So you think you know Blaine Young?
The headline above this column is designed to elicit an immediate response. This is not rhetorical, as almost every person of voting age in Frederick County has an answer. That was the motivation for this two-part piece.
The issue is where and how did you acquire the knowledge? Was it from The Frederick News-Post coverage of the last four years? Maybe the editorial page, from numerous editorials or letters? How about from the televised proceedings of the Young-led Board of County Commissioners?
Regardless of the source, it’s safe to assume that the conclusions you've drawn about Blaine most likely come from some source other than the man himself. That was the purpose of this exercise in old-school journalism, to try to uncover the fundamental motivation and personality of one of the most controversial and high-profile local political personalities of the last few decades.
This is not an attempt to sway a voter one way or the other. One thing about someone like Blaine Young, he isn’t a mystery. Most of you already have your minds made up about him; he has that kind of impact on people. The purpose here is just to offer a different perspective than you might have gotten from reading local news or opinion pieces.
So, instead of just pontificating about him, this column results from a recent face-to-face interview, conducted over the course of an hour and a half at the Airport Café. Armed with questions and a notepad, it was easier than first envisioned to get Frederick’s Youngest Good Ole Boy to open up about his background, influences, political views and thoughts about the future.
Blaine’s background is an interesting mix of gym rat and political insider. It starts within a close knit extended family, with a loving Mom, sibling competition, and a father deeply involved in shaping a community. Blaine’s adoration for his mother Carol is obvious and genuine. She’s clearly always been there for him, and continues to be today. While his relationship with his father, former Frederick mayor and current state Senator Ron, is more complicated, it’s no less important.
In a poignant reflection on his high school years, Blaine talked about former Thomas Johnson High basketball coach (and current Hood coach) Tom Dickman. According to Blaine, he entered high school with a bit of a rebellious streak. Coach Dickman, a well-recognized spotter of raw basketball talent, pulled the young man aside and suggested he give basketball a try.
The invitation came with strings, though. In order to compete for the JV team, young Blaine would need to address his conduct and his academic standing. In a move that would later be reflected in his political efforts, Blaine focused his energies and complied with the coach’s demands.
His skills on the court and in the classroom exploded. He moved effortlessly through both JV and varsity ball at GTJHS, and his grades also reflected the results of his commitment to improvement.
It should be noted here that his motivation, tying basketball success to life success, is an amazing legacy for Coach Dickman. I know several successful men who tout Tom Dickman’s influence in helping them achieve great things.
Following TJ, Blaine matriculated at Frederick Community College, playing for incredibly successful basketball teams there as well. Finally obtaining a bachelor’s degree in communications from Frostburg, he emphasizes the role that Tom Dickman played initially. Along the way, he names a number of coaches, players and teachers who helped him navigate a complicated path.
As far as politics, his influences are as varied as his educational background. He cites three specifically. First, and most significant, is former state Del. James E. “Doc” McClellan. Blaine worked for Doc after graduating from college, and while he was employed as a substitute teacher in the Frederick County Public School system. Yes, you read that right. Blaine was employed for a time as both a substitute and long-term substitute classroom teacher. He lived in an attic apartment in the McClellan home, and he drove Doc around to his numerous appointments, meetings and strategy sessions. As an influential leader in local, regional and state politics, Doc had plenty of lessons to teach his protégé.
Following closely behind Doc McClellan was former state Sen. Charles Smelser. Doc and Senator Smelser were a powerful force in shaping the state budget, as Doc was chair of the Capital Budget Subcommittee in the House of Delegates, and Senator Smelser was a force on the Senate Budget & Taxation Committee.
Senator Smelser taught Blaine about the importance of keeping your word in politics. According to the senator, if you promised to do something, you’d damned well better do it! Doc stressed the importance of loyalty, especially to those who help you along the way. That will become a repeating pattern.
Finally, Blaine discussed his relationship with former Frederick Mayor Jim Grimes. Mr. Grimes has been both a political and professional influence for Blaine. On the professional side, Jim’s work ethic demonstrates the only proven path to success: work harder and smarter than the other guy. On the public sector side, Jim taught Blaine the importance of keeping connected to his constituents. Jim’s daily walks through downtown served as a training ground for Blaine, a lesson in the grip-and-grin necessary to learn what’s really happening from the people it’s happening to.
In next week’s column, Blaine responds to questions about how he feels when he’s the subject of personal attacks, what accomplishments he’s proudest of, and what initiatives he considers important for the first elected county executive in Frederick County’s history.