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May 29, 2009

Alderman Karen Lewis Young?

Roy Meachum

Keep it simple, stupid. The translation for K.I.S.S. has not been around all my life; it certainly applies when it comes to politics. All that most voters in the September Democratic primary in the City of Frederick will probably know, going into the booth: Karen Lewis Young is married to Ron Young.


Wearing the ex-Frederick mayor's wedding ring on her hand is both a strength and a liability. Many voters remember fondly Mr. Young's era in City Hall as a golden age. Others won't. For people who tuned in only for his last term: he was comparatively lost in the weeds. He was easy for neophyte Paul Gordon to push over.


But there were more than several accomplishments that made Mr. Young the longest-serving mayor in Frederick's modern history. After all, we wouldn't have the glorious Carroll Creek promenade without him. That was his very positive answer to the 1976 flood that disastrously drowned downtown. Speaking of my neighborhood, we have him to thank for the neat and tidy sidewalks; they formerly had gutters that could break the leg of anybody who stepped there. He made many more contributions.


This is one reason why, four years ago, Mr. Young handed her head on a platter to incumbent Jennifer Dougherty in the Democratic primary. She became the first sitting mayor to be defeated by her own party's voters. And for that, Dougherty admirers will never forgive Mr. Young and all those close to him. Since the political patriarch's name is not on a ballot, they have zoned in on his wife's candidacy for the Board of Aldermen. She deserves their enmity but in her own right. She performed valiantly in her husband's campaigns: doing surveys, laying out ads and organizing, organizing, organizing!


When I first met the woman destined to become a local political figure, Karen Lewis was the chairman of the board of the Weinberg Center for the Performing Arts. The occasion was the Center's annual gala; I attended on a press ticket, as I have many events in my life. She was all over the place that night – a whirlwind of intelligent efficiency.


Because of our friendship, I learned the background to new Mayor Dougherty's crusade to bring the city's arts under her control. As a former alderman described her: "She's a control freak." Nothing that I saw during her four City Hall years contradicts the description. But crippling the arts falls into an area close to me.


Many readers know that I was a critic in Washington for years: that is why I do an occasional review for During the Johnson Administration, I served as an advisor to the East Wing. I was involved in ballet. I performed radio and TV shows on the arts.


Before attending the gala, I knew Weinberg Executive Director Stewart Seal; we had conversations in his office. He knew his stuff: how to run a regional arts center with the flair to get people's attention and sell tickets. Besides the chairman, the board liked him.


In any event, with totally no background in the arts, Ms. Dougherty invoked her mayoral power to fire Stewart; she also terminated the man she had selected to take his place. And so it went during her four years. Not incidentally, city taxpayers forked over a chunk of money – nobody ever said how much – for Mr. Seal's illegal separation.


When Ron Young ran for mayor in 2005, his wife brought to the campaign her personal experience with the incumbent. On a personal level, she wanted her husband to win, naturally; she was convinced Ms. Dougherty had to go.


In any event, she was more than a candidate's wife. She added to the role a ton of corporate experience; she came to town initially to run marketing for Farmers and Mechanics National Bank. Her resume is impressive, all in communications, research and promotion. She knows how to get things done, I know from personal experience.


As I said at the outset, however, voters will likely go to the polls this autumn knowing only that Karen Lewis Young is the wife of Ron Young.


And that's a pity!


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