already see the people who Commissioner Hagen thinks have a future in his political universe. Jim Racheff, a member of the Frederick City Zoning Appeals Board, is often lined up very nicely with Mr. Hagen's political world view. Jack Lynch, a progressive thinker and no slouch in the world of blogging and politics, is also one whose enviro-centric views meld with those of Commissioner Hagen.


Mr. Hagen isn't the only person interested in having a major influence over future commissioners, though. Friends of Frederick County, a civic activist group born out of Commissioner Hagen's personal and political outreach, intends to influence future election cycles in the manner they did in 2006. They consider their efforts were essential in producing the present board, taking credit for defeating former Commissioners Mike Cady and John Lovell.


The Friends group has evolved considerably; they are now connected to several municipalities, and have developed a sophisticated communication strategy and web presence. Lead activist Janice Wiles has access to national environmental groups and advice, and appears to have done an admirable job in cultivating those contacts.


Unless you accept the premise that because one group had past success it means their automatically destined for future success, you can assume that pro-development, or at least moderate development candidates will make their voices heard in the next commissioners’ election cycle.


In spite of a high degree of self-confidence, Commissioner Hagen won't possess as much influence over the process as he thinks he will. Sure, some folks will follow his parade. It won't be a sweep, though.


Soon-to-be former Planning Commissioner Joan McIntyre is no one's shrinking violet, and while she wasn't successful last time around, she has continued to build on her reputation for balance and logic. County Board of Appeals Chairman Billy Shreve, the pride of Adamstown, will also likely return. He was good on a microphone, and with a number of seats open, looks to be a formidable challenger.


Emergency Communications Supervisor (and Woodsboro volunteer fireman) Mickey Fyock ran a surprisingly strong campaign in 2006. He seemed to pick up the Bruce Reeder mantle of the firefighter's best friend. That's a real voting block, and Mr. Fyock would run strong again.


Lots of second-tier possibilities, including perennials like Tom Henderson, Ron Bird, and even former (so long ago it sounds funny) Burkittsville Mayor Paul Gilligan. Mr. Gilligan has run for delegate twice, and with his historic stumbling block gone in 2010, might want to try again. His interests seem to track more closely with county issues, though.


Land use and development will dominate the commissioner political landscape. Anti-growthers will line up against the Realtors, builders, and developers. The senior staff and planners at Winchester Hall will once again be worried about how far the pendulum will swing, and how whatever ideology emerges will be accommodated come December 2010.


And they say charter government can't work. Next week, the state races.


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