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October 31, 2008

Taking Race for Congress Seriously

Roy Meachum

A Frederick businessman – and fellow Democrat – this week told me a story about the former mayor. Failing to be heard with orders that city workers should not show up at his place, buy sandwiches and drive away, Jennifer Dougherty proceeded to patrol his parking lot.


Spotting a municipal employee, Her Honor's terrible tongue lashed out, sending the offender out of the lot; the businessman did not tell me whether Ms. Dougherty demanded the food be given back. Meanwhile, it's possible to wonder who was minding City Hall.


We know president pro tem Bill Hall was not. Having received more votes than any other candidate, the Democrat received election to head the Board of Alderman. We know Ms. Dougherty made trips, including out of the country, without advising Bill, as the rules said she should. In disgust with her shenanigans, Mr. Hall switched to the GOP before exiting office.


For those and similar tricks, Jennifer Dougherty became the first mayor, at least in modern times, to be turned out by her own party members in the primary. She got revenge in the general election by recruiting voters for Republican Jeff Holtzinger, the present mayor.


When Ms. Dougherty filed for the Sixth Congressional District seat, it was assumed by many that she ran to keep her name before the public. Various people said so. On the other hand, when the primary favorite Andrew Duck went down before her, people assumed she had a real chance at dumping the incumbent, and they said so.


After all, Mr. Duck carried into the primary endorsements from such Democratic stalwarts as Delegate Sue Hecht, County Commissioner President Jan Gardner and president pro tem of the city Board of Aldermen Marcia Hall. Everybody who was anybody in the party heaped praise and promised to work for their standard bearer in the most recent attempt to turn out multi-term Rep. Roscoe Bartlett.


With presumably the muscle of major Democratic leadership and his opponent's record of losing the mayoral primary when she was the incumbent, how could Mr. Duck lose? Chiefly behind the scenes, but not bothering always to hide, the female officials named above threw their collective weight behind Ms. Dougherty – much to the amazement of party members who thought they were doing the right Democratic thing by voting for Andrew Duck. There is no simple explanation.


In April, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D. NY) shaped up as the almost-certain Democratic contender for the White House; her candidacy sparked great enthusiasm among women whatever their political persuasion. By throwing in her hand at the last moment before the nominating convention, Mrs. Clinton almost guaranteed the GOP would name another woman for the number two slot; it turned out to be Alaska's Gov. Sarah Palin.


That sense of gender, as a great asset, may not have been locally present two years ago. Ms. Dougherty's opponent in the primary was a man who had occupied City Hall for years, Ron Young. She lost. Enemies accumulated over his several terms were part of the burden that caused him to bow before Mr. Holtzinger.


Weighing matters that matter, it's easy to see why the people around Congressman Bartlett did not take the defeated ex-mayor seriously. In reality seriously was the only way the staff should have entered the electoral tilting. They should have feared for their jobs, especially with Democratic registrations going through the roof.


While receiving no state or national dollars, Ms. Dougherty has benefited from the backing of Ms. Hecht, who spent her four years out of office – after tumbling before State Sen. Alex Mooney – working for Maryland Democrats at the state level. However it happened there's at least a suspicion the re-elected delegate was responsible for getting Ms. Dougherty contributions from other Democrats outside the Sixth District.


Going into the primary Mr. Duck and others, including me, did not perceive the ex-mayor's organization. The loser in the primary kissed off his opponent one week before the voting, declaring the Frederick people who knew her didn't like her; and she was virtually unknown in the rest of the district.


The tide that has buoyed Barack Obama to being the favorite in Tuesday's presidential balloting brought along a strong feeling of the need for change, especially for Republican holdovers. Roscoe Bartlett has worked the halls of Congress for some 16 years, which makes him vulnerable on the "holdover" score. He is also a Republican who stands generally with his party. But his work at home has been rated superior and that comes from the way he's taken care of his constituents.


During her four-years in City Hall, Mayor Dougherty was frequently busy trying to assert her authority, as this column's opening story illustrates. She was notorious for "getting even" with real or imagined foes. Where she might have failed to get even, her father was all too willing to step in. I received their attentions for past columns that questioned the mayor's divine right assumption.


Voting for Jennifer Dougherty guarantees bringing the father and daughter act to Capitol Hill. It promises strife where Western Maryland citizens should have calm and purpose – especially in the coming term. This is simply not the time to add to the chaos everyone agrees has beset the nation the last eight years.


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