Who Will Win First Frederick County Executive and Council Election?

George Wenschhof

The switch to charter government has done little to alter the over two decade long battle over how best to handle growth in Frederick County, Maryland.

Frederick County voters are faced once again with choosing between these two sides when they vote for members of the new county council and county executive.

While they are certainly nuances to the two sides, they are often described and recognized as “pro-growth” or “no-growth”.

Political affiliation does not define the members of the two groups.

In the 2006 county commissioner election, Democrats Jan Gardner and Kai Hagen ran with Republicans John “Lennie” Thompson and David Gray to form what they referred to as the “Dream Team”.  They won that election and served one term.

In that election, Democrats were unable to field a full slate of candidates for commissioner because they were not in agreement on this issue.  A third Democratic candidate Richard Floyd ran with the Dream Team but lost.  The fourth Democratic candidate Ron Wolf did not run with this slate and also lost.

This alliance over growth issues illustrates the age old phrase “politics makes strange bedfellows”.  Republican Commissioner Thompson told me once that although he was in alignment with Democratic Commissioner Gardner on growth, he believed with Blaine Young on less government and less taxes.

Another example is an overwhelming majority of Democrats support The Affordable Care Act. Yet, Democratic candidate for county executive Jan Gardner welcomes the support given her by Residents Against Landsdale Expansion (RALE) president Steve McKay.  Steve McKay is an unaffiliated voter who opposes The Affordable Care Act.

In the 2010 election the Kai Hagen, Ellis Burrus and Janet Wiles ran together on a more managed growth slate for county commissioner and lost handily to Republican Blaine Young and his team of “open for business” Republicans Billy Shreve, Kirby Delauter, and tag along Paul Smith.

Another Democratic candidate Michael Kurtianyck was not included in the Kai team and Democratic candidate Linda Norris attempted to stay away from the Kai slate.  They both would also lose.

Former Commissioners Kai Hagen and Jan Gardner argued strongly on opposite sides of the incinerator issue during the one term they served together.  They both wrote a series of columns that appeared on my Blog with Jan arguing for the incinerator to be built and Kai arguing against it.

Today, because of their agreement on growth policy, those differences have been forgotten with Kai supporting Jan in her run for county executive.

The growth pendulum was swinging again when all five Democratic candidates for county commissioner lost in the 2010 election.  Frederick County Democratic candidates fared poorly in that election with only 2 Democrats elected in over 20 Frederick County positions on the ballot.  They were long time Democratic political leaders Ron Young (state senate district 3) and Galen Clagett (state delegate district 3-A).

Do not look to see Clagett support Jan Gardner for county executive. In the 2013 City of Frederick election, Clagett, after losing to Karen Young in the Democratic primary for mayor, endorsed incumbent Republican mayor Randy McClement, who went on to win reelection.

In this 2014 county executive race Jan Gardner cleared the way for an unopposed primary and encouraged former “Dream Team” member commissioner David Gray to run against Blaine Young in the Republican primary.  Her thoughts were this would damage him among the “no-growth” Republican voters and cause him to spend campaign funds. Blaine’s short lived campaign for governor had produced a flush campaign chest.

Two well qualified and well known Democratic businessmen, Earl Robbins and Gordon Cooley considered a run for county executive and decided against it.  Both are more moderate when it comes to growth issues than Jan Gardner, but understood they would have a tough battle against Gardner in the Democratic primary when fewer voters cast their ballots and those voters tend to be more progressive.

To no one’s surprise, following David Gray’s expected loss to Blaine Young in the Republican primary, Gray endorsed Democrat Jan Gardner for county executive.

It would not be startling to see Democratic state delegate Galen Clagett endorse Republican Blaine Young for county executive.

So, the growth issue continues to be paramount in the county executive and county council race.

Prior to the 2014 election, voters decided, by referendum, to change to charter government. They will be electing a county executive and a seven member county council. Two of the council members are elected at large, similar to how previous commissioners were elected and five will be elected in single member districts.

Each voter will cast a ballot for a county executive, 2 at-large council members and 1 council member from their district.

Determining on what side of the growth issue each county executive candidate is on is easy on the long anticipated matchup between Jan Gardner(D) and Blaine Young(R).  This race should be tilted in favor of Gardner after many unpopular decisions by commissioner President Blaine Young. But do not underestimate the ability of Young to emerge victorious.

Open for business and pro-growth Republicans emerged from the primary with the Democratic candidates moving on to the general election being more difficult to clearly label.

The 2 at-large council member races will have Democrats Susan Reeder Jesse and Linda Norris facing Republicans Billy Shreve and Bud Otis.

Commissioner Shreve and Otis are easy to label as “open for business”. However, it will be hard to place a no-growth label on Norris and Reeder-Jesse. They have crossover appeal and in a county that features a majority of Republican voter registration, look for both to be competitive.  In addition, Susan is the daughter of former Democratic commissioner Bruce Reeder, who was considered business friendly during his time in office.

Shreve and Otis are the early favorites in this election because of a Republican voter registration advantage.  However, who wins the county executive race will influence who wins these two seats on the council.  If Jan Gardner wins convincingly against Blaine Young, don’t be surprised if one or both of the Democratic women candidates win.  Conversely, if Blaine Young wins, both Shreve and Otis could end up on the council.

In district 1, Democrat Jerry Donald faces Republican Ellen Bartlett.  Numerous sources told me Bartlett came across poorly in candidate forums in the primary, but look to see her win this election.  Her win will be primarily due to last name recognition of her husband who served in congress for two decades.

In district 2, the race is between Democrat Annette Breiling and Republican Tony Chmelik.  Breiling, like her Democratic counterpart Donald in district 1, is surely the better candidate.  However, look to see Chmelik win.

Both Chmelik and Bartlett would go in the pro-growth category.

District 3 has Democrat M.C. Keegan Ayer against Republican Denny Shafer.  Shafer campaigned with Young in the primary, but look to see M.C. Ayer win this seat on the council.

District 4 features Democrat Jessica Fitzwater against Republican Bob Lawrence.  Fitzwater is new to politics and still has a lot to learn about county government, but will win in this district that has a majority of Democratic voters.

Finally, in District 5 it is Democrat Mark Long against Republican and current commissioner Kirby Delauter.  Democrats believe Delauter is vulnerable and Long will win this seat.  Look to see Delauter win this seat, primarily a result of a Republican voter registration advantage.

I have Democrats winning in district 3 and 4 and Republicans winning in district 1, 2 and 5.

Democrats could win a majority of seats on the council if they win both at-large seats.  This could happen with a convincing win by Jan Gardner.  Due to Republican voter registration advantage in the county, the more likely scenario is for one Democratic and one Republican to be elected in the at-large seats.

If Gardner wins, the council make up would most likely be a 4-3 Republican advantage.

On the other hand, if Blaine Young wins, the council make up could be 5-2 Republican.

The majority on the council will likely be “pro-growth” regardless of who wins for county executive.

Voters will have the final say when they weigh in on Tuesday November 4.

Stay tuned.

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