A lackluster campaign for county executive has been predictable, full of rhetoric from both sides and a continuation of the “growth” versus “no-growth” theme that has dominated Frederick County politics for over two decades.
This theme continues to divide local political parties and fuel the intense dislike one side has toward the other.
When I ask supporters of Democrat Jan Gardner or Republican Blaine Young how they feel the campaign is going they tell me their candidate will win easily.
The race is likely to be closer than many would like with the undeclared voter having a significant impact in this election.
Gardner has brought back the same Republican/Democrat coalition used in the 2006 election when Democrats Garner and Kai Hagen ran with Republicans John “Lennie” Thompson and David Gray. The foursome would use the term “The Dream Team” and would embrace the slogan created by Thompson “If the developers win, you lose”. They were all elected.
In that election, Republican Gray would give up the gavel he had won and give it to Democrat Gardner. Many questioned this move by the newly elected board as it impacted their own election and not a future one. A vote made by the county commissioners elect was questioned on whether it would withstand legal scrutiny. A challenge would never come.
Sadly, they would go on to harden divisions between growth and no growth voters by down zoning many properties, stripping property owners of development rights. These actions led to lawsuits, the creation of local organizations opposing the actions taken by “The Dream Team” and embolden Republican politician Blaine Young.
In addition, Gardner would further alienate voters when, as president, she led the effort by the board of county commissioners to enter into an agreement to build a costly and ill advised incinerator. This planned incinerator has never been built or an alternative method to dispose of solid waste determined.
Meanwhile, Blaine Young would reinvent himself after being tarnished with the “Black Book” scandal involving a local “Madam” while serving a single term (1998-2001) as a City of Frederick alderman while he was still a Democrat. His top standing as a Democrat was further stained when he supported Republican Mayor James Grimes over the Democratic candidate Fran Baker in the 1997 city election.
His subsequent Russ Limbaugh imitation on a local radio station led to his new image as a right wing conservative. His appointment to serve the remainder of the term of departing commissioner Republican Charles Jenkins preceded his winning election easily in 2010.
Blaine would lead his team of Republicans Billy Shreve and Kirby Delauter to an easy victory over Kai Hagen and his team of Janice Wiles and Ellis Burrus.
Democrats Linda Norris and Michael Kurtianyk, who never joined the team with Kai Hagen would also lose while Republicans Paul Smith and David Gray would benefit from the Republican landslide victory in 2010.
Gray was the only member of “The Dream Team” to win election in 2010 and would go on to serve an ineffective 4 years as the other pro-growth commissioners would give new president of the board Blaine Young carte blanche.
As president of the new board of county commissioners, Blaine would use his unchecked power to take many questionable actions including, but not limited to, eliminating county funding for the highly successful Head Start program and many nonprofit organizations, spending $25,000 on an irresponsible privatization study, deciding to sell, at a huge loss, the Citizens and Montevue senior assisted care facilities, funding education at the lowest possible level, and providing at almost every turn, cost breaks for business/developers.
Emboldened by the free rein given to him by his fellow commissioners, Blaine would also move to not only reverse the down zonings enacted by the previous Gardner led board, but provide approvals to numerous development proposals seemingly stacked up to be heard by the new board. Along with these development approvals came unreasonable long term “Rights and Responsibilities Agreements” weighted toward the developers.
Today, four years after his loss, Hagen’s long seated hatred toward Blaine Young fuels his behind the scenes efforts to support former colleague Jan Gardner.
Sadly, the battle continues along the “growth” fault line and not political party. The only two Democrats to be elected out of over twenty local positions on the ballot in 2010 were Maryland state senator Ron Young (district 3) and Maryland state delegate Galen Clagett (district 3-a). Neither, have or will endorse fellow Democrat Jan Gardner for county executive.
The push for charter government in Frederick County was backed by community leaders who believed a single and strong executive interacting with the state legislature would be more effective than a five member board of county commissioners.
While this may be true, there has been little to no discussion by either candidate on how they will use this new power to benefit the residents of Frederick County.
Questions unanswered are what they will do to see that Frederick County receives it share of state funds for school construction and critical road construction, or what specific actions they will take to bring meaningful jobs to Frederick County.
There is no doubt new leadership is needed for Frederick County that is more pragmatic and comprehensive. It is imperative actions taken by the new county executive and council reflect a community vision shared by the entire community.
During this first term of the newly created charter government, there promises to be growing pains as the council and executive interact with power struggles while the voters judge the effectiveness of this new form of government.
Because the council will be made up of five representatives from districts and two representatives elected at-large, look to see more balance between the growth factions with the likely split being 4-3.
The two new branches of government will certainly have the opportunity to govern in a manner that is more inclusive and finally end the destructive “growth v. no-growth” battle in Frederick County.
If not, look to see voters finally tire of the “growth v. no-growth” pendulum swing and demand a more pragmatic county executive and council in 2018 who will provide reasonable fair and effective representation.