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The Tentacle


October 11, 2005

The Tortoise and the Hare

Roy Meachum

Frederick's current mayoral race brings to mind the Aesop fable about the hare and the tortoise. The bunny happily bounded along counting on his superior speed to win the race, while the clunky amphibian crawled, plugging away.

Long ears and fuzzy tail was so confident that he chose to take a nap; when he woke up the turtle's stumpy four legs had slipped their shell over the finish line.

In the local political contest, ex-Mayor Ron Young has all the heightened characteristics of Aesop's bouncy rabbit: his knowledge and organization make him the prohibitive favorite, particularly in light of opponent Jeff Holtzinger's tortoise tendencies.

Far from challenging Mr. Young in the public forum, the former city engineer has attempted to make virtue of an approach that reduces the chief executive 's significance to that of a muted problem solver.

His Democrat opponent, on the other hand, emphasizes his talents as a leader and visionary, citing his former service as the longest-serving mayor since World War II. He portrays Frederick's governmental crisis as the product of the incumbent's unwillingness to listen and her incapability of working with others.

In essence, the Young platform preaches the doctrine of collegiality, within and without City Hall. He apparently counts on consultation and good will, even in such tricky areas as reducing the budget by lay-offs.

Mr. Holtzinger invokes a shirt-sleeves' doctrine, proposing personally to sort out the good and the awful, relying on both his previous experience and his professional qualifications as both an engineer and a practicing attorney. He might be right.

Precisely because the present administration has created a series of scandals, the quiet man could attract the necessary votes to win by pledging a low profile. Any number of people has expressed disgust over recent years at hearing their city's name bandied about on television as a place where officials engage in public feuds.

On the record, as TheTentacle.com readers know, I opposed the incumbent's reelection for the same reason I backed her opponent four years ago: she can be mean and vindictive, dedicated to the proposition that she alone knows the truth.

Some folks were confused by my long-standing policy of initially supporting the people's choice after every election, especially when my choice differs, at least initially; siding with the newly-chosen mayor lasted only as long as it took her to attack the Weinberg Center's management.

As a sometime laborer in the performing arts, a longtime Washington critic and a cultural adviser to Lyndon Johnson's White House, there was simply no way I could condone the transparent effort to impose a barbarian's control over the community's premier center for the arts.

And by barbarian, I mean specifically a personality that took great delight in her ignorance of the arts underlined by the fact that she had very rarely darkened the Weinberg's door before she generated actions that led to the taxpayers forking over considerable bucks in an unfair firing legal action.

That's the kind of scandal I mean. There were more.

Certainly Mr. Holtzinger would never be guilty of the egregious misuse of office that happened time and again over the past four years. A more recent example came with the incumbent casting an illegal veto; she insisted she was right against the advice of both the city attorney and the state attorney general's office.

The former municipal department head's pledge of a low profile carries the promise of grumbling and discontent staying on a local level; he hopes. As the largest city outside the Baltimore-Washington metro area, however, Frederick simply cannot escape media scrutiny.

My trade's least endearing characteristic may be the dogged determination to keep sleeping dogs awake: official silence - even reluctance - becomes automatically a target for media examination and exposure.

Mr. Young exults in openness, to the point of telling listeners more than anyone really wants to hear. The trait stands him in good stead when dealing with nosy reporters. In his world, the game of "gotcha" cannot exist. That means the possibility of scandals remains very remote.

The former mayor's comfort with the media provided a major influence in his runaway primary victory, particularly when compared with his opponent's confrontational personality. In joint appearances with Mr. Holtzinger, he holds a decided edge, although neither gentleman threatens Demosthenes' reputation.

For the Republican candidate the existential difficulty remains his lack of name recognition; his narrow win over GOP favorite Joe Baldi was provided by party regulars torn over the three-term alderman's prospects for winning in November, as I have heard on every side. Many decided he couldn't.

Jeff Holtzinger's best chances lie in his complete lack of a record to hold against him. But there also can be found his greatest weakness. He does not bring into the fray even a convincing record as a bureaucratic mover-and-shaker. So far he has laid his best claims solely on having been the first to warn about Frederick's pending water shortage some three years ago.

In addition to the incumbent's pack obviously intent on perpetuating her anger and vindictiveness towards the man who beat her, political neophyte Holtzinger can rely chiefly on his fellow GOP members, supplemented by the few who fear the return of the Good Ol' Boy system that once backed Mr. Young.

But the system passed away some 10 years back, much to my column's exaltation. I did what I could to hasten its demise along, at every turn, while many in today's anti-GOB crowd kept their heads low, fearing retaliation. Shame on them!

On last Thursday afternoon's Pushkin North Market Street promenade, I chanced on a group, sitting in The Tasting Room's front window, which included Gov. Bob Ehrlich's chief of communications. Paul Schurick had come to town to help create a winning campaign for Mr. Holtzinger; he brought state GOP money too. I am told the crusade should hit before this week's end.

Will the ads and other promotions propel the affable but largely self-effacing Republican tortoise ahead of the Democrat hare that runs so far ahead? We will know three weeks from today. But Ron Young shows no sign of dropping off to sleep.

Meanwhile, it should be an interesting show.



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