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The Tentacle


January 4, 2008

Mayor Jeff's Furies

Roy Meachum

For an affable, generally diffident guy, Jeff Holtzinger managed quickly to attract the Furies, what the ancient Greeks called the Eumenides. The critters pursued and presumably drove to madness those who had offended the gods.

Frederick Mayor Holtzinger's come-from-way-behind 2005 political victory prompted a similar phenomenon. But the Furies that waited to strike him down were not mythological but totally human.

While defeated incumbent Jennifer Dougherty and her hit squad paused to lick their chops – savoring the downfall of the man, Ron Young, who had cleaned her clock in the primary – local media played the Furies.

Frederick editors and reporters were mightily offended that the new mayor did not invite them into his new domain and spill his intentions and plans. His predecessor held weekly press conferences whether there was any news to announce at all.

And frequently there wasn't. But Ms. Dougherty employed the allotted time to sharing her views on a number of issues and the invited journalists were free to pose questions.

Despite the reality that the weekly sessions generally produced no headlines, the conferences were cited as proof that the city's first female mayor made herself available and accessible. She allowed as how the media functioned as representatives of the general electorate. That projected image turned out to be simply not true.

Much of the reason for her defeat can be found in examining how much her administration operated behind closed doors. Each time Pushkin and I step out of the house, we face straight on what was once a busy supermarket; the Pennsylvania-base chain folded during Jim Grimes' time in City Hall.

Meaning to save the North Market Street business hub, Mr. Grimes acquired the building and enticed a cut-price retailer into the space. When the "new" enterprise also went bust, the then-mayor tried in various ways to get back the taxpayer dollars. He was still trying when he left office.

With what more than several observers considered "unseemly haste," shortly after being sworn in Ms. Dougherty rushed to sell off properties Mr. Grimes had acquired, or inherited. The one-time Carmack-Jay's was among them.

The city's citizens realized a sharp loss. My across-the-street neighbor cost some $275,000; that was the difference between $675,000 and the price paid by Douglas Jemal: $400,000.

Ms. Dougherty poured blame and considerable scorn on Mr. Grimes while not mentioning there were other would-be buyers: I know them. When they tried to submit their bids, they were told "too late."

The sale was rushed through giving the property to a very successful developer who owns a lot of buildings – including the former Woodward & Lothrop's. Nowhere in his résumé can Mr. Jemal boast about bringing any neighborhoods up. Quite the contrary, he's notorious for sitting on his fat portfolio until he can lease at top prices. That's what happened here.

Meanwhile, we can only speculate what might have been if the local businessmen had gotten a fair shot. The last mayor's operational style shut them totally out!

Mr. Holtzinger labors, however, under his predecessor's heralded "open door," as proven by those weekly press conferences.

Prompted by Ms. Dougherty's loyal legions, the local press made much ado about where he slept at night. Thanks to the ex-mayor's legal incompetence, although a long-time county resident, Jeff Holtzinger legally entered municipal politics. You know the story.

While none of his opponents proved his officially registered address ever broke the law, Frederick's Eumenides continue to whirl, looking for any fault they can find. In all this, they continue to be helped by the ex-city engineer's reluctance to go public until he has something to say. And that is an unforgivable sin in some reporters' and columnists' eyes.

Refusing to share his first thoughts on important matters seems to make sense to me, but not to some aldermen who have made no secret of their City Hall hopes.

In the initial stages, any idea should be thought out, measured and carefully considered; that's when projects are at their most vulnerable. That's when some aldermen want in.

Aware a subject is under consideration and knowing full well nothing can happen without the board's approval, you would probably think the other city mothers and fathers would be content to submit their thoughts in memos or Emails. No such thing.

While the mayor was digesting the surprise public announcement that a city planner planned to resign, Alderman Donna Kuzemchak jumped hastily on her soapbox to proclaim the not-yet-submitted resignation as part of a larger problem.

Mr. Holtzinger, she charged, was "decimating" the planning staff, although the man himself pointed no finger directly at the mayor. At any event, the city's chief executive defused the situation; the resignation was never turned in.

Ms. Kuzemchak noticeably did not climb her soapbox again. She will. Both she and Marcia Hall worked furiously to give the former mayor four more years. Both Democrats have let it be known they are more than interested in the top job.

Maybe they're hoping Ms. Dougherty's showing in the 6th District Congressional race will be her total downfall. But they each have enough smarts about their former leader that they must know she is too stubborn to stay home, or simply work at her various enterprises.

Once tasted, power generally acts as a terrible elixir, driving men and women to unexpected depths.

Under the circumstances, Jeff Holtzinger deserves the electorate's admiration and thanks. His approach saves us all from the sorry spectacle we endured for four long, long years. He obviously believes his job is to get things done with a minimal fuss. And I agree, of course.

As the chief backer to the former mayor's noisy rule, Donna Kuzemchak barely sneaked back into City Hall. She was at the bottom of the elected list. Her present style indicates she learned nothing from the electorate's lesson. What a pity!!

But nothing out of ancient Greece promises the modern Eumenides will ever cease their efforts to make Frederick's political scene a terrible mess.



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