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March 4, 2013

Handicapping a City Horse Race Part 1

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

So, the candidates are lining up to claim the fancy wood-paneled office on the second floor of Frederick's City Hall.


Each one of the rumored, announced or merely flirting candidates has a wheel barrow full of issues and opportunities. As much fun as it is actually elect one of them, it's even more fun to speculate and prognosticate about their respective chances.


Unlike most columnists, my previous experience working with two very different former mayors grants me unique insight into the skills and capabilities required to both seek and hold this office.


In 1999, I went to work as the city's first Chief Operations Officer, responsible for running most of the technical departments of the second-largest city in Maryland.


In addition to being a demanding job of critical decisions and pressing deadlines, the COO of the city is also a key advisor to the mayor. In my case, that mayor was Jim Grimes. In all of my public sector management, Jim Grimes had the best mix of skills and personality of any elected chief executive I've known.


Decisive, confidant and knowledgeable, Jim Grimes had built successful private sector businesses, made large payrolls and established a record of hands-on management that translated directly to running the City of Frederick.


Years later, I had the chance to help Republican candidate Randy McClement achieve his goal and become mayor in 2010. Randy is very different than Jim, but you probably didn't need me to tell you that.


Randy, is congenial, funny, accessible and appealing. He also ran a very successful local small business, and has in his background experience in property management that is directly transferrable to running a large city.


Randy's first term is notable for what it lacked more than what it has accomplished. Going back to Jim Grimes' last term, the City lurched from political fights to personality clashes. Big personalities are drawn to political office, that's one of the reasons politics has become such a valued spectator sport.


During the McClement Administration's first term, those high profile disputes have been noticeably absent. That doesn't mean they didn't exist; they did (more on that later). The difference is that Randy has the ability to keep them from becoming major distractions.


Randy has kept his head down, stuck to the basics, and delivered consistently good government. He hasn't created headlines, but one could argue that headline creation works both ways, good and bad.


Opponents will claim that the lack of headlines means a lack of worthy accomplishments. Only voters can sort that one out.


The field of challengers is very intriguing. From the inside of 101 North Court Street, Mayor McClement faces the leading aldermanic vote-getter in the last election, Democrat Karen Young.


Ms. Young, the wife of state Senator Ron Young (D., District 3), has built a reputation for pushing against Mayor McClement on a whole host of issues. Those in the political know have long suspected she would run for mayor. Staff has been joking for four years that she thinks she has a mayoral birthright.


Karen Young is smart, really smart, and she has a penchant for research. What she doesn't have is the kind of warm, engaging back-slapper mentality so familiar in local politics. If her husband is a street level personality, Karen is the cloistered librarian. One has to wonder if her lecturing style will translate into votes.


That problem is exacerbated by at least one of her Democratic primary opponents, Del. Galen Clagett (D., 3A). Galen is an old-school politician, a business leader known more for his work in the smoky back room than on-the-record.


A former county commissioner, Galen has become a loyal soldier for the O'Malley Administration in Annapolis. When tough votes are needed in the House of Delegates, even on issues that might raise Frederick County voter eyebrows, Galen has cast the votes he was asked to take.


That record is subject to exploitation, particularly on economic and social issues that don't easily align with Frederick values. Mr. Clagett will need better answers than his typical good-old-boy aphorisms.


Next week, more on the field and a very preliminary handicap of the race.


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