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January 17, 2014

Frederick Politics, Just Like the Rest

Joe Charlebois

Just when you think you live in the most idyllic county outside of the “swamp” that doubles for our nation’s capital, think again. The serenity of Frederick County belies the downright nastiness of our current county political climate.


In fact, Frederick County may be no different than any other area of the country.


Frederick County has recently approved a charter form of government that will give birth to our first county executive and seven-member county council. Five of the seven members will be elected by district while the other two will be elected at-large. Nearly two out of three Frederick County voters approved the adoption of a charter form of government which will give Frederick greater autonomy in the future direction of the county. Previously many pieces of legislation would have had to be approved by Maryland’s General Assembly.


Just as the polarization of electorate has coalesced over the past few decades on the national scene, the political climate in Frederick County itself has left the realm of cooperative governance to outright hostility.


Much is at stake for both Democrats and Republicans as Frederick County – which has been a “bedroom” community for Washington – continues to boom in population growth. According to the 1990 U.S. Census, Frederick County recorded a population of 150,208. This figure ranked Frederick County seventh out of 23 counties in regards to the size of its population.


According to 2009 estimates from the Maryland State Data Center’s Department of Planning, Frederick is projected to more than double its population between 1990 and 2030. The Department of Planning forecasts that by 2030 there will be 331,000 residents of Frederick County which will make it the fifth largest county in Maryland. Frederick would rank behind only Montgomery, Prince George’s, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties.


With Frederick’s move from a commissioner style of government – with weak powers – to a charter government – with a powerful executive – the rush is on to determine who will become the first county executive.


As of this writing only one candidate has officially filed papers for the job. Former president of the Board of County Commissioners, Jan Gardner (D., Frederick), filed her candidacy papers in November of 2013. In fact, only one person has filed for councilman through today – that being Christopher Mason (R., Frederick) for the District 3 slot.


On the “Republican” side stands Commissioner David Gray (R., Walkersville). Mr. Gray announced that he would be running for the county executive position but has yet to file.


It is curious as to why Mr. Gray threw his hat into the ring. After all he was by Ms. Gardner’s side with several Democrat leaders back in November when she gave her announcement speech at Frederick’s Winchester Hall. Mr. Gray is anything but serious about his attempts to be the county’s first elected executive. He must know that just about anyone that enters the race on the Republican side of the primary ticket would soundly defeat him.


The most likely candidate to fill the Republican ticket would, of course, be current President of Board of County Commissioners Blaine Young (R., Monrovia). Mr. Young is unarguably the most polarizing politician that Frederick County has seen in the past 20 years. He is the host of WFMD/930AM’s popular drive-time program “Mid-Maryland Live” and is a local business owner. His desire to make the county fiscally sound through what many perceive as drastic cuts have brought him both praise and derision. With his foray into the gubernatorial race done, many believe that he would turn his sights to the county executive position. If he did he would easily defeat Mr. Gray and would undoubtedly face Ms. Gardner in the general election.


The sharp knives have come out for Mr. Young to discourage any attempt to run. His former gubernatorial advisor Patrick Allen has attempted to smear Mr. Young with charges of unethical behavior. The county’s Ethics Commission reviewed his complaint and dismissed the request as Mr. Allen’s charges were merely speculation and rumor.


The other attempt to derail Mr. Young is the entrance of Mr. Gray into the race. As mentioned before, Mr. Gray really has no realistic chance of winning the Republican primary against Mr. Young, but what his entrance into the race effectively does is put Mr. Young out of work. If Mr. Young enters the race, he would no longer be able to host his afternoon radio program. The station would be required to allow equal-time for all Republican candidates, something that would be logistically impossible.


As Frederick begins to carry more political weight, the power that is the political big leagues has stepped in to fight over the future of Frederick.


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