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The Tentacle


August 2, 2005

Seven Weeks to Go

Roy Meachum

With the filing date for the municipal primaries come and gone, this week, another Shakespearean phrase comes to mind: "Cry 'havoc' and let slip the dogs of war."

In fact, moral havoc and political war are already upon us; they have never gone away since Jennifer Dougherty slipped into City Hall, courtesy of her predecessor.

If ever I saw a politician who had lost his taste for public life, it was Jim Grimes. His in-and-out 2001 campaign was a textbook example of a man with no desire to continue in a job that brought nothing but continuing grief.

Outside attack by the local daily were accompanied by mind blowing stress from a police department led amok by an out-of-town chief, high on ego and low on intelligent grasp of how the community worked.

On one occasion, I dropped by City Hall to discover the mayor braced against a wall in the operations director's office; he had walked out on a conference with the chief in order to restore his balance before continuing. He had just been threatened with blackmail once again, he said.

As for the paper, late managing editor Mike Powell celebrated word of Ms. Dougherty's electoral victory four years ago by dancing around his newsroom and gleefully shouting: "We got him!"

Mr. Powell's ecstasy was prompted by the major role he attributed to the newspaper's series aimed at forcing the mayor to release the Black Book, actually computer data files maintained by a prostitution service owner on her clients and their sexual preferences. And the editor's glee was partially justified.

The incessant insistence that the public's right to know the names of pandered customers was at stake, drowned out Mr. Grimes' attempts to explain that neither the city attorney nor insurance company lawyers would let him wash his hands of that unsavory tempest in a teapot. Nearly yelling that he wanted to release the files met with surly contempt by the editor and his "star" reporter on the story.

Walking out of City Hall that last time, in 2002, was not the worst January day in Jim Grimes' life; but his departure from public life was not the best thing that ever happened to Frederick voters.

While Ms. Dougherty rode the wave of anti-Grimes sentiment by promising hers would be an open government, those of us who live here have been subject to a near-totalitarian regime buttressed by a claque of verbal storm troopers who attack and harass any and all who dare to question "their" leader. As every likely dictator since time began, the she husbands plans, processes and details until their release suits her fancy.

When the new mayor proved nor more capable of tossing him the call girl ring bones than had Mr. Grimes, Editor Powell throttled back the vehemence of his newsroom while more patiently plowing on, until a court told City Hall to let go of the data. We were then treated to a dog-and-pony show intended - we were told - to protect the "innocent," meaning customers who were not public officials.

Mr. Powell's acquiescence to that approach reeked of rampant hypocrisy from a publication that insisted on identifying hapless "johns" swept up in police stings against streetwalkers, the lowest end of the prostitution trade. It was simply not in the paper's best interest to expose the Black Book's list of professional and business types.

But more than anything else, the lack of protest in journalism's name supported the belief that the editor and his bosses were less interested in the truth than getting Mr. Grimes out of office. For reasons never explained to readers, they wanted the then-mayor's scalp and they didn't care who next sat down at his desk in City Hall.

Having capitalized mightily on the local daily paper's self-serving advocacy four years ago, Ms. Dougherty now finds herself in the painful position of publicly seeking clarification when published accounts vary from her version of the truth.

In some instances, at least, reporters have been guilty of relying entirely on partial information furnished by City Hall; fearing the mayor's terrible temper they have withheld facts, which have thrown their stories totally out of balance. Most pitiful of all are her claque's charges that the paper's publisher has now ordered the newsroom to "get" Jennifer Dougherty. Those allegations are not only untrue but downright sick!

But there has been much about the past nearly four years that beg for a shrink's couch. The greatest kindness Frederick voters can grant the incumbent mayor is to send her back to her West Patrick Street saloon, on September 13. She needs all the mental counseling she can get.



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