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Monday, July 29, 2013

Who will be the next mayor?

George Wenschhof

City Hall
The City of Frederick primary election is only six weeks away and with the off year election promising a dismal voter turnout of less than twenty-five percent, the likelihood of an unaffiliated mayor being elected is higher than one would initially expect.

It is possible, disgruntled voters who were supporters of a losing candidate in the primary election, will turn to the unaffiliated candidate, instead of their party nominee in the general election.

With such low voter turnout and city voters having a choice between three candidates for mayor in November, anything can happen.

Republican mayor Randy McClement has drawn, what is believed to be, the most crowded field of candidates for mayor ever in a city election.

Another first is three women running for mayor with the possibility they could face each other in the general election held on November 5.

The prevalent explanations one hears for such a large field of contenders for mayor is; McClement has shown little leadership, provided no vision for the future of the city and in general acted more like a “caretaker” while serving his first term in office.

A total of seven candidates are vying to be mayor; three Democrats, three Republicans and one Unaffiliated.  The Republican and Democratic candidates will face a primary on September 10. 

While many believe the winner who emerges will be the candidate who is stongest on the issues, often in local political contests, it is personal history that influences voters. 

Former Democratic one term mayor Jennifer Dougherty, is running for the fifth time for mayor and this time it is as a unaffiliated candidate.  She will not have a primary and will face winners of the Republican and Democratic primaries in the general election.

The number one question I receive from city voters, which I hear numerous times a day, is; “who do I believe is going to win?”

My reply is typically the same; “there are too many moving parts and different scenarios that could play out to pick a winner” – the bottom line is it is hard to call at this point.

The Republican primary will include another former one term mayor; Jeff Holtzinger and alderman Shelley Aloi running against McClement.

Holtzinger is sure to be battered with the questionable decisions made during his administration to approve the costly and dubious “employee buy-out” and purchase of the Hargett Farm for a municipal park. 

In addition, the manner in which he claims to meet the city mayoral candidate residency requirement, has received scrutiny from many Republican voters, who do not support him.

Holtzinger has been critical of the slow pace McClement has taken in moving forward on pivotal infrastructure projects, such as the completion of Monocacy Boulevard.

His entry into the Republican primary may help McClement survive a three way primary that includes Aloi.  Alderman Aloi has made no secret of her distain for the manner McClement has conducted himself during his first term, telling me “the city cannot take four more years of him”.

Throughout her first term as alderman, Aloi was critical of McClement, most recently, over his reaching agreement with city police on pension funding she believes the city cannot afford.

On the Democratic side, their primary is shaping up to be a battle between two strong local political families with alderman Karen Young facing off against Maryland state delegate Galen Clagett. 

Interestingly, in what promises to be a close race, votes pulled by newcomer Carol Hirsch, may determine the winner in the Democratic primary.

Many have opined it was Democratic infighting that led to wins by Republican mayoral candidates in the last two elections, even though there is a Democratic voter registration advantage in the city.

In 2005, it was Ron Young who challenged and beat incumbent Jennifer Dougherty.  He would go on to lose a close race to Jeff Holtzinger, with many saying it was angry Dougherty supporters who enabled Holtzinger to win.

Four years later, Jennifer would lose again in the primary, this time to newcomer Jason Judd who received the support of Ron Young. In the general election, Judd would lose another close contest to Randy McClement, who many believed received the support of unhappy Dougherty voters and from Galen Clagett, who did not support growth policies espoused by Judd.

Tom Slater, former long term chair of the Frederick County state Democratic Central Committee shared with me his thoughts on what was shaping up to be a close contest between Karen Young and Galen Clagett.

Slater told me "based on his record in Annapolis, Galen has been a progressive and a strong supporter of the Democratic party. I would also add that he has strong management skills."

Slater, who is supporting Clagett for mayor, said there is certainly a split among some Democrats and in a broad sense is centered on growth issues. He also felt there remains bad feelings among some Democratic voters from the last city election who perceived Galen did not support the Democratic candidate for mayor; Jason Judd, who lost in a close race to Republican mayor Randy McClement.

He added it was well known there have been long standing issues between Galen and former county commissioner Jan Gardner (D) and former state delegate Sue Hecht (D), both of whom are expected to support Karen Young for mayor.

Clagett detractors often bring up to me it is also no secret that Clagett Enterprises, owned by Galen, contributed to Republican Blaine Young’s Frederick County commissioner campaign in the 2010 election.

When I asked Clagett about the donation, in a recent interview, he said “… it was a business decision made by the corporate board and the discussion was centered on improving the business climate of Frederick County.”

Many believe Karen Young has been running for mayor ever since winning the most votes for alderman in the 2009 election.

Karen's supporters say she works harder than anyone they know, will thoroughly research an issue before taking a position, has a strong financial background and would be a good manager.

Her constant disagreements with Mayor McClement often led her to align her votes with Republican alderman Shelley Aloi, leaving her at times in disagreement with her fellow three Democrats on the board.

In addition, some voters believe Karen developed a reputation of being somewhat caustic when discussing her opinion on the issues.

The lone unaffiliated candidate; Jennifer Dougherty, another candidate who has received the “caustic” label from some voters, is receiving a free pass to the general election, which is both a positive and a negative.

The positive is she faces no opposition until after the primary election and can save her campaign funds for when it is needed prior to the general election.

The negative for Jennifer is this is the fifth straight election she has run for mayor and outside of the uniqueness of her running as an unaffiliated candidate; she has received little media attention due to her not participating in the primary election. (Editor correction: this marks her fourth straight city election.  Dougherty ran in 1993, 2001, 2005, 2009 and 2013, but not in 1997.)

She will have her loyal supporters, but in order to win, even in a three way race, she will need to pull from Democratic and Republican voters.

So far, I have interviewed mayoral candidates; Republican Mayor Randy McClement, Maryland state delegate Galen Clagett (D) and alderman Karen Young (D).  Next up is Jennifer Dougherty as I hope to interview all the city candidates prior to the election.

As one can readily see, there are many moving parts to this mayoral election, with past history and interpersonal relations likely to have as much impact on the outcome as a candidate’s position on current issues most important to voters.

Voters would be well served to read candidate interviews, visit their websites and attend forums prior to casting their vote.

Stay tuned.


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