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July 9, 2004

Who Says We Are the State's Second City?

Joe Volz

I moved to Frederick under the distinct impression that Frederick was Maryland's second largest city. After all, I had read it on the City of Frederick website,

And, paraphrasing that famous Santa letter to the New York Sun a century ago, "Mama says if you see it on the City of Frederick website, it has to be true."

So, imagine my discomfort when I read that page one story in the Frederick News-Post yesterday, to see this headline: "Frederick remains state's second largest city - sort of."

Sort of?

Either we are or we aren't. After all, the federal government just paid millions to take a census. We ought to have the facts.

Maybe, the News-Post, which doesn't get along with Mayor Jennifer Dougherty all that well, was just trying to embarrass the mayor a year before her re-election bid.

But there it was -- the list of all of the places that had larger populations than Frederick, including Columbia, the real number two at 88,000, compared to Frederick's modest 52,000. But also ahead of Frederick were Silver Spring, Dundalk, Wheaton, Germantown and Bethesda.

Despite a lot of people living in those places, none of them are "real" cities. It turns out that Frederick is an "incorporated" city and the rest of those spots are parts of a larger governing body. They have no city governing body or police force of their own. Silver Spring, Wheaton, Germantown and Bethesda are all sections of Montgomery County, for example.

The only difference I could find between being incorporated and not is that we Frederick folks have two tax bills - city and county - and we have a whole extra layer of government, such as a mayor and aldermen and police force. The Montgomery County-ites manage to survive under a county executive and county police force without a mayor or their own police force.

It is for you gentle reader to determine which is the best way to run things.

I myself am a proud city resident out in Worman's Mill, although I must confess that I am envious of the Frederick County residents a few blocks away who don't receive a city tax bill. My only hope is that the city will eventually annex their land and those folks will share my tax pain.

Anyhow, I hastened to our Frederick city website for an explanation of just how we can justify calling ourselves the second, instead of eighth land mass, in the state. But the website was still proudly proclaiming ourselves the second city - without explanation. It's all on that technicality that we are "incorporated."

I wouldn't be surprised to see one of those county politicians accuse the mayor and aldermen of committing a base canard by making the claim on such a narrow technical point. Maybe, County Commissioner Mike Cady, a Republican accused by the mayor, a Democrat, of being "a liar" because of his comments on the city-county water feud, might fire back. After all, isn't that second city claim a bit misleading? Most people want to know what is the second most populated area in the state.

My Montgomery friends have constantly disputed me when I said it was Frederick. They thought Silver Spring was bigger. Now I will have to tell them they were right. I was misled, victimized by a semantics fine point.

I had never lived in an incorporated city, other than Washington, which seemed to be run more by Congress than by the mayor. So, I didn't know what a real incorporated city was. Frankly, I was not aware of the significance of being "incorporated."

Well, I'll survive, I think. I do have a second city mentality. After all, I grew up in New Jersey. But living in the eighth largest municipality, gosh, I don't know.

I'll have to check with my favorite political barber, W.T. Mills, out on West Patrick Street, well within the city limits, to see what he thinks we ought to do about this problem. Maybe we need a task force.

Or, maybe a change in designation.

How about calling ourselves Frederick County's largest city, home of Fort Detrick, the nation's major bio-terror defense site.

We certainly don't want to tell anyone we are the home of the Frederick Keys these days. Those fellas are giving Francis Scott Key a bad name. They approach baseball with the skill of those original New York Mets that Jimmy Breslin immortalized in his book, "Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?"

Can't anybody here in Frederick count right?

Why don't we just admit that we are not the second largest city -- and how important is size anyhow?

I moved here because I wanted to move to small town America, get away from the crowds and crime of Washington.

Have any suggestions? E mail Joe Volz at

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