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February 2, 2007

Jennifer Dougherty Running Again?

Roy Meachum

In a recent column ("Seeming Apparition") I described an encounter on North Market Street. She looked remarkably like former Mayor Jennifer Dougherty. There was no way to confirm she was the real thing.

This woman actually smiled and nodded. During her time at the top of the city's power structure, the ex-mayor never did such things. Not in combination. A nod? When we discovered ourselves face-to-face: a rare happening. A smile? Hardly ever. The two together? Never.

But the vision on North Market Street that noon actually both smiled and nodded. But there was nothing I heard in reply to my booming: "Hello, Jennifer." My hearing aid might have failed to transmit.

When I recounted the peculiar happening to a politically knowledgeable friend, he looked surprised at my surprise. "Don't you know," he asked, "she's going to run for City Hall again?" I didn't. Thinking over this revelation made my scalp itch.

After all, Ms. Dougherty made history by becoming the first incumbent mayor to be rejected in the Democratic primaries. Paul Gordon might have met the same fate. There were signs, omens and mutters that he had alienated his best supporters.

On the other hand, Frederick's first female chief executive had brought closer her biggest supporters - including Mrs. Paul Gordon. As a group the usually Democratic flock defected to Republican Jeff Holtzinger in such numbers as to deny triumph for longtime Mayor Ron Young. Incidentally, the old county courthouse became City Hall during Mr. Young's last term.

Ms. Dougherty led the thrust for vengeance on the man who had defeated her in the primary, her public denials notwithstanding. To buttress her false claim, she let Mrs. Gordon do much of the "outside" work, but she reportedly was not averse to using the telephone.

Since I know party leaders knew of her attempt to negate the primary outcome, I couldn't believe she was warming up for the 2009 elections. Within Democratic ranks the ex-mayor received considerable blame for handing the city's top job over to a Republican.

Recognizing Ms. Dougherty's penchant for getting-even, it would be typical for her to try to make Jeff Holtzinger the second mayor in Frederick's modern history to be rejected after a single term: she's first, as I said.

On the other hand, Mr. Holtzinger might decide not to run again. He allowed as how he might move on at the end of his first term. Politics is costing the difference between his private income and the salary he receives as mayor. Then, there is the tension created for any public figure who has teen-aged children. He's fortunate to have a wife capable of handling their offspring while maintaining her nursing career. Pam Holtzinger is the kind of woman once complimented by allowing as how in addition to everything else "she could plow the south 40."

I admire a public official who can manage to keep internal affairs away from the media. Handling reporters' questions and responding to them by actions never made a lot of sense to me. Minding the citizens' business is more than a full-time job; soothing the media by handing out bits and scraps simply adds to the burden.

That's what Ms. Dougherty did, scheduling a regular press conference for most Tuesdays, whether or not she had anything new to say. Knowing only her brief chapter in city history, some journalists have tried to lambaste Mr. Holtzinger for not following her example. This attitude speaks more for their laziness than anything else.

The present mayor's chief critic wrote a column that appeared in Monday's News-Post, allowing Ms. Dougherty to grade her successor's administration. The mayor was right in dismissing her comments as lacking substance. Even more noteworthy was the public announcement that she is weighing the possibility of running again, which confirmed the earlier observation by my friend.

Ms. Dougherty used the space provided by the journalist who was her top media booster during her tenure in City Hall to fly a balloon, as the expression goes.

One prominent Democrat emailed me: "Do not assume Jennifer would win the primary." The gentleman went on to list her three losses in county and city elections. He furthermore speculated on the date of the primary in her sole winning year: September 11, 2001. Former Alderman Meta Nash lost by a slim 30 votes to Ms. Dougherty the day terrorists hit New York's twin towers.

And that was before the ex-mayor earned an unsavory reputation of ruling by trying to pit aldermen against one another.

In over 20 years spent commenting on local politics, I can't summon up any administration as fractious and mean-spirited as Jennifer Dougherty's four years in City Hall. Commissioner John "Lennie" Thompson was the sole rival, but his capability for cruel capriciousness was mitigated by other members of the county board.

Mayor Dougherty ruled alone according to charter revisions made late in Mr. Young's last term, which reduced the aldermen to virtual impotency. And then there was the way her lawyer father and brother encouraged her to push the envelope.

A vote for the lady also meant the male Doughertys would have access to City Hall power. Knowing how things really worked, I find amusement in the rush by feminists to line up behind a woman still dominated by the men in her family.

In trying to make sense of the columnist's rosy view of his favorite candidate seeking public office again, I'm inclined to believe that Ms. Dougherty is pushed by the ladies with whom she once shared a Lynnfield Event table.

In last fall's run-offs, Jan Gardner zoomed far ahead of her sometime tormenter, Mr. Thompson, to win the most votes for the county board. Earlier Marcia Hall and Donna Ramsburg easily received re-election as city aldermen. But in grabbing back her former delegate's spot, Sue Hecht looked like the comeback queen. The closeness between the delegate and Ms. Dougherty has been remarked upon before.

Trying to unseat state Sen. Alex Mooney in 2002, Ms. Hecht invited the then-mayor to march in Brunswick's annual 4th of July parade; they were both soundly booed, as a result. At Ms. Hecht's fundraiser that year, Ms. Dougherty received more time than any other speaker. The crowd's reaction left a lot to be desired; I was there.

If, as she stated to the very friendly columnist, Jennifer Dougherty is thinking about tossing her hat - and saloon - into the next city elections, she should think again.

Smiling and nodding at our chance encounter may have been a tentative step in re-establishing contact - after all I supported her first bid for the mayor's chair. Next time she should keep on walking: I remember the numerous people she hurt getting her selfish, selfish way during her four years in City Hall.


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