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The Tentacle


July 29, 2005

Clever politics

Roy Meachum

In what appears a sea of Jennifer Dougherty yellow signs, it's refreshing to find scattered here and there a few of GOP mayoral hopeful Joe Baldi's trademark bowtie messages. Otherwise, the incumbent rules Frederick's yards.

Her vociferous supporters jump with glee; they view the triumph of the signs as yet one more manifestation of her capacity for moving ahead, when her detractors are content to lollygag about. They would argue here's another proof of Ms. Dougherty's talent for making the "right" decision.

Her fellow Democrat Galen Clagett might disagree. When Mr. Clagett's first race for delegate went down in flames, he accepted the possibility he had been too quick to try and smother the opposition. His posters, signs and billboards magically appeared on the first day they were legally permitted. It was a helluva show!

At the time, the foray was viewed as another demonstration from the former educator who took to politics with the announced intention of conquering all. At the time I arrived in Frederick, he was the reigning king of the ballot box. Having beaten out every other county commissioner wannabe, he reigned over Winchester Hall as board president.

Mr. Clagett made little secret of his ambition to cap his career by succeeding to Western Maryland's congressional seat. And until that 1986 campaign he seemed well on track. After the surplus of hubris and overweening self-confidence, it took him 16 years to win another election. He hopes to still be hanging around Annapolis as a delegate when his first term runs out next year.

Shortly after Jennifer Dougherty landed in City Hall, her supporters let it be known she would be available to run for Congress; she managed to wangle a very smart pro from Sen. Barbara Mikulski's staff to improve the odds. That was not the only other point she shared with Mr. Clagett.

As the current mayor, the one-time commissioners' president built a reputation for swift and stinging retaliation against anyone who questioned his means or motives. To his credit, the former principal was much better at working with his fellow politicians; he brought into the public eye little of the poisoned bile that floods City Hall.

Another difference: Mr. Clagett punctiliously observed the custom and mores that guided Frederick's political life; he knew better, for example, than to out his disagreements with county legislative delegation chair, James E. McClellan. (For the record, Dr. McClellan relished the credit poured his way for the way things turned out in 1986.)

Ms. Dougherty seems to delight in her verbal brawls that encompass most other officials, with the exception of Commissioner Jan Gardner. Of course, she enjoys the glowing support of Aldermen Donna Ramsburg and Marcia Hall. But the public list stops there.

With some relief, it must be noted this year's yard signs make no promises about open government, her campaign's main theme four years ago. Her performance in this regard has made her normally tight-lipped predecessor, Jim Grimes, look like a positive blabbermouth.

Her heavy-handed management of the City Hall information flow has scheduled a Friday event; an advance press release sings her praises for having "saved" the Weinberg Center, which was beginning to become a major regional arts center, attracting audiences from all over, until the mayor fired then-director Stuart Seal. Taxpayers shelled out over $100,000 because of her "mistake."

Staging the announcement about how she has made things all right in an operation she had fouled up rates as typical of an administration that organizes noisy audiences to attend mayor and board meetings. When challenged, she proudly points to her claque and pronounces them as "the public."

By the light of her advisors, this is clever politics, predicated on the notion that most people are too dumb to figure out what's going on; and she is generally aided by the local daily's reports that sing her song.

Those yellow signs papering the city are but another example. Until Ms. Dougherty came along, municipal elections followed the county guidelines; nothing went up until 45 days before the voting. The system worked; it was obeyed by everyone of all political persuasions, giving Frederick residents a measured respite before the quadrennial deluge.

As part of her "clever" approach to politics, Ms. Dougherty went out of her way to ascertain the county law did not apply in the city. At which point, a sense of decency would have impelled another official to alert fellow candidates so they could order signs. She didn't. (Mr. Baldi was ready to go because he just may be the best organized official on the current scene.)

But considering the way she has wrecked the lives of helpless human beings, decency is not a quality anyone can expect from Jennifer Dougherty.



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