Weighing the election chances of thirteen candidates in the 2013 mayoral and alderman races for seats at City Hall.
There has been a lot of strong talk, amazing displays of confidence and campaign signage everywhere.
The issues have been discussed and debates have been moderated. But …
What do city voters really want from city government?
Great question, glad you asked!
Traditionally the average voter wants his/her roads to work without congestion, good jobs, good schools, stable taxes and a safe community.
In general most city residents probably feel such things are pretty good.
Within the limits of the City of Frederick there are already many amenities that many of our citizens may actually take for granted:
1. A vibrant downtown, cohesive communities.
2. Easy access to and a variety of shopping options, like a new Wegmans!
3. A reasonably stable and improving local economy.
If serious threats to such things arise, voters will rally to change their elected officials in order to protect their quality of life.
In past city and county elections concerns over uncontrolled housing growth and annexations have motivated voters to express their support for candidates.
While annexations for future development have risen to record levels the last four years and concerns have been raised, it doesn’t appear that concerns have reached a bulb-busting level on the panic meter this election cycle.
If the majority of voters are generally satisfied with City government services, will they show up at the polls?
Turnout in City elections has been historically low. Consider that there only 23.8% of registered voters cast ballots in the 2009 election, and as a result current Mayor Randy McClement squeaked by his challenger Jason Judd by 281 votes. Keep in mind that it seemed to many that Judd had victory in the bag.
The results in last month’s City Primary Election were even more depressing. Less than 16% of the registered voters found their way to the polls.
Now compare the City election turnouts to the 2010 County General Election results: 52.7% of voters countywide cast their ballots.
Of course it never hurts to have state and national political races stimulate turnout, which is the case in county elections, while the City has stood alone without such sideshows.
This year’s campaign has generated discussion on any number of key issues:
From a local businessman’s perspective, I feel strongly that the other core city priorities should be to project strong leadership, have a long term plan for fiscal responsibility and take a fresh look at economic development.
But are these the kind of topics that will motivate residents to cast their ballot this time?
I really don’ t know if such things will increase turnout. However there always seems to be one thing that differentiates the winner from the losers in local elections: The feeling of a personal connection that an individual has with a particular candidate.
That connection (a brand loyalty of sorts) will probably be the primary factor that will determine who claims victory this year.
From this final perspective here are some of my observations:
The Mayoral Race:
Randy McClement (R), the incumbent Republican, has given most voters the impression that the last 4 years have provided a stable atmosphere with little memorable drama. With that message, has he worked hard enough to motivate voters to show up to endorse four more years of the same? I give him a better than average shot to pull this off.
Jennifer Doughtery (I) has suffered innumerable defeats on either side of a one-term mayoral stint. This time, it appears her strategy is to divide and conquer the conventional party affiliated candidates as an Independent. She’s a hard worker with a familiar name. And she has convinced many that her new term will again deliver results, but this time with much less tension and drama. Most think she is once again a long shot, but this is her first time being the “odd man in” in a general election.
Karen Young (D), who found victory in a polite, but below the surface a bitter and expensive primary battle with challenger Galen Clagett. Her platform calls for much more fiscal responsibility (among other issues). Probably the hardest campaigner of the three. From that she has won over several Republican voters, but after defeating Clagett, will she be able to convince his followers to cast a ballot her way this time? And what about other Democrats who could sway to Jennifer or even Randy? A real challenge, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she comes out on top after the effort she has put forth in this campaign.
The Race for Five Alderman Seats:
Alan Imhoff (R) has won this slot in the past, and he was a very practical and effective elected official. His campaign style is less obvious, which has worked for him in some races, but not in others. He believes he has been targeting enough loyal followers to make the grade. Hard to say where he will stand after the last ballot is cast.
Daniel Cowell (R) is a relative newbie to city campaigning. As a banker, his message is about fiscal responsibility and economic development. He was the lowest vote getter of the primary victors, but has invested lots of time to overcome his lack of name recognition. He has made a good run in this race; we’ll have to see if his extra effort these last few weeks will make a difference.
John Daniels (D) was unsuccessful in this race in 2009, he made it through this year’s primary with an 89 vote margin. His platform is environmental sustainability, re-purpose vacant and blighted properties with legislative disincentives and safety. I see his chances as not impossible, but then again it depends on the strength of the base he has built since early September.
Donna Kuzemchak (D) has been there and done that as an alderman; so already has a crew of loyal followers who help promote her lightly funded campaign. Her primary results put her 4th out the 10 Democratic primary alderman contenders and still bettered more votes that the highest ranked Republican candidate. I wouldn’t be surprised, if she makes it back.
Josh Bokee (D) is well known to City Hall with planning commission experience and other high profile community service positions. High ranking in his platform is economic opportunity and fiscal responsibility. Has worked hard and has support from both parties. I think he has a serious shot at a November victory.
Philip “Phil” Dacey (R) has proven to be one of the best Republican campaigners of this year’s race. Another newbie to a city campaign, but really has his act together. He has articulated very well his platform of managing future growth, safety and holding taxes, but more than anything it is hard to be anywhere in the City without seeing his signs. Very high chances of a victory.
Katie Nash (R) is another candidate who has proven she knows how to campaign. She has carried the load for others in successful political races. Her platform leads off with a call for financial responsibility, open communication with citizens and steady management of growth. Her relentless efforts to garner a solid voter following could well win her a seat in City Hall.
Michael O’Connor (D) has had a familiar name, face and radio voice for many years in Frederick. This fared him very well in 2009 alderman seat victory, and again in this past September primary. His website reiterates he pledge to be “a good steward of public resources and the people’s voice in government.” Michael has a loyal following, and I think it is likely that he will be back.
Kelly Russell (D) is the only other incumbent vying for a return to her seat in this race. She has a long history with the City as a retired city police officer, many can relate to her grass roots positions on safety, protecting resources, and proper planning for long-term growth. If she isn’t a top vote getter, I’ll be surprised.
Dave Schmidt (R) is another newcomer to city elections, and at 26, the youngest of all the candidates. That stated, with military service behind him and being self employed, his well spoken message of fiscal responsibility, economic development and getting more state tax dollars back into Frederick seem to be grabbing attention. He has made great headway … but still has a lot of work to do to get into the top five.
At the end of the day, it will come down to whose message resonates best with voters … and whose message motivates voters to get out and cast a ballot.
With fewer than 30,000 registered voters in the City of Frederick and an unfortunate likely expectation of no more than 8,000 ballots being cast, this is any candidate’s election to win or lose.
Please, get out and vote on Tuesday, November 5th!
The author: Rocky Mackintosh, President, MacRo, Ltd., a Land and Commercial Real Estate firm based in Frederick, Maryland. Many of his articles also appear in TheTentacle.com