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The Tentacle


August 19, 2005

No Shootout Wednesday

Roy Meachum

Tuesday's thetentacle.com column was wrong. There was no shootout when Democratic mayoral wannabes "debated" Wednesday night. There was no debate, which meant a victory for Jennifer Dougherty.

Former Mayor Ron Young failed to challenge the incumbent in any meaningful way. He brought up the city's sorry financial state, with no real effort to call her to account. Ms. Dougherty's court costs have more than doubled legal expenses for the preceding 18 years before she took office, he told the audience that filled up all but scattered spots in the Kussmaul Theatre' s 900 seats. But she flicked the issue aside.

Working a crowd obviously packed with her supporters, she put on a slick performance that ignored everything he said. "Obviously" counts the number of yellow Jennifer stickers I saw. At the program's end, while the majority remained seated, the number who rose to their feet for Mr. Young paled beside the incumbent's cheering section, which was also noisier.

Ms. Dougherty was never asked to justify why higher taxes hadn't saved the city's "rainy day" fund shrinking to approximately $800,000 from $6 million when she was sworn in.

She stuck out her chest, with great pride (and sole credit) for Boscov's, Home Depot and Wolf's Furniture moving in on the Golden Mile. She failed utterly to acknowledge the incentives that brought them there were funded 60 percent by the county. That cooperative effort could have been cited by the combative mayor as proof she could get along with other officials. She didn' t.

Instead, Mayor Dougherty took up much of the so-called debate portraying herself as Frederick's Joan of Arc, a lonesome figure trying to fight off Winchester Hall, which was her real target that evening, not her challenger.

As a matter of fact, she expressed gratitude for Mr. Young's vision and leadership that converted flood control into today's Carroll Creek project; but that was simply by way of claiming her administration alone had brought the project to life.

While the former mayor expended time and energy laying out state and local credentials that demonstrated qualifications for taking on his old job, the lady sitting in the catbird's seat now went out her way to keep alive her funning feud with the commissioners. By the way, Mr. Young acquired City Hall, which was the old county courthouse, a major coup.

Central to her arguments was the issue of water, although she put forth the idea she might take over schools, a proposition that ignored the roaring spitting contest between the state and Baltimore City, suggesting the idea could become a can of worms. She kept to herself the fact that the county school system has poured extra teachers into Frederick classrooms that need help reaching minimal requirements.

On water, Ms. Dougherty championed the 2000 agreement among the county, the city and Lake Linganore that calls for Winchester Hall to provide an additional four million gallons a day in 2010, when the Potomac River Water Line should be ready. But that's five years away, according to the deal.

The mayor disagrees, charging Frederick is entitled to double, some eight million gallons a day. As I understand the situation, meeting her quota would violate the pact signed by her predecessor, Jim Grimes. Nothing she said Wednesday indicated she was prepared to compromise, leaving wide open the probability that residents can expect still higher legal fees, if she is reelected.

Ms. Dougherty's Sept. 13 victory might seem assured to any member of Wednesday's audience who knew nothing about the reality: For nearly four years City Hall has been rocked by fights flagrantly provoked by the mayor. While homeowners reeled from ever-soaring taxes, she boasted about the chip on her shoulder.

Mr. Young could have pointed out while assessed property values have much to do with steeper bills, Ms. Dougherty failed to lower the rate, which would have provided some relief. She took the new money and still delivered a surplus less than 10 percent of the county's year-end bonanza.

The incumbent focused on encouraging voters to give her a Board of Aldermen that will share her approach to Frederick's future. Mentioning no names, she castigated the current board's majority, two of whom have retired from local political life. The third, Joe Baldi, shapes up as her probable GOP opponent in November.

Buoyed by the knowledge her partisans Wednesday night outnumbered the challenger's, Jennifer Dougherty delivered her positions with an attitude that bespoke supreme confidence. Her opponent, on the other hand, frequently appeared a man grappling how to catch her out.

In other words, Ron Young looked like he would rather have been knocking on doors, chatting with people face-to-face. He did little to damage his celebrated reputation as a lousy public speaker, a reputation gained while he was transforming Frederick into what it is today. He specialized all those years in visionary deeds, not what Shakespeare described as "words, words, words."



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