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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Democratic Mayoral primary: a "pick-em” race

George Wenschhof

Karen Young
Galen Clagett
With, less than a week to go until primary election day on September 10, the Democratic mayoral primary in The City of Frederick election is a “pick-em” race between two heavyweight and long time local political families.

Both the Karen Young and Galen Clagett campaigns separately shared with me recently they had seen surveys that showed a large number of undecided voters equaling close to 33% and this coming with less than three weeks to go to the primary election on September 10.

These numbers at this time in the race signal a close election.  On the other hand, a majority of those undecided voters could break for one candidate at the last moment, resulting in a more clear victory.  So, the get out the vote effort by the campaigns will be crucial to the winning candidate.

Galen Clagett, who owns Clagett Enterprises, Inc., served two terms on the Frederick board of county commissioners, one as president and has also served three terms as a Maryland state delegate representing district 3-a.

Karen Young, a city alderman and former businesswoman is married to Maryland state senator Ron Young who served four terms as mayor of the city.

A third Democratic candidate; American Sign Language (ASL) user Carol Hirsch is considered a political neophyte and is not expected to serious compete with Young and Clagett.

Hirsch does deserve considerable recognition for breaking the barrier and becoming the first ASL user to run for mayor in the city.  When, I interviewed Carol, she expressed that conservation of energy and the environment were important issues for her campaign.

One of the main reasons given for the record number of candidates challenging incumbent Republican mayor Randy McClement is his lack of leadership ability and his failure to articulate a vision for the city.

The two leading contenders for the Democratic nomination; Galen and Karen have strong business and government experience combined with a solid knowledge of community based organizations resulting from years of working with them.

Karen told me in a recent interview what differentiates us (speaking of her and Galen) “is our perspective of the future. We need to do things differently from the past and we need to be more innovative.”

With 30% growth projected over the next 17 years for Frederick, Karen shared with me “we need a more proactive plan on how and where we grow so we don’t become a more congested community.”

She added “there is a metropolitan revolution occurring in America and we can’t count on D.C. and Annapolis to solve our problem.”

Karen said she will provide visionary leadership and strategic planning that will increase levels of transparency that includes input from citizens, businesses, and institutions along with cooperation from all levels of government.

Clagett filed for mayor after hearing Maryland comptroller Peter Franchot, whose seat he wanted, was running for re-election. Franchot had toyed with the idea of running for Governor and if he had followed through, Galen made it known he would run for Comptroller.

At the Neighborhood Advisory Council candidate forum held at Lincoln Elementary school, city resident Jack Topchik asked Galen; “Why he wanted to be mayor?”  Jack told me Galen responded by saying “He emphasized his experience, his desire to avoid having to commute any longer to Annapolis, and his desire to conclude work on Frederick projects he had initiated.”

In a previous interview I had with Galen “he rattled off his efforts to support a downtown hotel/conference center, his efforts to secure state funding for the construction of Frederick High School, the Rt. 15/Monocacy Interchange, his support of development of the city airport, the Carroll Creek project and his desire to put the Hargett farm to a reasonable use for the city.”

Galen further pointed to his 26 years as a business owner combined with his 20 years of being an elected official and 13 year as an educator. He feels this puts him in a unique position compared to any of the other candidates running for mayor.

He added “His work model is not to wait and see, but to weigh in and get the job done”.  Galen told me his favorite quote comes from President Harry Truman who once said “the worst decision is no decision”. Galen said he has lived his life in business and in politics following this philosophy; “by making decisions and moving forward."

The primary campaign between Galen and Karen has at times taken on the familiar too much growth v. sustainable growth theme that has surrounded Frederick County politics over the last twenty plus years.

Karen picked up the support of former Frederick board of county commissioners President Jan Gardner, a proponent of smart growth and former state delegate Sue Hecht, who both have had long standing issues with Clagett.

Supporters of Karen Young were also quick to point out the connections the Clagett campaign had with developers and “developer friendly” elected officials. The Clagett campaign signs atop Yellow Cab owned, in part, by Republican President of the Frederick board of county commissioners Blaine Young were denounced as soon as they appeared.

In addition, the campaign contribution made by Clagett Enterprises, Inc. to Blaine Young in his 2010 campaign became widely known.

When the first candidate campaign reports were filed, I immediately noticed numerous donations coming from different entities using the same address, whose aggregate total way exceeded the $2,500 campaign donation limit per person or entity.

While the donations did not appear to violate regulations surrounding campaign contributions, both the Clagett and Young campaigns received donations in this manner. 

The Clagett campaign received $30,000 from entities associated with two local developers; Marvin Ausherman and Pleasants Construction.

The Young campaign received $7,500 from entities associated with John Fitzgerald, a local businessman.

Karen shared with me 64% of her campaign contributions came from individuals and 36% from business. She added the Clagett campaign received 67.3% from Developers/Real Estate, 17.8% from Individuals, 10.3% from political campaigns/PAC and 4.6% from Business.

The two campaigns have also exhibited a different approach to campaigning, with Clagett utilizing paid polls to provide him with information on trends of the voters and also relying on campaign mailers to get his message out to voters.

Karen, aided by her husband Ron and volunteers focused on door to door meeting with constituents and saved the majority of her campaign fund for media buys prior to the election.

Overall, both Karen and Galen have exhibited strong leadership qualities that would serve the city well over the next four years as mayor.

Heavily favored Democratic candidates for mayor lost in the 2005 and 2009 elections due, in part, to political party infighting.

It will be pivotal to the success of the Democratic Party nominee they receive party unity in the general election.  This is especially crucial given the general election, for the first time, will include an unaffiliated candidate.  The inclusion of Jennifer Dougherty as an unaffiliated candidate will give voters a choice between three candidates for mayor.

Stay tuned.


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