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Featuring breaking political news and commentary on local, state, and national issues.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Few Surprises in City of Frederick Primary Election

 George Wenschhof

While there are some provisional and mail in ballots to be counted, the outcome of The City of Frederick primary election is pretty well set.  Incumbent Democratic mayor Michael O’Connor (2,221) beat challengers Jennifer Dougherty (1,499), Roger Wilson (1,078) and John Funderburk (280) and will move on to the November 2 general election and likely face Republican Steven Hammrick.

Hammrick is leading Steve Garrahy by 103 votes but with only 857 Republican ballots cast and counted so far it is unlikely Garrahy will be able to make up the difference from the remaining ballots counted on Monday September 20.  The city will certify the primary election on Tuesday September 21.

Jennifer Dougherty, a perennial candidate, first ran for mayor in 1993. She won in 2001 and lost her mayoral contests since then.  Adding to her political defeats was a run for county commissioner and state senate.  She attacked O’Connor for lack of leadership and called for aldermen elected by precincts.

Incumbent alderman Roger Wilson, who faced allegations of misconduct by multiple women and a call to resign by the Frederick County State Democratic Central Committee, failed to articulate his vision for the city and although he was the top fundraiser among Democratic mayoral candidates, came in a distant third.

In the Democratic primary where five alderman advance to the general election, the winners were Katie Nash (3,636) and incumbents Derek Shackelfor (3,356), Donna Kuzemchak (3,289), Kelly Russell (3,263) and Ben MacShane (2,886).

The one surprise in the Democratic alderman primary is newcomer Katie Nash, who lost in her previous run for alderman as Republican candidate.  She is poised to join former alderman Meta Nash (no relation) and current alderman Kelly Russell who were also Republicans who changed political parties to Democratic.  Katie Nash also led in fundraising among alderman candidates.

Democratic alderman candidates Chris Sparks (1,803) and Robert Van Rens (1,498) fell short in their first run for city office.

Only two Republicans, Robert Fischer and Michelle Shay ran for alderman and will move on to the general election.

Voter turnout continued to be low in the off year city election.  Mail-in balloting was used for the first time along with in-person early voting and one in person voting poll open on election day.

The total voter turnout for this primary, to be adjusted after Monday totals are added, was 16.7%.  This compares to 13.7% in 2017 primary, 15.84% in 2013 primary and 17.98% in 2009 primary.

A bright note was Democratic voter turnout increased from 14.38% in 2017 primary to 20.6% in this primary.  Advocates for mail-in balloting will highlight this increase. 

Although, I am an advocate for mail-in balloting, voter turnout continues to be very low for the city primary and general elections.

The general election voter turnout was in 2009 – 23.75%, 2013 - 23.53% and 2017 – 21.58%.

In a city with a population of 78,000, steps should be taken to increase voter turnout. Several thousand voters should not determine city elected officials.  I have long advocated moving the city election cycle to the presidential election cycle.  Not only would this change more than double voter turnout, it would save the city money.  I have also long called for alderman elected by precincts.

I remain hopeful mail-in balloting will increase voter turnout in the November 2, 2021 general election.  Mail-in balloting is easy with Drop Box options. With the Delta variant of covid-19 continuing to be a health threat, mail-in balloting is also a healthy alternative to in-person balloting.

Nonetheless, I urge the incoming mayor and board to appoint a committee to consider additional options to mail-in balloting that will increase voter turnout in future elections.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Time to Consider a County Police Department

George Wenschhof

George Wenschhof

After one term of charter government, an appointed charter review committee is considering recommendations to submit to the Frederick County Council for their review and consideration.  The council will decide what and if any changes will move forward as a referendum to voters on the 2022 election year ballot.

Frederick County Council president M.C. Keegan-Ayer has said in addition to the charter review committee, the council will be appointing a committee to review county elected official salaries and another to review county district boundaries.

A review would also be well advised on whether to create a county police department, an action taken by other large counties in the state.

Sheriff departments across the country were established initially to collect taxes and serve summons.  Today, some have evolved into full law enforcement agencies who also often serve as administrators of correctional facilities.

The sheriff often, as is the case in Frederick County, is an elected official with the criteria for a candidate to appear on the ballot typically being meeting an age requirement and a resident of the county.  The sheriff, being a “separate” elected official, is not answerable to the county executive or council.

As the county population and role of the sheriff department has grown, so has the budget to pay provided law enforcement services.  The funding for the sheriff department is provided by the county executive and council, creating an interesting and oftentimes frustrating situation where the county executive and council have no authority over the sheriff.  Further convoluting the relationship between county government and sheriff department is the county provides legal, human resources and other services to them.

The move by larger counties in Maryland and across the country to establish a county police force emanated from the desire to have the human resources department develop criteria (education and experience) a candidate must meet to be considered for hire as county police chief and to create a direct administrative line of responsibility between the county executive and police chief.  The county executive hires the county police chief with consent of the county council. Often, a county police department is established and a sheriff department remains that acts as the enforcement arm of the courts.

The county council should consider either tasking the existing charter review committee or creating another committee with reviewing the merits of a county police department. This would be worthwhile for county voters; a public discussion covering the pros and cons of establishing a county police department.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Biden Does Well, Warren Solidifies Her Second Place Standing

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Joe Biden

George Wenschhof

Vice President Joe Biden fired back at attackers and clearly illustrated the differences in his campaign and the other Democratic candidates for president.  The starkest difference is his campaign is focused on reality and not rhetoric.

Biden’s position to build on The Affordable Care Act passed under President Obama came across much more reasonable and less costly for taxpayers than the universal healthcare proposals put forward by Sen. Sanders and Warren.

On foreign policy, Biden also demonstrated his vast knowledge and experience over any of the other Democratic candidates.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), when called on, was clear and succinct and chose not to attack Biden.  She will continue to climb in the polls after this debate and solidify her second place standing.

On the other hand, Senator Bernie Sanders (Vt.) stumbled throughout and his hoarse voice did not serve him well.

Among the other seven candidates on the stage, it is doubtful anyone will climb in the polls.  Senator Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) came across reasonable when called upon, but the moments were few.  She could end up being considered for a running mate to the nominee.

Senator Cory Booker (NJ) also spoke well on race issues and should receive a bump along with Klobuchar in the polls.

Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke had a good performance, especially when it came to his position on gun control.  Banning assault weapons and the sale of high capacity ammunition clips is something 90 percent of Americans would like to see.

Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, polling at 2%, displayed his desperate situation with unnecessary attacks on Biden.  They were low blows delivered similar to what Senator Kamala Harris did in the first debate.  While that helped Harris gain attention briefly, she fell back to 5-7% in the polls in short order.  Do not look for a bump in the polls for Castro.

South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg continues to come across well when he was called upon and was correct when he scolded Castro for attacking Biden saying “this is what voters hate about politics.”

Senator Harris (Calf.) attempts at humor fell flat and she had difficulty defending her position on criminal reform and health care.

Business Andrew Yang showed why he should not be included in future debates, being weak on all issues.  His announcement gimmick that a handful of supporters will receive $1,000 a month for a year will likely run afoul of campaign finance regulations.

After this debate, this is still Biden’s campaign to lose and Warren has established she is the clear second place choice.  Sanders moment was clearly in the 2016 election – his fundraising will keep him in the race, but he is done.  Perhaps, if he endorsed Warren, there would be a serious challenge to Biden. 

O,Rourke, Klobuchar, Butigieg and Booker continue to impress at moments but fail to gain in polling.  Harris has failed to regain any of the momentary bump she received by attacking Biden in the first debate so her days in the campaign may be waning.

For Andrew Yang, it is time for him to exit the race - he is clearly not ready for prime time.

Friday, June 28, 2019

2020 Democratic Presidential Race Officially Underway

George Wenschhof
The first Democratic presidential candidate debate is over. Now candidate and media spin is frantically underway to influence voters.  One thing to keep in mind is this is June 2019 and the long road to the Democratic Party nomination will culminate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin during the Democratic National Convention held July 13-16, 2020.
That said, voters were still excited to listen to the candidates to help them determine who they will support who has the best chance to remove Donald Trump from the White House, their number one desire.
With 20 of the 25 announced candidates qualifying for the first debate, it created insurmountable obstacles for the moderators.  Splitting the debate into two nights with ten candidates each night helped in the logistics. But, it remained too many candidates on stage and difficult for voters to tune in for a two hour debate two nights in a row.
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) led by Tom Perez was more than generous by allowing candidates to appear in the first debate with the following guidelines: To qualify via polling, a candidate must reach 1 percent in at least three national or early-state polls from qualifying polling organizations. To qualify via donors, a candidate must have at least 65,000 unique donors with at least 200 donors in at least 20 different states.
I applaud the DNC for giving so many candidates the national exposure during the first debate.  However, reducing the field to the top seven candidates should be the goal following the next debate scheduled for July 30-31.  The same everyone gets on stage criteria as the first debate will be in place for the second debate scheduled in Detroit, Michigan televised by CNN.
It was also smart for the DNC to hold the first two debates in Florida and Michigan, two toss-up states Democrats look to win in 2020.
The candidates who helped themselves in the first debate, in no particular order of significance, are California Senator Kamala Harris, Former Housing Secretary Julian Castro, South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.  While Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey received the most air time the first night, it remains to be seen if he benefitted from this debate.  Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York did her best to get noticed but it was Kamala Harris’s night so Gillibrand may receive little to no bounce in polling.
I expect former vice president Joe Biden to remain the front runner, even though he had a performance similar to the one President Barack Obama had against Republican Mitt Romney prior to his second term.  I labeled that the “rope a dope” defense because Romney who was far behind in polling hammered Obama throughout that debate and Obama just took it.  The race would narrow following that debate fueled by Republican optimism after witnessing the drubbing given to Obama.  However, Obama would finish strong and ultimately win reelection.  It is way too early to count Biden out.  But, he definitely needs to retool his approach.  Look to see if he remains at 37% or drops when polling following the debate comes out.
Also, look to see Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont fall from his current second place polling position with Warren taking second place.  However, he will likely remain in the top five.
Sen. Kamala Harris should receive the biggest boost following this debate and arrive in the top five in polls.
Stay tuned.