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The Tentacle


June 20, 2006

Not What They Seem

Roy Meachum

One of Jim Hagy's favorite sayings holds that perception is reality. That helps to explain why the sheriff steps down amidst a great shower of plaudits and regrets. He ranks fair to being the best-liked politician in my long years studying the local species.

Always happy to write good words about the man I count as both a good official and a good friend; but that's not what this column is about. Please return to the matter of perception and reality.

In Sunday's Frederick News-Post, the headline above my thoughts was right; some details were wrong. True, former county political "boss" Jim McClellan's machine has put great muscle (and money) on the line to elect ex-city cop Harold Domer to the sheriff's post.

But the machine is being operated by different hands.

It seems in order to gain another term as chairman of the county liquor commission staunch Democrat McClellan cut a deal with the local GOP central committee, or so I'm told. In exchange for receiving reappointment from the Republican governor, he pledged to stay out of the sheriff's electoral fight.

What could have been a blow to Mr. Domer's attempt to spread his controversial policing tactics and methods countywide was made less serious when ex-Frederick Mayor Jim Grimes stepped into the breach. After all, onetime boss McClellan could only really speak for himself. In the event, a key member of his team long-ago – former Sheriff Bob Snyder – was already known to favor Charles "Chuck" Jenkins. Now the department's chief investigator, Mr. Jenkins was reportedly hired by Mr. Snyder.

With Tommy Kline's cement and asphalt millions and J. R. Ramsburg's checkbook added to his personal bulging pockets, Mr. Grimes faces no financial problem in funding Mr. Domer's campaign for September's Republican primaries. He is helped, moreover, by the way candidates have run, skipped and jumped to get in on the race. A new one has become the second Democrat to announce. But Mr. Jenkins presents the real competition at this stage, with sheriff's Sergeant Bill Folden looming as a possible contender.

This is no commentary on the other candidates; several seem very qualified. But with virtually no access to cash and the numbers of their supporters apparently limited, their role in the Republican race could be as spoilers: drawing votes away from Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Folden, enabling retired city cop Domer a path to victory. I'm dishing the perception that passes for reality, by Mr. Hagy's definition.

And let me repeat: Despite rumors pumped up by the Domer campaign, Sheriff Hagy supports and endorses no one in the race for his seat. He made a particular point in our conversation of wanting "to hear what they all had to say before making up" his mind.

With that aside, let us return to the wherewithal, the "necessity" for erecting signs and running advertising in the media. Having no "sugar daddies" comparable to Mr. Grimes and Mr. Kline, the unresolved issue for Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Folden is where they get the bucks to compete with the machine that "Doc" McClellan has stepped away from, however temporarily.

We have to assume that access on the golf links or through some other way – it could have simply been a good guess – enabled the Domer campaign to figure out what the sheriff planned to do. The leading candidate already has signs around the county, including one that once rested in the window of Wastlers’ Barber Shop. Downtown's traditional barber shop removed the poster, so quickly as to leave the reasons unknown. The few signs I've seen promoting Chuck Jenkins arrived later and fewer in number. Nobody else's has appeared. And the first ad, for anyone, has yet to run.

On the surface, the struggle to become the county's top law enforcement officer barely kicks up a ripple. Don't be deceived: That perception denies reality. Things are definitely not what they seem.

Through home computers and behind offices' closed doors, on the telephone and in the streets, the fight to replace Jim Hagy comes very close to resembling a fight among sharks.

The blood's due appear in public any day.



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