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As Long as We Remember...

January 26, 2005

Angry Voters Loom on the Horizon

Edward Lulie III

There are dark and foreboding storm clouds forming around the next City of Frederick election. Voters are angry and energized. Candidates running in this climate stand an excellent chance of either catching lightning or being vaporized by it.

Frederick mayor’s chances of re-election are much worse than the chances of lightning hitting your TV during the Super Bowl; much worse. You may recall that it was not by skill or charisma that she was elected, she won by default; voters were tired of Mayor James S. Grimes running the city like he ran his own business, and they wanted a change.

After she was elected, voters just wanted her to be quiet and competent; a mayor who did not generate controversy. Instead she was vocal, abrasive and active. She chose to publicly endorse Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and other sterling leftist candidates.

While that might have been just fine down in Georgetown or Tacoma Park, in Frederick it was politically unwise. The mayor is what is now called a “blue state” person, and she lives in an overwhelmingly “red state” region. To survive in a “red state” region like Frederick a “blue state” politician has to have an incredible special interest base or world class camouflage; the mayor has neither, instead she has been a vocal and outspoken political disaster.

That sets the stage for the next election and, of course, here comes the fun for us “pundits” (or “pun-idiots” as the case may be). With the right funding and proper handler to guide him, Alfred E. Newman (of Mad magazine fame) could easily win the next election for mayor.

Mayor Jennifer Dougherty is now the definition of the word “vulnerable.” So the initial jockeying over selecting a candidate that gets to run over her ( ahh, I mean against her) is fast and furious.

It now appears that former Mayor Ron Young wants to run. He can only do so if the city changes the rules. His home, though now within the city, has not been for the required three years, so he doesn’t meet charter requirements.

Don’t bet on the generosity of rival politicians to change that rule; selfless political decisions are noteworthy largely for their rarity. But the city’s Board of Aldermen did just that last week by a 3-2 vote. The mayor immediately “vetoed” that measure, a move that is sure to face additional challenges.

Ron was a successful and innovative mayor who has been unequaled since his tenure. He lost his bid for reelection for several reasons, but, in part, because he had attached himself too closely to the powers that rule Annapolis and lost touch with some in his base here in Frederick.

Ron Young could win election this time, too; but only if heeds this advice; that he NOT be seen as being friendly to growth. His son Blaine, who sometimes writes for The Tentacle and frequently opines over at WFMD, has fire in his eyes and thunder in his soul when he condemns “No Growth-ers.” I understand, while not entirely agreeing, with what he means.

The county and city needs to grow to keep economically viable. What Blaine fails to appreciate is the degree to which voters are angry. City and county residents watching sprawl devour the remaining farmland, as well as the rural character of Frederick County, are steaming mad; angry doesn’t begin to describe the depth of their feeling.

Many of the angriest are those that moved up here from Montgomery County to get away from the taxes, traffic and overcrowding. They do not want to move again. They are unhappy, motivated and they will vote. They are already mentally standing in line, eager to vote against anyone they see as “pro-growth”. Politicians that continue to ignore this depth of feeling (often claiming that these voters brought the problems with them when they moved here) will be getting a shock when Election Day comes.

Look at the county commissioners; who was it that won the most votes last election? Lenny Thompson. A prominent columnist frequently used his columns to rail against Lenny (unwittingly helping Mr. Thompson with every diatribe and rant). Insiders pooh-poohed Lenny as out of touch. Yet it was not Lenny that was out of touch. Developers might despise him as a no-growth-er but while he is perhaps a slow growth-er, he is very popular.

Had voters had more choices – and clearer ones, they probably would not have elected commissioners as favorable to developers as they did. None of those got as many votes as Lenny did. When the next election rolls around, anti-growth sentiment will be at record levels. Voters won’t want to hear about economic necessity, degrees of growth etc. If you get labeled as pro-growth, you will be fighting a steep uphill battle.

Having been a part of the political process that allowed the city’s sprawl to happen is not an advantage. Understanding what makes government work is not going to be a boost to one’s image with the voters. If you want to win you must convince voters that you will do whatever you can to stop sprawl.

Among insiders and developers there is a lot of talk about process and economics; angry voters are dismissed as disgruntled “no-growth-ers.” They share a common belief that voters will listen to their version of reality; to their reasoning that growth is good.

That may be delusional thinking because, as I see it, voters are not in the mood to listen. Voters are angry; they are frustrated with increasing assessments, over-crowded schools and jammed highways. In Frederick they are steaming over reduced services and increased fees.

A candidate that taps that current of feeling could ride to victory, even without having a lot of dollars to run the campaign. Lenny did. A mayoral candidate could do it, too, even without credentials, governmental experience, or the backing of developers.

The one thing that seems certain is that the present mayor will not be getting a second term; barring, of course, that mid-winter lightning strike.

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