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June 29, 2009

The Bagel Master Burgermeister

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

So what is it about a very friendly and congenial local shop keeper that suggests he has the tools to the lead the City of Frederick? Only in City of Frederick politics could the phrase "He's a really nice guy" be considered pejorative.


Sure, he is a really nice guy. He also happens to make a mean bagel sandwich. So, why would anyone settle on him as the best choice for the mayor of Frederick?


A little background is in order. While current Mayor Jeff Holtzinger was still trying to decide about seeking a second term, Randy McClement, the aforementioned affable owner of the Market Bagel & Deli, tossed his hat into the ring for the big second floor corner office at City Hall.


Randy ran for the Board of Aldermen four years ago. He made a very respectable showing, but didn't garner enough votes to snag a seat. Unlike most aspiring politicians who run for office, lose, disappear, then magically pop up again in four years, Randy stayed connected to city business.


Mayor Holtzinger offered Randy the role of chairman of the city charter review committee. Additionally, Randy has attended almost every mayor and board meeting since he first ran for alderman. Does that make him a great candidate, or does that raise a question about his emotional stability?


The correct answer is: It demonstrates a commitment to understand the intricacies, inter-relationships, and details associated with running a complex political subdivision.


Not satisfied with watching the regular goings-on of the City of Frederick, Randy also threw himself head-long into the business of selling Frederick to outsiders. He served as the president of the Tourism Council of Frederick County, took on a leadership role in the downtown business advocacy group, and accepted a leadership position with Celebrate Frederick, the special events group responsible for In the Streets and the Fourth of July festivities.


Speaking bluntly, as a failed candidate for alderman, Mr. McClement has done a lot more for the City of Frederick than some of the people who actually prevailed in the last election!


At least one of his Democratic Party potential rivals has questioned his executive experience. The other, speaking confidentially to someone they thought to be "with them," suggested that Randy is completely unqualified to serve having never accomplished anything of note.


Let's look at that for a minute. He built a very successful downtown business from scratch, he and his lovely wife MJ built that business with their bare hands and sweat equity. They learned the bagel-making trade, carefully reproducing the process unique to a New York-style bagel deli.


They raised a beautiful daughter, who grew up as an employee, and is now married and off making her own way in the world. They have employed a long string of great young people, teaching life skills along with the bagel trade. They make a regular payroll, they provide training, and employ a workforce. They invested in a house in what years ago might not have been considered the best place to land in Frederick, but have turned their modest Ice Street row house into a showplace.


Randy's background includes time spent as an executive with a homeowner's association. Ignoring the garbage spewing from other mayoral candidates’ mouths about what constitutes qualifications, time spent as a manager in a large homeowners association is exactly the kind of skill set required of a municipal official. The ultimate "fixer," a homeowner association executive has to know how to work with angry people, how to build consensus, and how to prioritize the never-ending string of complaints, breakdowns, and concerns.


No less an experienced voice than the current mayor of Frederick, Jeff Holtzinger, has pointed out Randy's incredible qualifications and ability to lead the City of Frederick. On more than one occasion since deciding to retire in December, Mayor Holtzinger has suggested that city voters would be well-served under a McClement Administration.


Assuming no other credible GOP candidate enters the race by July 7, Randy's biggest hurdle will be the General Election in November. Rumors of a run by Ron Tobin, the current executive assistant to Mayor Holtzinger, seem like more flash than substance.


Mr. Tobin is surely a capable administrative professional. He also has political skills, as he helped engineer Jeff's original victory. On the downside, Mr. Tobin is a beneficiary of the much-maligned employee buy-out. After taking the buyout funded by city taxpayers, Mr. Tobin returned to work at a minor reduction in salary. If he does enter the race, figure on voters, reporters, and candidates to saddle him with all of the perceived negative burdens of the last four years. Without Mayor Holtzinger to kick around, Ron Tobin becomes the de-facto whipping boy.


If Randy McClement prevails in the September primary, his best chance of winning in November is a down and dirty Democratic primary fight. Former Mayor Jennifer Daugherty has shown she can lead an intra-party revolt, having done so after losing to Ron Young three-and-a-half years ago.


Newcomer Jason Judd hasn't developed a political identity yet. He seems intent on creating the image of a well-educated everyman, talking about his economics degree and fighting for the working man. One might theorize that he'd rather ignore his ultra-liberal union-organizer background. All those years spent making Wal-Mart the enemy of America doesn't play as well with legions of Wal-Mart shoppers. Count on Mr. Judd to carefully follow the playbook written by Commissioner Kai Hagen, an early Judd supporter and advisor. Mr. Hagen is proud of his political organizing skills at the grass roots level, and Jason Judd seems committed to learning those lessons well.


Frankly speaking, I'd prefer the really nice guy with a lifetime of pertinent experience. Give me the bagel-master burgermeister, I'd feel better about the future of our city in the hands of a very capable administrator and conservative leader who is more do than talk.


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