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As Long as We Remember...

September 22, 2004

Who's In, Who's Out, Who Might, and Who Probably Won't!

John W. Ashbury

Everyone seems to be jumping into the "Who's In The Race" speculation about next year's Frederick City election. There are so many names making the rounds that it is possible there won't be a real winner after a bloodbath campaign for office.

Mayor Jennifer Dougherty has made it quite clear that she will seek a second term. But her management style has given rise to all the conjecture and the gossip.

It is almost certain that Aldermen Bill Hall and Dave Lenhart will retire from the City Hall arena when their term expires. But don't count them completely out until the filing deadline passes.

Alderman Joe Baldi has let it be known privately that he will seek the city' s top post in next year's election unless unforeseen circumstances arise. He will have been an alderman for 11 years when 2005 rolls around and he still hasn't learned to stand up for what it is he believes.

That is just part of the reason he's been labeled here as Jellyfish Joe. The other part is that he has all too often told some of his fellow aldermen that he will stand with them on an issue at a mayor and board meeting, and then reneges. He looks pathetic doing so. Examples are too many to cite just one here.

He can have all the reasons, excuses and explanations he wants for such behavior. But when his fellow elected officials believe it when he says he supports their position, and he doesn't follow through, then he has proved the accuracy of the label "Jellyfish Joe."

Joe Baldi is one of the truly nice people you will ever meet in public life. But his record of accomplishments is short and his John Kerry-like flip-flopping on issues makes one wonder exactly what he stands for. He lacks the backbone to withstand political pressure, especially when it is exerted by this mayor.

Former Mayors Jim Grimes and Ron Young have been mentioned prominently as potential candidates. But both suffer from the same fate. The city's charter, although thought by some to be ambiguous on the point, says that candidates must have been a resident of "Frederick" for the three years prior to the election.

Of course, reasonable people will assume "Frederick" to mean the city. But who knows how a judge might rule if a suit were brought to enable a candidate to run for mayor.

Press reports indicate that Mr. Grimes is itching for another scrap with Ms. Dougherty. But he caused his own downfall to a great extent. Again, Ms. Dougherty's management style would make a Grimes-Dougherty race far more interesting this time around.

And former Mayor Young repeatedly says he is asked to seek his old office again. But neither Mr. Young, nor Mr. Grimes has lived in the city for the past three consecutive years.

The press-generated speculation that County Commissioner Mike Cady was considering a run for the mayor's office was perhaps wishful thinking on somebody's part. Mr. Cady has frequently expressed an interest in being president of the Board of County Commissioners, and, although he is a city resident, he now says he isn't really interested in City Hall. And, for that matter, recent events have soured him on politics - though not altogether.

Perhaps the best qualified potential candidate for the mayor's position is Alan Imhoff - bar none. He has served in countless positions on numerous committees and commissions for both the city and the county and has received the praise of just about everyone connected with those posts for his thorough understanding of the issues and the thoughtful resolutions he proposes.

He has run unsuccessfully for office several times in the past, including the last mayoral race. Hopefully he has learned his lesson, and, if he decides to give it a go, he won't get bogged down in the details of an issue, but rather will play to the public's desire for a change from what they have.

Now for some other names that have not been in the forefront of speculation about this race.

Delegate Galen Clagett, a first-term member of the General Assembly but a two term county commissioner, would get the backing of the business community in a heartbeat. There are even reports that some business people have already mounted a war chest exceeding six figures.

The management style of Mr. Clagett and Ms. Dougherty aren't that far apart. The difference, mainly, is that we wouldn't have to suffer through all the machinations that have beset Ms. Dougherty through her first term. They just wouldn't happen with a Clagett administration. We wouldn't learn about any situation until it was over, or Mr. Clagett wanted us to know about it.

Lending credence to a possible Clagett run is the oft-expressed speculation that former Delegate Sue Hecht, a mentor and advisor to the current mayor, will seek her old seat in Annapolis now held by Mr. Clagett.

Evidence of Ms. Hecht's poorly-guarded secret is recent comments from both Mayor Dougherty and Commissioner Jan Gardner blasting Delegate Clagett on the one hand while voting for his proposal for the new northbound ramp from MD 26 to U.S. 15. Snide and catty remarks from each have supported a hidden agenda in the past, and there is no reason to believe otherwise here.

Just very recently another name has popped up and has gotten quality reviews from some in the know around town. Heather Price-Smith is the current city attorney. She will leave her post at the end of October.

The relationship between the mayor and the city attorney has been stormy to say the least. When Ms. Dougherty first became mayor there were many who felt Ms. Price-Smith was adjusting her interpretations of the law to fit whatever the mayor wanted. Of course, that was the view outside City Hall. Later it became the view among some of the aldermen.

When it became obvious that Ms. Price-Smith - and her legal advice - had taken a back seat to the mayor's father, a lawyer with vast legal experience, and she made it quite clear that she wasn't going to adjust her interpretation or bend the law to suit the mayor's wishes any longer. She began giving the mayor her legal advice - and cited sources - to the benefit of Frederick's citizens.

Not to long ago Ms. Price-Smith returned from medical leave and immediately had an intense and heated confrontation with the mayor. Three days later she resigned.

Her name is well known in the community. She would also pit woman against woman in a primary, which was an exciting element in the last mayoral race (Meta Nash v. Jennifer Dougherty).

But her positions on the issues are unknown. That's because as a lawyer she has been trained to keep her opinions to herself and to represent her "clients" - and their opinions - to the best of her ability.

And she, too, may fall victim to the city's residence requirement.

All in all, this is going to be a fun year in city politics. It's only about 13 months until we will know who the next mayor will be. Will it be a repeat of the past four years? Or will we have to adjust to another new management style, or one with which we are familiar but have forgotten?

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