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October 20, 2009

Weird Election, Maybe Strange

Roy Meachum

My professional observing of Frederick politics started in 1984, right after I voted locally for the first time; I moved here from Washington only the year before. Working as a member of the White House press corps did not prepare me for the move, in any way.


That first autumn the only political demonstration I made – really a good citizen’s gesture – was to march behind Mayor Ron Young in what would turn out to be the annual In the Street festival, recently discussed in this space.


While I accepted the fact that Capitol Hill politics could be brutal and direct, for the most part it operated under a social gauze that tended to obscure what was really going on; in contrast to the raw and rude behavior now, it was necessary to read between the lines. Encountering local politics was like sticking my head in cold, cold water. This level was where basic democracy could be found. I floundered a long time before I felt I understood. In 25 years of occupying this cat’s bird seat, the current city election has caught me by total surprise.


The Democrats, the majority registered party within Frederick’s limits, remain cool behind native son Jason Judd; they very much hold steadfast amidst rumors that sound like desperation howls. Since their mayoral candidate wears a Thomas Johnson graduate ring, they handily reject the carpetbagger charges; as for Mr. Judd’s eventual political ambitions, they strike me as fanciful. And all the other allegations fall beneath their own weight.


It’s on the Republican side where weird and strange things are happening. When Randy McClement declared his candidacy for mayor in February, he appeared the party’s anointed choice; the chief awkwardness was the status of the current Republican who sits in City Hall. He declared his intention to run again; then changed his mind – with my strong encouragement. Jeff Holtzinger does not fit well into a politician’s suit; his shoulders are too wide, and so is his honesty. His withdrawal was an inevitability I understood. But early in his Hamlet pose – to run or not to run – he had nothing but good to say about the man who operates downtown’s popular bagel shop. As he told me, Randy was a good guy who could cut the mustard as mayor. Other Republican leaders agreed.


Meanwhile, off-stage and out of public sight, other GOP figures registered uncertainty. For all his very important volunteer posts and his record of attending virtually every city meeting, Mr. McClement did not look to them like a shoo-in; they courted and besought City Hall’s “deputy mayor” to save Mr. Holtzinger’s seat for the Republican Party. Ron Tobin had all the experience in the world; the only smudge on his record was participating in Frederick’s very controversial retirement program. He finally gave into pressure and the last day possible he filed as candidate for the primary races, putting him directly against Randy’s “nice guy.”


After Mr. Tobin’s official entry in the race I began to hear “nice guy” as a pejorative from GOP lips; it was not simply they favored City Hall’s more experienced guy. I heard sniffing from Republican ranks that Mr. McClement was unworthy of bearing their party standard during the upcoming elections, two weeks from today. As the Revolutionary song had it, the world turned upside down, mere days before the primaries. The darling of the conservative ranks was felled, not by politics but by cancer; after five years in remission, X-rays carried a frightening warning.


All of a sudden, Randy McClement who was dismissed as a nice guy became the man of the moment in the current mayor’s race. Fortunately, he acquired a packaging with a very experienced civil servant. Nobody who knows Rick Weldon ever takes him lightly, as readers know. He’s thoughtful, inventive and experienced – adjectives that apply to whatever he undertakes.


Recently, I heard that Rick could be considered as a very solid reason to vote for Randy. We talked.


My old friend allowed as how he’s been offered a post as deputy to Mayor McClement, if he’s elected. Rick shies off from describing it as a done deal. He admits he’s interested but throws in cautions. He would like to serve out his last year as a delegate rather than disappoint voters who put him in Annapolis. He does not take his obligation to United Way lightly, by no means. He remembers fondly the time he spent in the same job to Mayor Jim Grimes. But he left the very strong impression for various reasons, including his family; he’s not prepared to rush into a routine that demands long, long hours.


The peril that voters face in two weeks, marking ballots for Randy McClement means by no means Rick Weldon will accompany the candidate into City Hall, if he’s elected.


As far as I’m concerned, leading Republicans have created the strange and weird clouds that hang over November 3 races.


Yellow Cab
The Morning News Express with Bob Miller
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