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Monday, November 14, 2016

The City of Frederick 2017 Election Buzz

George Wenschhof
George Wenschhof

No respite from politics for The City of Frederick voters following what may go down in history as the most raucous presidential election that clearly illustrated the deep divide in America.

Beginning soon, announcements by candidates for mayor and board of aldermen will begin to trickle out even though the deadline for candidates to file is not until July 3, 2017.  A petition candidate deadline is May 1, 2017.

The primary election will be held on September 12 and the general election will be on November 7, 2017.

There is growing frustration among voters with the current mayor and board who feel their city government, at best, has been status quo over the last 8 years under Republican mayor Randy McClement and a board of aldermen dominated by Democrats.

What is often said, is at least the mayor and board is free of the drama that existed during former Democratic mayor Jennifer Dougherty's administration.

However, there will be lots of issues that will receive discussion, among them and perhaps the main issue highlighted will be the lack of leadership displayed by nice guy mayor McClement. Also missing is a sense of togetherness and any vision for the future for the residents of what is now the second largest city in the state of Maryland.

The inability by the mayor and board to negotiate an extension of the baseball stadium lease would lead to a poorly executed Request for Proposals and the subsequent renaming of the field with less than artful signs, lack of job development for city residents, the shoddy handling of the downtown hotel/conference center development, little to no action on Blighted properties, another sloppy execution of a request for proposal on the extension of Monocacy Boulevard, a costly and unaffordable plan for the Hargett Farm park debacle, parking fine increases, hikes in water and sewer fees and removal of the bust of Roger Brooke Taney in front of city hall are all just a few of the issues sure to be discussed by candidates.

So what are the early rumors on who will enter the fray?  On the mayor side, Democrats already have several names that are surfacing.  Incumbent alderman Michael O’Connor has all but announced he will be running for the Democratic Party nomination.  His major obstacle will be he never differentiated himself from mayor McClement over the last seven years and if leadership is a skill he plans to run on, he has never shown it during his years in office.

Former one term and first woman mayor Jennifer Dougherty will likely run again.  She has been running since 1993 and has only won one time and that was back in 2001.  Likability is her biggest problem as is the fact she has been the Democratic spoiler in every race since 2005 when she was defeated in the Democratic primary. She became the first incumbent city mayor to be defeated by a candidate of her own party when another former mayor Ron Young defeated her.  She would not support Young in that general election and Republican Jeff Holtzinger would win.  In 2009 after losing to Jason Judd in the primary, she would again not support the Democratic nominee resulting in the election of Republican Randy McClement.  Apparently frustrated with the Democratic Party, Jennifer would run as an unaffiliated petition candidate in the 2013 election with former local reporter Katherine Heerbrandt helping her. Once again, she would split the vote, this time with Democratic candidate Karen Young, and leading to the reelection of Republican mayor Randy McClement. 

Reportedly, she will run as a Democrat this time.  All told, Dougherty is 1-7 in elections who in addition to losing 4 times for mayor also lost a bid for county commissioner and congress.  However, she is a tireless campaigner and would be competitive in this election.  

Another Democrat Roger Wilson, who received the plum job of county liaison to towns and municipalities by Jan Gardner when she was elected county executive has also given considerable thought to running for mayor. He ran for state delegate in the 2014 election and lost. His major problem is the optics of him running for mayor while being paid by taxpayers.  Because of this, the latest rumors have him rethinking and considering a run for alderman.  However, the optics problem remains and voters will not want a city alderman who is working in an appointed position with the county executive and as the county liaison to the city.  City-County agreements are often in front of the mayor and board for consideration, so remaining in his county position would be a difficult sell to voters wondering who he was representing, the city or the county?  His dilemma is to decide whether to give up a well paying position to run for city office.

It would not be a surprise to see downtown resident Peter Samuels jump into the race.  His dissatisfaction with what he refers to as the downtown hotel/conference center boondoggle might just be the catalyst to get him to run.

Former County commissioner and state delegate Galen Clagett’s name has also surfaced.  He ran for mayor 4 years ago and lost to Karen Young in the Democratic primary.  Throughout his time in office, he is known for getting things done so he may throw his hat in the ring when he sizes up the field.

A name that repeatedly pops up when I am talking to folks around town is Jim Racheff.  Jim is widely respected and someone who has been active in local Democratic politics.  He recently chaired the transition effort for county executive Jan Gardner, is chairing Gardner’s “Livable Frederick” Comprehensive Plan update and has served as chair of the city board of zoning appeals.  When I asked him recently if he would consider running, Jim told me his attention to his business would not allow him to do so.

City Democratic alderman Josh Bokee is another who is been talked about who will be entering the race for mayor.  He has let me know he will make his intention known prior to the end of the year. 

It is likely even more Democrats will come forward for mayor.
    
The question remains whether Republican Randy McClement will run again and if not, who will be the Republican candidate?  A rumor sure to stir up political buzz around town has Blaine Young moving to the city and running for mayor.  I heard this rumor immediately following the election of Republican Donald Trump as president.  Although said in jest, it is a type of move Blaine Young would make.  It is more likely, if McClement did not run for reelection; Republican alderman Phil Dacey would seek the job of mayor.

The buzz surrounding city alderman candidates will follow in another column.

Stay tuned.


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Shackelford Considers Run for City Alderman

George Wenschhof

Derek Shackelford
Last week I had the opportunity to sit down with Derek Shackelford and discuss The City of Frederick 2017 election.  He had run a strong race for alderman in the 2013 Democratic primary and fallen short.  I wanted to see if he had kept his enthusiasm for politics and his desire to serve he had exhibited four years ago.

Derek told me he was definitely considering another run for alderman and over the next two hour interview would share some of his views with me as we caught up.

He was proud of the doctorate degree in Theology and Public Policy he had earned from Wesley Theology Seminary located in the District of Columbia.  He is now affiliated with the nondenominational church Shiloh CC located in Baltimore, Maryland where he spends a few days a week.  Derek said he hopes to affiliate with a local church soon.

His full time job for the last ten years is with The Jefferson School, a Sheppard Pratt institution located in Frederick County, Maryland.  He shared with me he has enjoyed his time there working as an Alternative Learning Program (ALP) teacher with adolescent boys.

I asked how his family is doing and he shared his son and daughter are both growing up so fast. Derek said his wife is still working as an Analyst and their daughter is attending Morgan State University.

When we began to discuss the city, Derek said he would like to work on better communication between city government and the diverse population who often don’t feel they are being heard.  He would like to work at bringing what he called a fractured city together.

I asked Derek about the recent disclosure Wal-Mart had pulled out of their deal with the old Fredericktown Mall property and Derek said “I would like the city to work on where we go from here in regard to the Golden Mile”. 

He added “there are more businesses closing than opening out there and there also is a huge transient population in the area that needs to be addressed.” This led Derek to discuss the need for more affordable housing in Frederick

In regard to public safety, Derek said he had developed a good relationship with Ed Hartgis, the new Chief of Police, and supported his community policing approach to crime.

I sent Derek a follow up email with a question asking him about his position on the proposed downtown hotel/conference center.  He responded in an email saying “The question should be is how much is it going to cost the taxpayers, how much benefit will the city receive in return and will we get our return on investment. Some of this has been covered. How does this benefit our citizens of the city who have been or feel they have been neglected?”

When we talked about the upcoming city election, Derek shared with me he is pragmatic and understood the legislative role of the board of aldermen in city government.

He intends to make his decision prior to the end of the year on whether he is running because he realizes he needs to raise money. He added he would then begin reaching out and going to where the people are.

Dr. Derek Shackelford certainly has the attributes to be a credible and effective alderman.  His experience and strong knowledge of The City of Frederick will make him a competitive candidate.

Look to see him enter the race.

Stay tuned.


Editor’s note; City voters will elect a mayor and 5 aldermen who serve 4 year terms in 2017. The primary election will be held on September 12 and the General Election will fall on November 7, 2017.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Schmidt Will Not Run in 2017 City Election

Dave Schmidt
George Wenschhof

It was nearly four years ago when I interviewed Dave Schmidt who was running for alderman as a Republican in The City of Frederick 2013 election.  He would lose that election but stay involved in politics.

We kept in touch and I last saw him at the Frederick Pulse vigil.  I wanted to know if he intended to run again and hear why he had changed his political affiliation to Democrat.

At that encounter, Dave indicated he remained interested in running for alderman and promised to let me know when he made his decision.

Last week we would sit down and catch up.  I asked “why the party change”? Dave would tell me it was a culmination of an evolution of changes of ideas.  In particular he supported Democratic positions on social policy where he was a proponent for equality.  In addition, he believed an important goal for local government is to provide a safety net.

Dave also favored the increase in the water and sewer rates by Republican mayor Randy McClement who claimed the increases were necessary when the city began to implement state mandated changes. 

Interestingly, Dave would tell me he was having a discussion on this issue with a Republican friend who told him that his position made him a Democrat.  Dave told me he believes “clean water is important and of course, let’s raise the rates”.  He said after thinking about what his friend had told him, he changed his registration to Democrat.

Schmidt added he also likes and is comfortable with the Democratic members of the Frederick County Council.

He would then tell me he will not run in next year’s city election, but is not ruling out a run in the future.  A family owned business and family issues have his focus at the moment.

He also is enjoying being co-host with Pattee Brown on the local WFMD AM radio program Frederick Forum that airs from 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM on Saturdays. By taking his candidacy in the upcoming race off the table, he hopes to have a greater impact on the show.

I asked him “what issues he felt would impact the city election”? Dave said “I continue to support open primaries and district representation for aldermen”.  When I pressed him on the open primary election, he indicated he supported a hybrid election where everyone could run by party affiliation.  For example, he said the top two mayoral candidates would then advance to the General Election, regardless of their political affiliation.

Dave would name several other issues he felt might dominate the city election.  One issue is the planned downtown hotel/conference center that has been met with opposition.

Another is the disposition of the Hargett Farm, a costly acquisition by the city for a planned park that also has a costly development cost.

The announcement of Wal-Mart pulling out highlights the continued development fiasco of the former Fredericktown Mall property.  Dave told me that he feels people on that side of the city fell neglected.

Lastly, Dave told me he believes economic development is important for the city.

At the conclusion of the interview, I asked Dave if he had a favorite candidate for mayor.  It was intriguing to hear the recently turned Democrat tell me “I will support Republican mayor Randy McClement, if he runs again, adding he is a good friend”.


Stay tuned.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Kristopher Fair Committed to The City of Frederick

Kristopher Fair
George Wenschhof

The time flew by recently when I sat down and interviewed Kristopher Fair.  The 2017 City of Frederick election will soon be upon us and I had heard his name come up often in talk around town about possible aldermen candidates.

Many may know him for his lengthy experience in working with the highly successful annual Frederick Festival of the Arts, several of those years as the one in charge.  Others may also know him for his work with the LGBTQ community in Frederick.  He has been director of Frederick Pride and chairman of the board of The Frederick Center.

His extensive work with the Frederick County Democratic State Central Committee, including serving as vice chair and campaign manager in 2014, led to him earning the Democratic Volunteer of the Year award in 2015. 

Kris also has completed the nine month course “Leadership Frederick County” and was named “One of The People to Watch” by the Frederick Magazine in May of this year.

For over the last eight years, he has been general manger of the New York New York Salon, Inc. where recently he experienced learning all about the city land management code, zoning requirements and more.  The owner of the Salon purchased a vacant property that required many nuances to repurpose the use of the property.

When we began talking city politics, Kris told me he would not make a decision on whether he will run for alderman until after the national election.

He told me he is concerned with what he described as “a disconnect” with downtown Frederick and the rest of the city.  He would like to see equity of services throughout the city.  He mentioned the development of East Frederick Rising and the Golden Mile Alliance makes him feel there needs to be a central focus on the development of Frederick.

I asked him about the recent news that Wal-Mart had pulled out of their agreement for property on the Golden Mile.  Kris said he opposed the rezoning of the old Fredericktown Mall property for a Wal-Mart over three years ago.  He said he would like to build the identity of the community first and then move forward.

When I brought up the proposed downtown Hotel/Conference Center, Kris told me he loved the idea.  He felt it would “connect all the dots” by supporting downtown business, providing event space and also be located near the airport.

In regard to those who oppose the proposed public/private development, Kris said he believes “communication is the key” and he would encourage sitting down with those who oppose.  "While I certainly support the hotel and conference center, I believe things could have been done differently. Many individuals, who are concerned about the project, express the project has not been transparent. The solution is simple; bring everyone to the table and fully explain the project, its scope and impact. The city's role should be to dispel any misinformation and assumptions."

When I asked him about the “Bighted Property” issue in the city, Kris said “Blighted properties can affect crime rates, property values, and public safety. It’s a serious issue that needs to be addressed. I believe we should be scouring the country looking for best practices. We also should be partnering with our incredible entrepreneurs around the state. There are too sides to this conversation, the owner and a potential buyer. The city should be working both angles, working with the property owner on developing their site and helping identify potential buyers who may see the property as an investment opportunity.”

Kris also shared with me “many NAC meetings are filled with people concerned about speeding and their requests always seem to be the same, they want more speed cameras. The city should recognize that need the citizens in every major NAC are pushing for and identify what they need to bring in to address those fears, speed cameras, greater police presence, etc”.

In concluding the interview, Kris told me he believes strongly in equity and increasing the stature of how the city is viewed in the state.  Kris added he would like to see the city do a better job communicating what they do for and can do for our citizens.  For example, he would like to improve the city website to explain process for permitting, the Historic Preservation Committee and more.

The City of Frederick election is a year away and the tossing around of names of possible candidates will surely intensify, but Kristopher Fair will be one to watch.

Stay Tuned.