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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.

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