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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.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Shackelford Considers Run for City Alderman

George Wenschhof

Derek Shackelford
Last week I had the opportunity to sit down with Derek Shackelford and discuss The City of Frederick 2017 election.  He had run a strong race for alderman in the 2013 Democratic primary and fallen short.  I wanted to see if he had kept his enthusiasm for politics and his desire to serve he had exhibited four years ago.

Derek told me he was definitely considering another run for alderman and over the next two hour interview would share some of his views with me as we caught up.

He was proud of the doctorate degree in Theology and Public Policy he had earned from Wesley Theology Seminary located in the District of Columbia.  He is now affiliated with the nondenominational church Shiloh CC located in Baltimore, Maryland where he spends a few days a week.  Derek said he hopes to affiliate with a local church soon.

His full time job for the last ten years is with The Jefferson School, a Sheppard Pratt institution located in Frederick County, Maryland.  He shared with me he has enjoyed his time there working as an Alternative Learning Program (ALP) teacher with adolescent boys.

I asked how his family is doing and he shared his son and daughter are both growing up so fast. Derek said his wife is still working as an Analyst and their daughter is attending Morgan State University.

When we began to discuss the city, Derek said he would like to work on better communication between city government and the diverse population who often don’t feel they are being heard.  He would like to work at bringing what he called a fractured city together.

I asked Derek about the recent disclosure Wal-Mart had pulled out of their deal with the old Fredericktown Mall property and Derek said “I would like the city to work on where we go from here in regard to the Golden Mile”. 

He added “there are more businesses closing than opening out there and there also is a huge transient population in the area that needs to be addressed.” This led Derek to discuss the need for more affordable housing in Frederick

In regard to public safety, Derek said he had developed a good relationship with Ed Hartgis, the new Chief of Police, and supported his community policing approach to crime.

I sent Derek a follow up email with a question asking him about his position on the proposed downtown hotel/conference center.  He responded in an email saying “The question should be is how much is it going to cost the taxpayers, how much benefit will the city receive in return and will we get our return on investment. Some of this has been covered. How does this benefit our citizens of the city who have been or feel they have been neglected?”

When we talked about the upcoming city election, Derek shared with me he is pragmatic and understood the legislative role of the board of aldermen in city government.

He intends to make his decision prior to the end of the year on whether he is running because he realizes he needs to raise money. He added he would then begin reaching out and going to where the people are.

Dr. Derek Shackelford certainly has the attributes to be a credible and effective alderman.  His experience and strong knowledge of The City of Frederick will make him a competitive candidate.

Look to see him enter the race.

Stay tuned.

Editor’s note; City voters will elect a mayor and 5 aldermen who serve 4 year terms in 2017. The primary election will be held on September 12 and the General Election will fall on November 7, 2017.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Schmidt Will Not Run in 2017 City Election

Dave Schmidt
George Wenschhof

It was nearly four years ago when I interviewed Dave Schmidt who was running for alderman as a Republican in The City of Frederick 2013 election.  He would lose that election but stay involved in politics.

We kept in touch and I last saw him at the Frederick Pulse vigil.  I wanted to know if he intended to run again and hear why he had changed his political affiliation to Democrat.

At that encounter, Dave indicated he remained interested in running for alderman and promised to let me know when he made his decision.

Last week we would sit down and catch up.  I asked “why the party change”? Dave would tell me it was a culmination of an evolution of changes of ideas.  In particular he supported Democratic positions on social policy where he was a proponent for equality.  In addition, he believed an important goal for local government is to provide a safety net.

Dave also favored the increase in the water and sewer rates by Republican mayor Randy McClement who claimed the increases were necessary when the city began to implement state mandated changes. 

Interestingly, Dave would tell me he was having a discussion on this issue with a Republican friend who told him that his position made him a Democrat.  Dave told me he believes “clean water is important and of course, let’s raise the rates”.  He said after thinking about what his friend had told him, he changed his registration to Democrat.

Schmidt added he also likes and is comfortable with the Democratic members of the Frederick County Council.

He would then tell me he will not run in next year’s city election, but is not ruling out a run in the future.  A family owned business and family issues have his focus at the moment.

He also is enjoying being co-host with Pattee Brown on the local WFMD AM radio program Frederick Forum that airs from 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM on Saturdays. By taking his candidacy in the upcoming race off the table, he hopes to have a greater impact on the show.

I asked him “what issues he felt would impact the city election”? Dave said “I continue to support open primaries and district representation for aldermen”.  When I pressed him on the open primary election, he indicated he supported a hybrid election where everyone could run by party affiliation.  For example, he said the top two mayoral candidates would then advance to the General Election, regardless of their political affiliation.

Dave would name several other issues he felt might dominate the city election.  One issue is the planned downtown hotel/conference center that has been met with opposition.

Another is the disposition of the Hargett Farm, a costly acquisition by the city for a planned park that also has a costly development cost.

The announcement of Wal-Mart pulling out highlights the continued development fiasco of the former Fredericktown Mall property.  Dave told me that he feels people on that side of the city fell neglected.

Lastly, Dave told me he believes economic development is important for the city.

At the conclusion of the interview, I asked Dave if he had a favorite candidate for mayor.  It was intriguing to hear the recently turned Democrat tell me “I will support Republican mayor Randy McClement, if he runs again, adding he is a good friend”.

Stay tuned.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Kristopher Fair Committed to The City of Frederick

Kristopher Fair
George Wenschhof

The time flew by recently when I sat down and interviewed Kristopher Fair.  The 2017 City of Frederick election will soon be upon us and I had heard his name come up often in talk around town about possible aldermen candidates.

Many may know him for his lengthy experience in working with the highly successful annual Frederick Festival of the Arts, several of those years as the one in charge.  Others may also know him for his work with the LGBTQ community in Frederick.  He has been director of Frederick Pride and chairman of the board of The Frederick Center.

His extensive work with the Frederick County Democratic State Central Committee, including serving as vice chair and campaign manager in 2014, led to him earning the Democratic Volunteer of the Year award in 2015. 

Kris also has completed the nine month course “Leadership Frederick County” and was named “One of The People to Watch” by the Frederick Magazine in May of this year.

For over the last eight years, he has been general manger of the New York New York Salon, Inc. where recently he experienced learning all about the city land management code, zoning requirements and more.  The owner of the Salon purchased a vacant property that required many nuances to repurpose the use of the property.

When we began talking city politics, Kris told me he would not make a decision on whether he will run for alderman until after the national election.

He told me he is concerned with what he described as “a disconnect” with downtown Frederick and the rest of the city.  He would like to see equity of services throughout the city.  He mentioned the development of East Frederick Rising and the Golden Mile Alliance makes him feel there needs to be a central focus on the development of Frederick.

I asked him about the recent news that Wal-Mart had pulled out of their agreement for property on the Golden Mile.  Kris said he opposed the rezoning of the old Fredericktown Mall property for a Wal-Mart over three years ago.  He said he would like to build the identity of the community first and then move forward.

When I brought up the proposed downtown Hotel/Conference Center, Kris told me he loved the idea.  He felt it would “connect all the dots” by supporting downtown business, providing event space and also be located near the airport.

In regard to those who oppose the proposed public/private development, Kris said he believes “communication is the key” and he would encourage sitting down with those who oppose.  "While I certainly support the hotel and conference center, I believe things could have been done differently. Many individuals, who are concerned about the project, express the project has not been transparent. The solution is simple; bring everyone to the table and fully explain the project, its scope and impact. The city's role should be to dispel any misinformation and assumptions."

When I asked him about the “Bighted Property” issue in the city, Kris said “Blighted properties can affect crime rates, property values, and public safety. It’s a serious issue that needs to be addressed. I believe we should be scouring the country looking for best practices. We also should be partnering with our incredible entrepreneurs around the state. There are too sides to this conversation, the owner and a potential buyer. The city should be working both angles, working with the property owner on developing their site and helping identify potential buyers who may see the property as an investment opportunity.”

Kris also shared with me “many NAC meetings are filled with people concerned about speeding and their requests always seem to be the same, they want more speed cameras. The city should recognize that need the citizens in every major NAC are pushing for and identify what they need to bring in to address those fears, speed cameras, greater police presence, etc”.

In concluding the interview, Kris told me he believes strongly in equity and increasing the stature of how the city is viewed in the state.  Kris added he would like to see the city do a better job communicating what they do for and can do for our citizens.  For example, he would like to improve the city website to explain process for permitting, the Historic Preservation Committee and more.

The City of Frederick election is a year away and the tossing around of names of possible candidates will surely intensify, but Kristopher Fair will be one to watch.

Stay Tuned.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Frederick Pulse Vigil a Poignant Moment

George Wenschhof

Last Tuesday evening, I was one of a reported 1,000+ people who attended the candlelight vigil in Frederick. I was struck by the need for reasonable gun control legislation, recognizing LGBT rights and for acceptance of religious beliefs. All three would sadly converge at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.  The horrific tragedy that unfolded would leave 49 dead and many more injured.  It would shine the spotlight on the urgent need for legislative action on firearms and the continued work needed in helping us treat each other in a respectful manner.
Last Tuesday morning, although I had received a Facebook “Invite” from Kristopher Fair who was moderating the event, I was not planning to attend the Pulse Vigil in Frederick that evening. However, a visit to my primary care doctor in the morning changed my mind.  Dr. Syed Haque, who is the president of The Frederick County Muslim Council asked me to attend.  I had already read his column on the Pulse disaster published in the local paper condemning the action and he informed me he was a speaker at the vigil that evening. I told him I would of course attend.

The quickness of my answer to attend when Dr. Haque asked was due in large part because of the many Muslims in my medical team who literally saved my life in my battle with late stage colon cancer.  It was my primary care doctor who first suspected colon cancer, my gastroenterologist who confirmed my cancer with a colonoscopy and my Oncologist who administered my chemotherapy.  All are Muslim.  My oncologist would help me through the grueling six months of chemotherapy and continues to monitor me as does my gastroenterologist.  I would see several of them at the Frederick candlelight vigil.

It is possible my cardiologist, one of my surgeons and others who have provided medical care to me are also Muslim.  I do not know for sure because I never asked.  My concern with my medical team was and continues to be centered on their experience, their recommended treatment and their ability to keep me healthy.

Years ago the late David “Kip” Koontz moved to Frederick and approached me because he wanted to serve in public office.  I was actively involved in Democratic Party politics at that time.  I would treat him the same as I did the other Democratic candidates. He would eventually win and serve a term as an alderman with The City of Frederick.  He was the first openly gay candidate to hold office in Frederick.

When I was involved in the Maryland for Howard Dean presidential campaign, I would name Koontz as the Frederick County Dean campaign coordinator.  I did so, not because he was Gay, but because he was well suited for the position.

Recently, when I needed a ride to see one of my doctors, his partner was quick to volunteer to drive me, at one point telling me “We always appreciated you treating us fairly”.

I was fortunate to have been raised in a family devoid of bigotry and hate.  My late mother in her Will made sure I never forgot a story I had shared with her as a little boy.

She wrote “Remember when you were crossing to the Simpson’s, in deep snow and ice and a burly colored man came toward you, looking very mean? You said that, at first, you were afraid, and then as this man came close to you, he said “Be careful, boy, not to slip”, with great kindness in his voice.  You were nine years old. You said “Mother, in the top of my mind, I don’t like some people; but in the bottom of my mind, I love everyone”.  Do you remember this, George? I give to you what you already possess: love of and for others, and perfect fair play!”

I share the sadness for the loss of life in Orlando, the frustration and the call for action on gun control expressed by Reverends John Deckenback, Robert Apgar-Taylor, Anjel Scarborough, Carl Gregg and Rabbi Daniel Sikowitz during the Frederick vigil.

I am also thankful for their presence and the remarks given by Frederick County executive Jan Gardner (D), The City of Frederick mayor Randy McClement (R), and Frederick County Muslim Council president Dr. Syed Haque who denounced the horrific actions by the Muslim shooter in Orlando.

Kristopher Fair would do an excellent job moderating the event and I would like to give a shout out to Fredrick chief of police Edward Hargis and the police officers who were present.  They were extremely professional and although visible present, stayed in the periphery.  In addition, a correct decision was made to block off the section of W. Church Street between N. Market and N. Court Streets during the vigil.

It is also important to note the large crowd was equally mixed with straight and LGBT individuals who came together to mourn the senseless loss of life at the Pulse nightclub.

Too many mass shootings are taking place across America for congress to fail to act.  The United States has already experienced too many Newtown’s, Charleston’s, San Bernardino’s and Orlando’s mass shootings in recent years.

I grew up in Frederick County and hunted as a young boy.  Before, I went out to hunt, my parents sent me to the old Flair U.S. Army Reserve Center located on Rocky Springs Road to take a class on proper care of firearms.  I would use a single shot 20 gauge shotgun.  The only firearm I would ever own.

Reinstatement of the ban on the sale of assault weapons and high capacity ammunition clips is needed immediately.  I used to respect the National Rifle Association (NRA) as a young boy.  But I am disheartened listening to their rhetoric today.

Making it harder to obtain an assault weapon and high capacity ammunition clips should be a priority for congress.

After years of criminals using machine guns to wreck havoc and spread fear during the prohibition years, congress would ban the sale of machine guns in 1934.

Once again, it is time for congress to act.  This is an election year and voters should be asking their congressmen how they are going to vote on this issue.

The “No-Fly”, No-Buy” bill presently under consideration is a step but is not enough.  It is reasonable to expect that a suspected terrorist banned from getting on an airplane should also be banned from obtaining a firearm.

The last thing our country needs today are politicians who run for office flaming tensions by invoking fear and using bigotry. Discriminating against individuals based on religion, sex or sexual orientation is not a trait we should ever accept from our elected leaders.

We deserve better - Demand it and remember to vote in November.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Do Over Needed for Frederick Hotel/Conference Center

George Wenschhof

Sadly, the attempt by Mayor Randy McClement (R) of The City of Frederick to push forward the development of a downtown hotel/conference center has become a boondoggle of epic proportion.

In spite of the effort by proponents of this development to project a positive outcome resulting from the recently concluded Maryland general assembly session, no financing from the Maryland Stadium Authority (MSA) has been approved.  When reading reports of their hastily held press conference one would believe $16 million in state funds had been approved and it was full speed ahead for this development project.

Instead, what transpired in a convoluted manner, typical of action during the yearly legislative session, was the insertion of $1 million toward the project this year. However, the allocation of these funds is contingent on a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) being reached by all of the parties involved and the approval by Maryland Board of Public Works (BPW) for the use of MSA funds. 

In addition, the legislative wording included language requesting $7.5 million for each of the following fiscal years to be included by Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) in his budget.  Not only does the Governor have to include these funds in his next two budgets, but the availability of these funds is once again contingent on a new MOU and approval for the use of MSA funds for this hotel/conference center.

It has been reported the developer has said they will not move forward until they have received the full $16 million, which puts us at 2018 and counting, if funding requests are approved.

Since being elected mayor nearly seven years ago, McClement has repeatedly had the cart before the horse in what he has framed as his signature project for the city.

Over four years ago, when the city was requesting $1million from MSA, I published a column where I pointed out “there was no site or developer identified, an update on the feasibility study had not been done and the city contribution to the project had not been decided or shared with taxpayers”.

In a recent column I wrote with the city MSA request now around $17 million “Opponents have alluded the “fix” was in for this site owner and developer, pointed out contaminants were discovered during earlier environmental studies, are concerned over the outcome of a historic building on the site that once housed a tannery and have added the Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) proposed for this project has now been banned by California, the state that first used this creative financing 50 years ago”.

Now, with a new MOU required prior to review for approval of stadium authority funds by Maryland BPW, it is an opportunity for The City of Frederick to review, amend or possibly terminate the questionable deal they negotiated with the developer.

Prior to submitting any request to the Maryland Stadium Authority for funds and The City of Frederick agreeing to buy the land and partner with the developer in the conference center, the city should take several actions.

At a minimum, the city should require the developer to obtain financing, site plan and building permit approvals at their expense prior to agreeing to any other conditions.  If the developer does not agree to these terms, it may present the opportunity for a do over of the entire process.

If so, this would allow the city to start over with a new request for proposals (RFPs) process with parameters more acceptable and fair to taxpayers.

An update of the feasibility study of the need for a 207 room hotel and 24,000+/- square foot conference center should be done taking into account the privately funded Holiday Inn/Conference Center expansion is anticipated to be completed in early 2018.  The Holiday Inn/Conference Center expansion will have a total of 205 rooms with 30,000+/- square feet of conference space.  It also has easy access to interstates and an abundance of onsite parking making the demand for two large venues within miles of each other suspect.

After an updated feasibility study is completed, it is likely data would support a more appropriately sized 100 - 110 room hotel and 5,000+/- square foot conference center in downtown Frederick.

Interestingly, as the name implies, the stadium authority fund was started in 1986 to lure a football team back after the shock of losing the Colts in the middle of the night and the desire to keep the Orioles.  Professional baseball and football stadiums were subsequently built resulting in the Ravens coming to Baltimore and the Orioles staying in town.

Over the years, politicians began to use MSA funds on public/private development projects across Maryland with mixed results.

The use of stadium authority funds requires public involvement and some of these projects have been costly failures in Maryland. Across the country, there are countless failures of similar projects.  So in a do over, it would not be advisable for the city to request any funds from the Maryland Stadium Authority.

Ideally prior to issuing a new RFP, as I suggested 4 years ago, the city should hold a series of public workshops to determine what level of government participation is acceptable to taxpayers.  This should be spelled out in the new RFP process, a serious omission in what was done previously. Examples of what a city financial contribution could be is a one time several million dollar contribution or a waiver of taxes for the first 5-10 years.  However, the city contribution should be finite with a definite end and not include any ownership of the property or partnership in the project.

The acceptable geographic area to request RFPs should also be expanded in the downtown historic district.

All of the above steps would increase responses, likely produce a more suitable site and result in the desired positive impact to the historic district.

The fact the city only received 2 responses to their previous solicitation effort should have been an immediate signal, something was amiss.

Continuing forward with the present proposal will only result in a monumental quagmire for taxpayers for countless years to come.

The Maryland board of public works would be wise to not approve the current $1 million request and any subsequent funding requests without the developer providing financing approval, site plan approval and building permit approval.

Hopefully, the opportunity presents itself for The City of Frederick to start over and move forward with a hotel/conference center that makes sense for taxpayers and is more suitable for historic downtown Frederick.

If so, let’s hope they take advantage of the opportunity.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016


George Wenschhof
The announcement by Maryland U.S. Democratic senator Barbara Mikuski that she would not be running for reelection set off a momentous chain reaction among Democratic elected officials and activists.
On Tuesday April 26, primary election day in Maryland, voters will determine the outcome.
Democratic Representatives Chris Van Hollen (district 8) and Donna Edwards (district 4) are the front runners vying to become the heir apparent to Mikuski.  They are locked in a very tight primary battle with recent polling, when taking into account the margin of error, showing it is basically a tie.
There are still up to 18% undecided voters according to polls and they will determine who will win the Democratic primary. If past history is a good judge, the winner of the Democratic primary will easily go on to be elected the next U.S. senator in Maryland in November.
Both Van Hollen and Edwards would make an excellent U.S. senator and it is unfortunate Democratic voters will have to chose between the two of them and that one of them will no longer hold office.
The outcome may also be influence by voter turnout for Hillary Clinton who has been winning an overwhelming percentage of the African American vote, a strong voter demographic in Maryland.
My vote will go to Van Hollen who has been outstanding as a representative in Congress, leading me to once hope that one day with a Democratic majority he would become Speaker of the House.
An accomplished speaker, who is at ease in today’s 24 hour news cycle, his drive to be informed on all aspects of today’s politics with credibility in both domestic and foreign policy, makes him a perfect fit in the U.S. Senate.
Not surprisingly, the entry of Van Hollen and Edwards into the race for U.S. Senate, set off quite a chain reaction among Democrats aspiring to serve in Congress.
Today, I will look at the gerrymandered district 8 race that drew eight well qualified Democratic candidates battling to win the Van Hollen congressional seat.  Maryland state delegates, a state senator, a millionaire businessman, a former news broadcaster, and candidates with extensive government experience make up the Democratic field of candidates.
The winner in this Democratic primary will also very likely win the General Election.
Once again, this race is difficult for voters to decide from among such a well qualified field of candidates.
The front runners are state senator Jamie Raskin, David Trone and Kathleen Matthews. Although state delegates Ana Sol Guitierrez and Kumar Barve, David Anderson, Joel Rubin and William Jawando will each receive votes, none are expected to exceed a single digit percentage.
Raskin has the best grassroots organization among the candidates and his campaign fundraising in most races would be considered strong.  However the entry by Matthews and Trone has made this a contest between Potomac money and grassroots support.
David Trone, by his own admission has spent nearly $10 million of his own money in his self funded campaign and Kathleen Matthews who is the wife of political commentator Chris Matthews has also raised considerable funds for this congressional seat.
All three are well qualified and will be competitive. As a result, on Tuesday it is likely the winner will emerge from this race with a plurality of 35-40% and not a majority of the vote.
The get out the vote effort by the campaigns and how the undecided voters swing will also impact the outcome of this election.
While, I am concerned with the amount of money spent by Trone in this campaign and believe strongly in the need for campaign finance reform, I found him to be reasonable and sincere. I found myself mostly agreeing with his positions on pivotal issues when I interviewed him.
Matthew’s time spent as a television news anchor also has her well informed on the issues facing voters.
However, it is Raskin who has a proven record on supporting a pathway to citizenship, proposing effective gun safety laws, supporting renewable energy, fighting against fracking in Maryland and supporting an increase in the minimum wage to $12 an hour.
I am glad I do not vote in this district because the choice is so difficult.
Look to see Raskin emerge as the winner in this closely contested race.
As always, voters have the final say – If you have not already taken advantage of early voting, go vote on April 26th!
Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016


George Wenschhof
Recently, voters in Maryland’s 8th congressional district have been introduced to Democratic candidate David Trone by way of a series of compelling television spots and direct mail. Some of the televised spots depicted have been his growing up on the family farm, his father losing the farm, the growing of his successful Total Wine & More business, his caring for his employees and how he is self funding his campaign.
Sitting down and interviewing him recently at Beans & Bagels in Frederick, I found him to be straight forward and focused on winning the 8th district congressional seat.
He grew up on a chicken farm in nearby Berlin, Pennsylvania.  After, his father lost the farm, David told me he would make money by helping farmers sell their eggs to distributors using a pay phone as his office.
David would go on to Wharton business school and start his business which has grown to 150 stores in 21 states that had $2.5 Billion is sales last year. He shared he has been married for 28 years and they have four children.
His experience with politics is not new and he shared with me he had held fundraisers at his home for President Obama that raised $850,000 and one for the 2014 Democratic candidate for Maryland Governor, Anthony Brown that raised $1.2 million.
The announcement by Maryland U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D) she would not seek reelection set off a series of domino like actions among elected officials in Maryland. Including, the announcement by Chris Van Hollen (D), the current Representative in the 8th district, he would run for the Maryland U.S. Senate seat to be vacated by Barbara Mikulski.
This has led to 9 Democrats running for the 8th district seat.  The pundit frontrunners are state senator Jamie Raskin and Marriott executive Kathleen Matthews, followed by state delegates Kumar Barve and Ana-Sol Gutierrez.  Will Jawando, Joel Rubin, David Anderson and Dan Bolling are the others.
I asked David Trone why he was running and why he entered the race so late.  His answer was quick and one you might expect from a successful businessman, “I want to get things done”.
He acknowledged his late entry and the pundit thoughts on the race and said that the timing was right for him to run for office, saying he had just hired a CEO to run his business.  He told me he is not accepting contributions higher than $10 and is self funding his campaign.
When I asked if he had a favorite for president, Trone told me Hillary Clinton.
We would talk about many issues and his knowledge of Maryland politics.  A friend of Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot (D), he hired Andrew Friedson, who accompanied him to this interview, from Franchot’s office to be his senior campaign adviser.
I mentioned I had read his position on 20 issues he had displayed on his campaign website,, asking him “what was the most important issue to him”?
He said “the federal budget and tax reform”.  He added he supports higher taxes to the wealthy, saying “I do not have a problem paying more taxes”.  Trone said he also supports the Infrastructure Bank proposal put forward by Maryland representative John Delaney (D) to help rebuild the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. I asked David if he supports the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal proposed by President Obama and he said he did.
Job creation was also among the first issues Trone mentioned to me.  Trone also wants to double the $31 Billion funding of the National Institute of Health (NIH) saying this is one of the premier places in the world.
Education was also important to Trone who supports universal pre-k and free college tuition to students in exchange for 5 years of public service.
On gun violence Trone supports background checks and reinstating the federal assault weapons ban.  He also supports police body cameras.
Trone also supports a women’s right to choose and equal pay for equal work.
In regard to social security, he supports raising the cap on income taxed.  When it came to energy, Trone felt all federal buildings should be energy efficient.
We discussed the gerrymandering that created the convoluted 8th district in Maryland where 13% of the district is in rural areas in Frederick and Carroll counties and the rest in Montgomery County.  Trone told me he supports election reform and an end to gerrymandering, adding districts should follow the natural lines of communities.
I would not get to an in depth discussion on foreign policy with my only question coming as he was leaving. I asked if he felt U.S. ground troops would be needed in the battle with ISIS and he replied “It may be necessary”.
I found David Trone to be a sincere man who was direct with his answers who also listened to the thoughts I shared.  I took note he took time to have a conversation with Richard Jackson who owns Beans & Bagels upon his arrival to be interviewed by me.  Richard and his wife live in the 8thdistrict and when I informed Rich I would be interviewing Trone at his Deli, Rich wrote up a series of questions for me to ask him.
I had informed Trone about the list of questions when we first sat down to begin the interview, but time flew by without me asking them.  I was struck by Trone reminding me of the questions Rich had given me and asked if I would send them to Andrew. He said he would answer and send back to me so I could give to Rich.
He then headed off to other scheduled meetings and to visit volunteers in his Frederick and Carroll county offices.
The Maryland primary is April 26.
Stay tuned.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Weir Wants More Public Input on Downtown Hotel

George Wenschhof

Jane Weir recently agreed to my request for an interview about her concerns about the proposed downtown hotel/conference center located along Carroll Creek in the historic district of The City of Frederick.

A quick and brief history of this project is the idea to have a hotel located in the historic district of The City of Frederick has been around for over 30 years.  In fact, it was during the time Maryland state senator Ron Young (D) was mayor, all those years ago, the thought to build a downtown hotel was discussed for the first time.  It was at this time Young would embrace the idea to build the downtown flood control project and develop the adjoining property similar to San Antonio’s acclaimed River Walk.

Decades later, with the flood control project mostly complete, development has finally begun to take place along Carroll Creek. There is currently a mix of residential and commercial buildings. As is the case of many commercial developments, which are subject to economic whims, there has been some turnover with opening and closings of restaurants since the buildings were first built.

Since being elected mayor, Mayor Randy McClement (R) made the building of a downtown hotel/conference center the signature project of his administration.  The idea of a hotel/convention center was scrapped years ago when it was realized the infrastructure was just not there and would be too difficult to create to provide support such a large venue.  Since that time, hotel/conference center has been used.

Mayor McClement has found the going tough as he has attempted to move this project forward. Four years ago, I published a column after the city aldermen had voted to approve a “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) with the state stadium authority for the amount of $1 million toward the building of a downtown hotel/conference center.  A MOU is often used by municipalities to put forward a funding request to the state legislature.

At that time, there was no site selected, no builder identified and no agreement on what the city incentives would be, including who would own the land after the hotel/conference center was built.

In my column four years ago, Maryland state delegate Galen Clagett (D) would advocate for an increase in the hotel tax and for the city to own the land where the hotel would be built.

At that time, Ron Young, who is now a Maryland state senator told me “asking county hotels to pay for competition does not make sense to me and he would not support it.”  The hotel tax increase would not pass.

Today, the site has been identified, a developer identified and a new “Memorandum of Understanding” with the state stadium authority has been approved by the city aldermen. The project is now being billed a public/private venture with nearly 50% of the financing coming from government funding sources which includes a raise of the county hotel tax and the use of a tax incremental funding (T.I.F.) district for the project.

I asked Jane, who lives in Middletown with her husband, why she was raising questions about the proposed hotel/conference center when she doesn’t live here. I also asked her what first got her involved in interacting with government, adding I had often seen a personal experience get someone involved in advocating for or against something.

Jane said her first frustrating experience with government was with the approval over a year ago of the Valley School adjacent to the home where she and her husband live in Middletown.  Se told me by the time she was aware of what was happening, it was too late for her impact the approval. 

Jane said me she and her husband moved to Frederick County over 15 years ago and feels Frederick is beautiful, adding “it is what made us move here. In regard to her questions surrounding the proposed hotel/conference center she added “we pay county and state taxes that will go toward this”.

Jane would tell me she felt this would impact everyone including the small business owners in the historic district who make it so special.

She first became aware of the proposed hotel/conference center when she saw a rendering of the project on Facebook.  Jane told me “I was shocked and did not like it!”

Jane said she wrote a message to Frederick County executive Jan Gardner (D) on her Facebook page saying she was really concerned about this, adding “it is scary looking”.

Since then, Jane said she has had a frustrating experience dealing with elected officials and staff when she has tried to get information on the details of what is being proposed to be built and the Memorandum of Understanding recently agreed to by the city aldermen.

Jane said she had read a great book entitled “Convention Center Follies” written by Heywood T. Sanders where he debunks how convention centers will spur urban economic development. She had communicated with elected officials asking them to read this book and was discouraged when she did not receive a response.

Jane told me she would reach out to several people including Janice Wiles, former director of “Friends of Frederick County”, Kim Mellon, and Jack Lynch a former candidate for mayor and aldermen, to help her set up a Facebook page so she could get information out to the public.  She was concerned others would find out too late, just as she had in regard to the approval process for the Valley School next to her home.

When I informed her, the city must have had workshops on this subject prior to voting for approval, she said the workshops were during the day and questioned how many people could attend them.

When I asked her what she did not like about the project, Jane said “the location is bad, that out of the 6 potential sites I read about, this one is the least desirable”.  She would add she felt it was too close to the historic district, and the large imposing design would dominate the area. She is also concerned about potential of it being a toxic site and questioned whether taxpayers would be responsible to remediate the site.  In addition, Jane was concerned the outcome of structures on the proposed site, one of which had been used by for a Tannery.

I would conclude the interview by asking her “What would you like to see at this point?”  Jane said she would like to see the process slow down. She added “I would like to see a process where the general public in the city and county could have an open dialogue with a public question and answer forum”. 

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


George Wenschhof
budotis.fwThe time went by quickly recently when I sat down with Frederick County council president Bud Otis (R).  In fact, I ran over by fifteen minutes the hour he had set aside for my interview.
We spoke about a lot of issues ranging from his 12 years as chief of staff for former Maryland district 6 Representative Roscoe Bartlett (R), to the proposed ethics ordinance, growth, education, and his relationship with other council members.
While we were not able to cover in depth all of the issues we discussed or even get to all of the issues I wanted to discuss, it was obvious he wants to provide good service to his constituents.  Otis told me this is a carry over of what he often found himself doing during his years working with Congressman Bartlett.
Interestingly, his election as president of the council came with the support of the three Democrats on the council with the other three Republicans supporting council member Billy Shreve (R).
Otis told me he had received close to 4,000 more votes than Shreve, but it was Shreve who was a former member of the board of county commissioners who wanted to be president of the council.
Obviously, a deal was reached where the Democrats on the council would support Otis and Democrat M.C. Keegan-Ayer would become vice president.
I mentioned to him voters were tired of the polarizing politics of Washington and Otis told me “It is not going to be polarizing here.  I’m not going to let it happen”.  He added “voters did not bring us here to argue every day; they elected us to get things done”.
I mentioned the majority of the 4-3 votes to date had found him voting with the Democrats. I added this was likely in part to the previous feud between Jan Gardner (D) and Republicans Blaine Young, Billy Shreve and Kirby Delauter.
I also brought up the recent council vote where an applicant was first approved for a county hook up for subdivision purposes and then later another vote was taken and the applicant was denied.  The applicant received testimony from former Maryland state delegate Galen Clagett on their behalf. Otis said he believed what had been presented and cast his vote in approval.  Later, after receiving information from county staff that provided contrary information, Otis brought the matter back for a vote and changed his vote to deny the applicant.  Otis told me “I did what I thought was right”.
We agreed it was no secret Clagett and Gardner did not share affection for each other.
The implementation of charter government in Frederick County saw the voters elect Jan Gardner (D) over Blaine Young (R) as county executive. They would also elect Republican holdovers from the former board of commissioners Shreve and Delauter.
I stated some of the differences today come from their relationship with Gardner.  I asked if their role as former commissioner and now as a council member also contributed to some differences.  Otis said yes, previously they had administrative responsibilities and now they are a member of the legislative body.  He added when he would discuss the implementation of charter with others who had changed to charter earlier in the state, this was a common issue that would come up with council members who had previously served as a county commissioner.
Bud said “I meet with executive Gardner every Thursday to hash out issues and I have an open door policy with the other council members”.  He added he has reached out to council members Shreve and Delauter and told them he is willing to meet with them as needed.
I asked Bud “What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment in the first year of charter?” and he said “laying down the foundation of how the council will operate”.  He told me there was very little of a blueprint from the charter document so they needed to set up policies and procedures to get the government up and running.  Otis added, “It was important to set up how to process Bills, make amendments and get Bills passed”.
During my interview I also brought up the do-over vote for the Monrovia Town Center, the proposed Ethics Bill, impact fees, education and the budget.  Unfortunately, we did not have time to discuss these issues in depth.
Otis declined to go into depth in regard to the action to re-hear the approval process of the Monrovia Town Center development, referring me to a letter (this letter was sent to me after the interview) he and council members M.C. Keegan-Ayer, Jessica Fitzwater and Jerry Donald had written.  He did add “I want this (the new review) to be an open and transparent process”.
In regard to the proposed Ethics Bill, I brought up that council member Delauter’s company doing work with the county had been an issue among many and Otis told me the bill “would not allow a council member to contract with the county.  However, a council member’s company could be a subcontractor”.  He added “the subpoena power of the council was left in the bill and citizens have a right to know their elected officials are above reproach”.
When I brought up the budget process and in particular education, Otis asked his assistant to provide me the calendar.  I received this after the interview and notice the council receives the budget from the executive in April and will approve in May.
I did ask Otis about the recent flap over the hiring of a budget analyst for the council to help them with the budget review.  He said since there was not consensus over the hiring of a former budget director, who since has removed himself from consideration, the job was being advertised as a short term position.
I followed up asking if he felt the council should take a look at how other councils in the state had organized their staffs and propose an organization chart for the council. Otis said no, he was concerned with the cost of staff, was pleased with the aides the council members have at present and did not want to add full time staff.
In regard to education, Otis said “I have a strong commitment to the school system and I am concerned Frederick County teacher salaries are rated so low in the state”.
Otis also has concerns for the small local home builder when it comes to the proposed increase in impact fees by executive Gardner, but is committed to construction of additional schools to relieve over crowded schools such as Hillcrest Elementary.  He added he is hopeful he will be able to announce a favorable outcome to this issue in the near future.
I concluded by asking him what were his goals for the next three years.  He told me “I want to make sure the county has a solid financial foundation, expand job opportunities, reduce the number of commuters, make sure teachers are paid right, that new schools are built as needed and to make sure the growth we get is done at the right pace”.
Stay tuned.