At-Large County Council Races
So far, we’ve examined the races for Maryland governor, as well as that for Frederick county executive. Now for a look at the more local, rubber-meets-the-road offices at Winchester Hall.
In the At-Large Council races, Democrats find a handful of heavyweights and newcomers vying to represent the whole county. The County Charter document created two At-Large seats in order to avoid parochial voting majorities. Presumably these two at-large office holders will maintain a wider perspective than those elected within specific representative districts.
For the Democrats, the two most recognizable names couldn’t offer a more distinctly different set of political perspectives. Kai Hagan, a former County Commissioner from the Thurmont area, probably made the logical call and recognized that his inherently progressive perspective made election within his own district a longshot at best. By running at-large, he opens up the Democrat voter vault in the City of Frederick as well as pockets of Democrat and moderate, no-growth Republicans in southeast Frederick County.
His ideological opposite, within his own party, is former County Commissioner and state Delegate Galen Clagett. Mr. Clagett has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of county government, having served as president of a past board, and principal architect of past efforts to elect a home-rule charter.
Messrs. Hagan and Clagett have tangled over whether Galen has always exhibited the proper level of political purity. That seems important to Kai. It remains to be seen if it is equally important to primary voters.
On issues associated with growth and land development, these two couldn’t possibly be farther apart. Galen has developed and coordinated large scale successful developments, while Kai focuses his harshest criticism on those exact same projects. Case in point being the Jefferson Technology Park.
The Democrats also have two exciting newcomers vying for the two open seats. Mark Long, owner of a respected Thurmont-based home inspection business and a vocal advocate for progressive causes, is making an at-large bid after an unsuccessful run for the District 5 seat for years ago. Also running is Kavonte Duckett, probably the most progressive, and certainly the youngest) of the Democrat candidates. Mr. Duckett is well-known for his very effective work as a student body leader during his academic experience at both Tuscarora High and Frederick Community College.
Making another run at a council seat is Susan Reeder Jessee, daughter of beloved former County Commissioner Bruce Reeder. No doubt Ms. Reeder Jessee stresses her maiden name, as the association with her father’s reputation of the last of the great local Blue Dog Democrats could help her along. Like Mr. Clagett, Ms. Reeder Jessee finds herself a moderate amidst a sea of progressives. The big unanswered question is whether the far-left wing of the Democrat Party has squeezed out these candidates.
For the Republicans, the at-large candidate field also mixes familiar names with less well-known candidates. Phil Dacey, a one-term member of the Frederick Board of Aldermen, long ago read the political tea leaves and decided to pursue his interest in politics without depending on the city voter base. Given the clean sweep of Democrats in every elected office in the city last year, he made the right choice. A frequent criticism is his relatively high level of absenteeism from city meetings during his term of office.
Another familiar name is that of SoldierFit CEO Danny Farrar. A hard-charging Army veteran, former Montgomery County career firefighter, and now successful regional fitness chain leader, Mr. Farrar has both the presence and credentials to mount a successful at-large candidacy. He is known as much for what he isn’t, since he isn’t a typical GOP candidate for office. He sports full-sleeve tattoos, and rides a beautiful Harley motorcycle around town. In the upcoming election cycle, that lack of predictability and convention may be his biggest strength. The fact that he clearly understands how to build and operate a large scale business will help, too.
Joining him on the GOP ballot is Jason Miller, a former member and officer of the Republican Central Committee of Frederick. Jason, like Danny, served his nation in the armed forces, and has a family background of public service. Mr. Miller looks, sounds and acts like a very conservative Republican in all aspects.
Finally, Justin Kiska is running for an at-large seat. His name has been on a ballot before, but at the city and state level. He helps run the family business, Way Off Broadway dinner theater on the Golden Mile. His background includes work for a GOP senator (North Carolina’s Elizabeth Dole), as well as years of credible work on trying to help revitalize the Route 40 retail corridor on the Golden Mile Alliance. He’s proven his ability to reach across political and cultural boundaries, skills that would no doubt help the council.
In a puzzling political twist, current Council President Bud Otis is gathering signatures for a write-in candidacy to keep his at-large council seat. Mr. Otis was faulted initially for siding with the Democrats on the council after seeking office as a conservative Republican. The criticism became so frequent that he changed his affiliation to Unaffiliated.
As of this writing, it’s not known whether he has obtained the required number of signatures to have his name on the ballot. Regardless, write-in campaigns are a challenge. The lack of support from the party “machine” requires a write-in candidate to compensate with hard work and lots of volunteers. Frederick political history is littered with unsuccessful write-in campaigns.