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Monday, September 28, 2009

All's Quiet in the City of Frederick, Md. Election

George Wenschhof

This election for mayor and board of alderman in the City of Frederick, Maryland continues to exhibit the characteristics of a movie you could not stay awake long enough to watch. The "yawner" resulted in only 18% of the registered Democrats and Republicans casting their votes on September 15, the day of the primary. Final official results can be read here.

Many of the residents like to claim the City of Frederick as being the second largest city in the state, but few chose to exercise their right to vote.

I have been a long proponent of moving the election to coincide with the presidential elections which will more than double the expected 30-35% general election turnout, while also allowing for schools to be used for polling locations.

However, it is what it is, so why is no one paying attention? Federal, state and local governments are feeling the crunch of the worldwide recession and there is little doubt the City of Frederick will be facing revenue shortfalls during the next administration.

Dealing with growth related problems such as congested and clogged roadways, sewer and water capacity, sustainability issues, sufficient fire and rescue services and over crowded schools doesn't seem to inspire a trip to the polls by the residents impacted.

Most of the candidates campaigned vigorously during the primary and the results were not surprising as the final field was set for the general election. However, the era of the door-to-door campaign may be coming to an end. A candidate that relies solely on this method to reach the voters will not likely receive the intended results. Door-to-door campaigning can be done with little or no funds (other than the cost of copied literature) and be novel as you sometimes actually talk with voters.

However, many voters tell me they are annoyed with the constant door knocking and would prefer more of a "meet and greet" or town hall setting. The ability of a candidate to personally reach the almost 32,000 registered city voters is also difficult today.

Brochures and Flyers mailed to voters are also very effective as a candidate can target voters with an effective voter file manager. The fund raising success of a candidate will be important as it takes money to deliver their message to the voter in means other than door-to-door.

The Jason Judd campaign combined a little of all of the above effectively. They led all candidates in fund raising, did many of the "meet and greets" in which a voter invites friends over to their home to meet the candidate, did some organized door-to-door lit drops and also some direct mail. While the Jennifer Dougherty campaign, perhaps due to low funds, concentrated on daily door-to-door efforts. Whether you supported Ms. Dougherty or not, you have to admire her work ethic as she seemingly went door-to-door every day.

Yet, throughout the primary, neither Democratic candidate for mayor attacked the other on any issue. The Judd campaign did a little questioning of tax hikes which occurred during the previous Dougherty administration. In addition, they tried to get (to no avail) some traction from the city sale of the old "Carmacks" building on North Market Street during the Dougherty administration to a developer who has done somewhat of a facelift to the building but has not leased it out. It never received much traction due to the fact the previous Republican James S. Grimes administration had purchased the "white elephant" and had a sale default prior to the Dougherty administration selling the building and the city benefit by receiving property taxes.

The Dougherty campaign, perhaps wary of how tough attacks on an inexperienced opponent would be perceived coming from her, stuck to a tactic of tearing down the record of Republican Mayor Jeff Holtzinger. The problem of that tactic was Holtzinger dropped out of the race and trying to focus on the issues and being nice did not work for Ms. Dougherty.

We are now five weeks away from Election Day and the only fireworks so far has come from the local Republican Central Committee who questioned the relationship of Jason Judd with the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and SEIU. I hardly found this to be a surprise. Instead, I wondered why it took so long for this to be asked and why the Judd campaign was not prepared for an answer to the question.

Mr. Judd has worked for unions and the Services Employees International Union since the end of his education years, gaining valuable experience in working with others while supporting positions on issues that have benefited working men and women. ACORN did work as did the SEIU on several similar issues including advocacy on neighborhood safety, health care, voter registration and affordable housing. While certain individuals of ACORN have come under fire due to questionable actions, it is not an accurate reflection of the overall work performed by the organization, nor a reflection of the work performed by the SEIU.

Some voters in The City of Frederick and Frederick County have long been opposed to unions of any sort so the fact this experience of Mr. Judd has been brought up is no surprise to me. Mr. Judd has been quoted as saying he would not support city employees forming a union. I would prefer he say that he supports city employees having the right to make their own decision in regard to the forming of and their participation in a union.

Another question Mr Judd should be prepared to answer or be proactive and give his position on is in regard to the Employee Free Choice Act, more commonly referred to as the card-check bill. It is currently on the back burner in Congress due to the attention being given to health care reform.

Unions have played an important role in the lives of working men and women over the years from creating child labor laws, workplace safety laws, fair wages and more. There is nothing embarrassing or shameful for the work experience that has been gained by Mr. Judd. In fact, it aids him as he looks to manage the services provided by government at the local level.

The only other issue capturing some attention is the recent annexations of three properties into the city by the mayor and board. I asked the Democratic candidates for mayor and alderman their positions on these annexations when I interviewed them live online. You can read their answers by clicking on the Interview links provided in the right hand margin of my Home Page.

If you read the interviews, you will see the Democratic candidates were not in agreement in regard to these annexations. However, this did not become an issue in the primary election. Ms. Dougherty took a laissez-faire approach, saying the decision would be made prior to her taking office. Mr. Judd spoke of the need to take care of older neighborhoods first before the city spread out with new growth.

The Democratic alderman candidates who moved on to the general election were split on the annexations with Karen Young, Carol Krimm, and Donna Kuzemchak in favor and Michael O'Connor opposed. Kelly Russell was not asked this question and she was unable to contact me prior to publishing this article.

In fact, Mr. O'Connor indicated he would support a petition drive if it was started and it has been with Frederick County Commissioner Kai Hagen leading the way. Recent comments from Frederick County Commissioner President Jan Gardner also clearly points out the displeasure Frederick County Government have with the annexations. All of which indicate the need for regional and intergovernmental planning as we grow in the future - a subject for a future column.

One of the questions I asked the mayoral candidates was if they favored creating an Intergovernmental Relations Director position and no one indicated their support for the position. I believe it to be a critical position as relations between the city, county, state and federal government will improve as a result. The recent annexation squabble is but one example of how this position could have been helpful. In addition, the position would aid in bringing needed funds to the city.

So, with five weeks to go until the election, stay tuned. I will keep you posted when the mayoral and alderman forums will be held next month.


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