As Frederick City Residents Head to Polls for this Month's Primary Election, Who are the Candidates Jockeying for Your Attention … and Votes?
Mayor Randy McClement sits back in a chair near the end of the ornately carved dark cherry conference table in his expansive office in City Hall and shakes his head, perplexed at why he’s the target of criticisms leading into this month’s primaries. “I have done the best I can do to be both transparent and efficient,” he says. His voice nearly echoes in the quiet of the closed room as he pauses to reflect.
Voters once commended the 56-year-old Republican for his easygoing demeanor as a longtime owner of a Downtown bagel shop. Supporters welcomed his friendly nature and calm businesslike approach as a refreshing contrast to a more confrontational style of some of his predecessors. And some observers maintain his day-to-day managerial style has been appropriate during an uncertain economy. “One might argue that what we went through financially was a good time to have a good manager rather than one who has some grand vision,” says Ed Robinson, a city resident who leads the Entrepreneurial Council and Downtown Frederick Partnership.
“One might argue that what we went through financially was a good time to have a good manager rather than one who has some grand vision,” —Ed Robinson, leader of the Entrepreneurial Council and Downtown Frederick Partnership
But many contend McClement’s style—which is seemingly complacent and perceived as indecisive in public—is not fruitful. “He’s not using his executive powers the way I would have,” says Anita Stup, a former Republican county commissioner and state delegate. Former Mayor Paul Gordon, also a Republican, says, “Voters feel left out of participation at all levels of governing,” and are venting their frustration.
Close political observers and activists say McClement’s leadership isn’t adequate for the needs of a city with a burgeoning population of well more than 65,000 residents, an increase of 23.6 percent from 2000 to 2010, according to census figures. Frederick, they say, has felt the effects of the nation’s unstable economy, although it’s had a relatively low unemployment rate hovering around 6 percent. That rate started to creep with federal budget cuts affecting local contractors, while the city received less state and federal revenue. Observers believe leaders need to move quickly to take advantage of lingering opportunities to further the city’s growth and vitality before those opportunities disappear.
“There’s a feeling that he’s kept the boxes checked off,” resident Jim Racheff, a local businessman active in Democratic politics, says. The mayor hasn’t been irresponsible, Racheff says, but he also “hasn’t made decisions or much progress.” Ed Hinde, vice chair of the board of directors for Friends of Frederick County, agrees: “There’s an opportunity to break out of that mold” of a business manager and “be a chief cheerleader.” He says the mayor should have “the personal wherewithal to be able to facilitate and forge consensus around what the city really stands for.”
“The mayor hasn’t been irresponsible, but he also hasn’t made decisions or much progress.”—Jim Racheff, a local businessman active in Democratic politics
The criticisms of McClement’s style have brought forward six challengers for his seat. Almost all of them have political credentials and familiar names: two alderwomen, Democrat Karen Lewis Young and Republican Shelley Aloi; two former mayors, Republican Jeff Holtzinger and Democrat-turned-independent Jennifer Dougherty; and state Del. Galen Clagett. A surprise last-minute filing by a relatively unknown candidate, Carol Hirsch, offers voters an alternative.
Echoing concerns of area residents, the candidates speak of clearing pockets of nuisance and crime to stabilizing and securing the city’s pension fund. They also talk about completing projects ranging from the downtown Carroll Creek Linear Park to revitalization of vacant or blighted properties (although Hirsch rejects discussion of such projects, instead urging a halt to development for leaders to focus on environmental protection).
What it comes down to, they say, is a difference in style or, as Stup says, a difference in “personality and character.” After all, in Frederick City’s mayoral race, political animosities don’t tend to portray a partisan tone. Nevertheless, voters must slim the number of candidates at the polls during the Sept. 10 primary.
The Democratic primary will be a three-way race among Clagett, Young, and newcomer Hirsch.
Galen Clagett, 71, has the most extensive political background of the candidates. He says respondents to his recent private poll indicated his greatest weakness is that he is a “bigwig.” That’s an image he rejects and says he doesn’t spend extravagantly (driving Chevys rather than a luxury car) and is actually shy when having to work a room. “I don’t have to be the center of attention.”
But he doesn’t reject the notion that he always envisioned a public life. His election as a county commissioner in 1978, at 36, was the achievement of a goal he set in the fourth grade to serve in politics. That goal had been set aside temporarily as Clagett, whose parents divorced when he was 1, sought a more immediate way out of a dissatisfying home life where his stepfather failed to fill the void created by an absentee father.
A Brunswick native, he studied history at Frostburg State College and then taught at the newly opened Gov. Thomas Johnson High School in 1966-67 and later at Linganore and Brunswick high schools. He took a break early in his public school career to teach in the maximum security Maryland Correctional Institution and medium security Maryland Correctional Training Center, both near Hagerstown, from 1968 to 1969. It was where he says he experienced human behavior and “learned I wasn’t a coward,” recounting his duties filling in as a correctional officer during prison riots in the aftermath of the Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations.
“Randy McClement does not have the vision to take the city to the next level. Systems and timetables are needed. … If you are sitting there and waiting for it to happen, it ain’t going to happen.”—Galen Clagett
As a county commissioner from 1978 to 1986, including four years as the board’s president, he led a government reorganization, full funding of education, and formation of a new capital program and long-term growth plan, he says. But one of his mistakes, he believes, was his aggressive push for a countywide police department—fulfilling many of the duties held by the sheriff’s department—a stance that countered James E. “Doc” McClellan, his opponent in the 1986 primary race for state delegate. McClellan won that three-way contest with 39 percent of the vote to Clagett’s 29 percent.
Clagett spent the subsequent years building Clagett Enterprises, a commercial real estate firm, before returning to politics in 2002 by winning one of two District 3A seats in the state House of Delegates with 25 percent of the vote. In the Maryland General Assembly, he has been a reliable Democratic vote since, having supported same-sex marriage, repeal of the death penalty and reduction in prison sentences for inmates seeking education. Formerly a longtime member of the Appropriations Committee, he also has been a reliable party vote on budgets and has voted to increase sales taxes and the corporate tax rate.
He has taken heat for some positions. Long considered a friend of developers, Clagett earlier this year saw the General Assembly pass his proposal making it more difficult for citizens to challenge Development Rights and Responsibilities Agreements between the county commissioners and builders by forcing them to go to Circuit Court rather than the county appeals board. He also voted for a 4-cents-per-gallon gas tax increase. He says he promised Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley his vote for the gas tax in exchange for a promise of funding for the U.S. 15 interchange, estimated to cost $82 million.
Clagett, a father of three and grandfather of 12, has the quick smile and charm of one accustomed to politics practiced in a broad assembly of individuals with competing goals, where deals are forged amidst the weaving of give-and-take relationships. His expression can quickly turn serious and his tone emphatic as he insists that sometimes tough decisions have to be made. He says he can pave the way for completion of such projects as the city’s planned hotel and downtown conference center, recovery of blighted and vacant properties, and further improved city financial management. He also wants to build a new police headquarters and academy.
He rejects the notion that major city projects have been delayed due to tight resources. “That’s horse hockey,” he says. “Randy McClement does not have the vision to take the city to the next level. Systems and timetables are needed. … If you are sitting there and waiting for it to happen, it ain’t going to happen.”
Karen Lewis Young, a native of New York who grew up in Montoursville, Pa., came to Frederick in 1996 and a decade later married Ronald Young. Some observers criticize Karen for taking the Young name for political purposes, because Ron was the most popular mayor in the city’s modern times, serving from 1974 to 1990. He launched the Carroll Creek Flood Control Project and is highly credited with envisioning the revitalization of downtown. He now serves as state senator for District 3.
Young, who won the top votes in the 2009 Aldermen’s race and serves as board president, doesn’t apologize for her surname. She believes Ron’s connections have served her well, but that she also has an educational and business background that lends to her project planning skills. She studied history, obtaining bachelor’s and master’s degrees, before a stranger she met on a flight to Boston inspired her to pursue an MBA. “I don’t know who he was or what his background was,” she says. “But the guy changed my life.”
Her subsequent education at Columbia University unveiled to her a world of microeconomics and business law and exposed her to representatives of Fortune 100 companies. She obtained a job at Citicorp, where she worked as a branch and then district manager, followed by a position as chief of staff for the head of the card division at American Express, and then as senior planner at Chase Manhattan Bank.
“Randy will say that was his call. … I have the emails to prove it was mine.”—Karen Lewis Young
She later left a demanding job at the consulting firm Abt Associates that interfered with her duties as a single mom, she says, and returned to her hometown in 1990 to work at a local bank. But she left again in 1994 to accept a job at Capital One in Miami as a regional manager, and two years later left to build a strategic marketing function at Farmers & Mechanics Bank in Frederick.
Young, 62, says she can help direct decisions on the city’s major quandaries—if the mayor would just let her. Instead, she says, he repeatedly rejects her items for the board agenda or rebuffs her viewpoint. So she works behind the scenes to move things forward. When she learned McClement was not going to have the city fully match a recent $3 million state grant—a requirement to receive the funds—to complete Phase II of the Carroll Creek Linear Park, she says she sought the other aldermen’s support, and a nod from the county commissioners to help. She ultimately got the issue on the agenda and got the board to vote for full funding, she says. “Randy will say that was his call. … I have the emails to prove it was mine.”
She wants to make the entire city more accessible and ensure local education is preparing a future job source. And she wants to forward specific proposals on issues such as better investing in the city’s pension fund. “The mayor says he’s not interested. … He sees me as a competitive threat,” Young says. “He doesn’t want my name on recommendations. … But a leader doesn’t care whose idea it is.”
A petite woman who can be chatty and businesslike, but also straightforward and stern, Young is aware some people call her “overcritical.” Her response: “I think what I am is frustrated because I have high expectations of what a mayor should do.”
Carol Hirsch, 49, surprised voters when she filed for candidacy just before the deadline. A cashier at Walmart who is deaf, many residents are curious about her. “Having a deaf candidate is opening a lot of eyes,” says David Martin, 47, a deaf resident who is the program manager of American Sign Language studies at Frederick Community College. “Maybe it will cause other candidates to take another look … and figure out how to serve the deaf community better.”
But Hirsch rejects any tendency to describe her as a candidate representing the deaf community. “I’m a political individual,” she states through an interpreter. As if to press her point, she declines to discuss her childhood in New York City and at a boarding school for the deaf. She proudly states that she attended Rochester Institute of Technology, where she earned an associate’s degree in media technologies, before moving to Virginia. Although she says she lived in Virginia for seven years, she declines to discuss where she lived or what she did.
“I want to be different because politics has always been the same,”—Carol Hirsch
By the time she arrived in Frederick in 1998, she had three children in tow; two of her children are now 26 and 19, and Hirsch will not disclose the age of her third child. She will also not state whether she is married or single. (Attempts to schedule a photograph of Hirsch for this story were unsuccessful.)
Hirsch says she found Frederick to be a “cute little town” that offered a better education and varied interests for her children, who have attended the Maryland School for the Deaf. She worked a variety of jobs, both volunteer and paid, at Deaf Access Services (later called Communication Service for the Deaf), Hechts, and Family Services Foundation Inc. in Landover.
An employee at the Walmart on Md. 26, Hirsch says she opposes adding another Walmart at the site of the old Fredericktowne Mall. Similarly, she rejects plans for further development along Carroll Creek. “Developments need to be held off on. We need to pay attention to our health first. We are polluting the air,” she says. “We have hotels here. Why do we need more? Is the goal to look like New York City, L.A., Baltimore, D.C.?”
She recognizes her priorities are different. “I want to be different because politics has always been the same,” she says. “I feel like if I can bring another view, other counties and states will follow suit. … It would be nice if we could influence each other and work together to be more friendly.”
In the Republican primary, Alderwoman Shelley Aloi and former Mayor Jeff Holtzinger are challenging the sitting mayor.
Like Young, Aloi criticizes McClement’s leadership. She says she decided “a while ago” to challenge the mayor. Yet her initial entry into politics in 2009 was rather sudden, based on an impulse that it would be a logical next step to serving others. “The thought just ran through my mind then I followed it through,” she says.
That’s been a repeated theme. A native of Frederick and the oldest of three children, Aloi pursued a major in biochemistry and mathematics at Hood College. She did cancer and AIDS research at Fort Detrick during and after college and served as youth director at her church, now International Community Church.
“Everything rises and falls on leadership,” “Frederick City is on the cusp of something fantastic or not.”—Shelley Aloi
After 10 years at the lab, Aloi sought a career with more human contact, ultimately turning to the classroom. She began teaching biology and physical sciences at T.J. High, then took a position at a middle school in Massachusetts after replying to a job ad while attending her brother’s wedding in the area. She joined a local church and signed up for an overseas tour to Israel and Egypt. She subsequently studied for two years at a seminary in Tennessee while teaching at neighboring Lee University, filling her time with short-term missions and humanitarian work overseas.
Aloi’s return to Frederick 11 years later, in 2002, coincided with news that her father, a well-known real estate agent, was terminally ill with liver cancer. After her father and then her mentor and boss both passed away, she was lured to manage a women’s fitness business. It paid the bills. A couple years later an attempt to buy and flip houses failed when the recession hit, so she began work as an analyst with a large mortgage company. Her experience with the Leadership Frederick County program gave her the idea to run for office. In 2009, she won a seat on the city Board of Aldermen.
Since then, the 52-year-old who holds a black belt in karate has grown frustrated with McClement’s leadership, his seeming refusal to keep the board informed, and his management of staff. “Everything rises and falls on leadership,” she says. She criticizes McClement’s choice of consultant to review upgrades for the city wastewater treatment plant, for rejecting her recommendation of county Special Projects Manager Mike Marschner to oversee the Gas House Pike expansion project and a lack of contract negotiation experience on staff when addressing the Frederick Keys contract. The last straw, she says, was McClement’s recent handling of city police contracts that offered full retiree health care coverage for certain employees. “He solidified an ongoing cost.”
Her mayoral priorities, Aloi says, would be public safety, responsible spending, and economic development. “Frederick City is on the cusp of something fantastic or not.”
Jeff Holtzinger surprised many with his entry into the race. In 2005, he dashed former Mayor Ronald Young’s hope of returning to office, defeating him with 51.9 percent of the vote. At the end of one term, facing criticism for controversial decisions, Holtzinger said he was done. But now he says the city needs his engineering skills and experience in office to move forward on lingering infrastructure projects. “I’m about business and getting things done,” he says. “As an engineer … the way you talk and think about things, it’s an analytical approach. A lot of it is common sense.”
Holtzinger, a native of Altoona, Pa., who grew up on the edge of Braddock Mountain, recalls wanting to solve the city’s growth problems even as a teenager as he and his sister maneuvered through heavy traffic on U.S. 40 on their way to T.J. High. After obtaining degrees in both engineering and law, he briefly practiced in his father’s law firm before turning to engineering, ultimately working as the city engineer for four years prior to his administration.
Holtzinger now works as an engineering consultant, including for the city of Brunswick. He is comfortable discussing in detail engineering specifications and permitting for infrastructure projects. He highlights his success [in detail] pushing forward plans for the extension of Monocacy Boulevard, helping negotiate a deal with the county to provide water to the city, starting plans for a new city parking deck and a new airport control tower. When he took office, he says, “We had no growth, no water supply. We had a problem.”
But he also generated controversy for an early retirement buyout to employees that many contend has cost the city money rather than generated the savings he envisioned. Holtzinger wants a closer look at the budget. “I have not seen an analysis to explain why money has not been saved. … I’m not sure it didn’t save money.”
Many also criticize his push to purchase the 148-acre Hargett Farm for parkland for $18 million—a decision he defends. A father of four kids ages 12 to 24, Holtzinger has seen the difficulty for sports teams to find good fields. He argues Hargett would serve citywide residents by providing fields for soccer matches, for example, and maybe even a site for a police station. “Yes, it’s a lot of money. But any capital project is.” He suggests instead scaling back city investment in Carroll Creek Linear Park and forcing contributions from developers and businesses interested in building there.
Holtzinger also wants to see, for example, completion of the Monocacy Boulevard extension. “It’s not a given it will get done,” even though it’s been on the master plan for decades. He says the current board is unable to make decisions and criticizes McClement for allowing the Aldermen “to assert themselves too much. You have to advocate for what you want. You have to take charge.”
“I have not seen an analysis to explain why money has not been saved. … I’m not sure it didn’t save money.”—Jeff Holtzinger
Randy McClement’s perplexity about criticisms of his administration turns to defensiveness when discussion focuses on allegations he does not present a strong vision. He says he carefully manages the budget and keeps city services running through a tight economic environment—something few of his critics would counter. But he bristles at the idea of having to fight with his challengers. He hates politics.
McClement didn’t grow up talking politics at the dinner table with his parents. But he knew politics was important; his parents told him that the day he was born coincided with Election Day 1956. Upon realizing the date, his mother insisted his father stop at the polls on the way to the hospital even though she was in labor. Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected to a second term that day, again defeating Democrat Adlai Stevenson. But McClement never knew who his parents voted for. He wasn’t even sure for which party to register when he turned 18, ultimately choosing Republican because of its fiscal conservative platform.
He struggled with that decision, but less so with his decision not to earn a college degree. He admits it “may not have been the best thing,” but he was dissatisfied with the sedentary task of studying.
He started work as a night manager for computer operations at American Management Systems and later became a printer salesman for Storage Technology. Then he served as a property manager for Vanguard Management in Germantown. Thirteen years later, he and his wife took a “leap of faith” and launched a bagel shop Downtown, which ultimately supported both of them and allowed them to live in Frederick.
Hoping to play a role in maintaining the viability of the Downtown business community, he made an unsuccessful run for the Board of Aldermen in 2005. Four years later, he nudged out two contenders in the Republican primary for mayor with more than 71.7 percent of the vote. Then he beat Democrat Jason Judd in the general with about 51.3 percent.
The elation over his win, however, quickly dropped when he learned of an estimated $8 million to $10 million deficit in the fiscal 2011 budget. And two immediate snow storms imposed heavy snow removal expenses not budgeted for his first year. “I have been extremely challenged to keep things moving forward in today’s environment,” he says. Nevertheless, he points to area plans for East Street and the Golden Mile as examples of planning. He also wants to move forward with the next phase of the Carroll Creek project, improve water and sewer for businesses, and deal with vacant properties, for example.
He still finds politics distasteful and says, “I don’t want to be a politician.” He’s frustrated over having to defend himself from criticisms by GOP regulars for supporting Democrat Ron Young in the 2010 state Senate election.
He objects to allegations by Aloi and Karen Young that he has not included them in decision making. He says he can’t jump on every one of every board member’s requests because he has to prioritize staff time and responsibilities. He cringes over the stressful dynamics he has sensed on the board in recent months and rejects suggestions that he be more vocal or forceful, repeating that his role as mayor is to set the agenda and facilitate discussion and a thorough review of items. “We may labor through, but at the end of the day, we have all the facts … and decisions are made.” He says the job of mayor “is a day-to-day challenge most people don’t understand.”
As for having a vision? “I haven’t heard what [everyone else’s] grand plans are. … Come out and tell us what you are looking for.”
Will They Vote?
This year’s Frederick City mayoral race features several well-known candidates with a strong desire to turn out incumbent Randy McClement. However, it remains unclear whether heightened activity in the campaign will lure more voters to the polls than typically turn out.
Each of the two primaries are three-way races: Alderwoman Shelley Aloi, former Mayor Jeff Holtzinger and McClement in the Republican; and Alderwoman Karen Young, state Del. Galen Clagett and newcomer Carol Hirsch on the Democratic side. And this time around former one-term Democratic Mayor Jennifer Dougherty is bypassing the September polls by running as an independent.
“We have all the same usual suspects in the race,” with the exception of Hirsch, says businessman and local Democratic activist Jim Racheff. All of the candidates have a strong allegiance of followers, many political observers recognize. Still, with history showing that typically only the “hardcore electorate” appear at the polls these days no one is ready to predict how those votes will be divided.
When popular Mayor Ronald Young faced his first reelection in 1977, just 26.3 percent of the 10,513 registered voters turned out in the primaries, according to county Election Director Stuart Harvey. A more impressive number turned out for the general election: 45.7 percent of the 11,006 registered voters. In the 1989 race that ended Young’s reign, the turnout rate dropped some: 40.4 percent of the 16,349 of those registered voted in the general election.
But since then, turnout typically has hovered around 20 percent of registered voters in mayoral primary elections and 30 percent in the general elections. When McClement was voted into office in 2009, just under 18 percent of the city’s 29,943 voters turned out for the primary; 23.8 percent of the 30,655 registered voters participated in the general election.
Voter registration numbers have continued to climb. As of Aug. 2, 36,753 voters were registered, according to Harvey, including 17,421 Democrats, 10,624 Republicans, 8,347 unaffiliated, 140 Green Party, 188 Libertarian and 33 “other” who are not associated with a recognized political party..
If the voter turnout rate doesn’t change dramatically this time around, the race will be decided by an even smaller percentage of residents because November’s votes will be split three ways. Victors of the primaries will face Dougherty, who has spent the campaign season knocking on doors and explaining why she is running as an independent.
Dougherty’s campaign signs are a common sight to many long-time city residents. Well known as the owner of the former Jennifer’s Restaurant since her arrival in Frederick in 1987, she first sought a voice in local politics in 1993. She won the Democratic nomination for mayor that year but ultimately lost to Republican Jim Grimes. She was successful in 2001, when 32.6 percent of the voters turned out at the polls and gave her 5,681 votes over 3,856 for Grimes. But she lost her 2005 reelection bid in the primaries to former Democratic Mayor Ron Young.
“Maybe people don’t want the gory details … but they need the gory details. Gory details protect citizens.”—Jennifer Dougherty
She switched her sights to the U.S. congressional seat in 2008 and made an unsuccessful challenge to long-term GOP Rep. Roscoe Bartlett. Undeterred, she returned to the mayoral race in 2009, that time losing in the Democratic primary to Jason Judd.
Dougherty, 52, says she recognizes she just can’t win a Democratic primary in Frederick. So she obtained 1,500 signatures on a petition to run as an independent, saying that it is her form of a primary. She says some people laughed and said, “Jennifer, you were always independent anyway.” Her critics don’t exactly disagree but recall what some termed a “melodramatic administration” when she was mayor. Anita Stup puts it more candidly, calling Jennifer’s four-year term “the greatest show on earth.”
A blunt speaker with an often brusque demeanor, Dougherty says she believes in operating in the public eye and doesn’t apologize for major disagreements on her board, contrasting it to the current board. “At least, when people look back, they knew what we were doing.”
Her political style often matches that in her restaurant, where she efficiently deals with supply deliverers, customers and staff with a few quick words. Raised in an Irish Catholic family and as the third of six children, she was taught to do her share and be efficient. While her focus was on school during the academic year, she and her siblings worked during the summer. Her first foray into the food business was driving a Good Humor truck at 19.
After earning her bachelor’s degree in history from Mount St. Mary’s College in 1983, she pursued a career in the restaurant business with a goal of becoming her own boss. She began as a cook for Houlihans Restaurant in Chevy Chase, and later worked as kitchen manager, general manager and area manager with American Cafe before coming to Frederick, a city she says “was definitely happening.” She ran her restaurant on West Patrick Street until 2008, and the following year opened Magoo’s on 2nd Street.
While her restaurant bustled, citizens and aldermen criticized her handling of a range of affairs during her one political term—from personnel and privatization issues at the Weinberg Center for the Arts to her implementation of a building moratorium to bide time to resolve the city’s water shortage. One departing alderman at the end of her term, Joe Baldi, recounted public shouting matches at meetings and told The Frederick News-Post that “I got frustrated with . . . her posturing. … She was always right.”
Dougherty says maybe she should have brought in more people with a vested interest in discussions on the city’s water supply to understand all the details. But she faults subsequent mayors’ decisions, including Holtzinger’s offer of a costly early buyout for retiring city employees and his planning of the purchase and development of the Hargett Farm. The current board, she says, meets repeatedly on issues but “nothing is happening.”
She champions her board’s success with creating the Neighborhood Advisory Councils, instituting the Golden Mile tax credit, continuing work on the Carroll Creek Linear Park and offering an arts and entertainment tax credit. She wants to focus on crime, in part by boosting the number of police officers, and envisions building on the NAC idea to further improve communication about pending projects with citizens and the board. “Maybe people don’t want the gory details … but they need the gory details. Gory details protect citizens.”
In response to concerns that her candidacy faces a mayoral slate full of well-known names, she responds, “It’s who has tread left on the tires, I always say.”