Voters in Frederick head to the polls Tuesday to elect a mayor and city council. But as in many off-year municipal elections, the turnout in Maryland’s second largest city is expected to be low.
George Wenschhof, the editor and publisher of Frederick Politics.com, predicts a turn-out somewhere between 20 and 22 percent, or about 8,000 of Frederick’s 35,000 registered voters. It’s not surprising, he says. In fact, the national average turn-out for local elections is somewhere around 25 percent. People aren’t as engaged as they would be in a national or statewide election when there is heavy media coverage.
Wenschhof says that’s “a shame” because local government has the most direct impact on its citizens. It’s not as if the campaigning hasn’t been spirited. The signs are all over homes and sidewalks throughout the city: Re-elect Randy; Vote for Jennifer; Karen Young for Mayor.
That’s incumbent Republican Mayor Randy McClement; former mayor Jennifer Dougherty, who is running unaffiliated; and the Democratic nominee, Alderwoman Karen Young.
McClement, who has been described more than once as “plain vanilla,” has insisted he’s done more with less over the last four years. He told a local Rotary Club breakfast about the fiscal challenges he’s faced: state requirements to upgrade the municipal sewage treatment plant to the tune of $53 million, dashed hopes for $13.5 million in federal dollars he’d planned to use to widen runways at the local airport, and more.
He said he’s faced a deficit between $6 million and $12 million every year he’s been in office. Nonetheless, he told the Rotary members, “We have spent judiciously every dollar that you guys have given us.”
But Dougherty scoffs at that claim. She says the city’s annual budget has grown from $65 million in 2006, the year she left office, to $114 million two years ago and $137 million this year. She says McClement is merely making excuses for not moving forward on a number of economic development projects, including the second phase of Carroll Creek, a linear park through the heart of downtown.
“In four years, from a dead stop, we got Carroll Creek built,” she says. “And that’s why the excuses of this administration don’t play well with me because I didn’t have the support of the aldermen, but I still got it done.”
Young also takes swipes at the mayor for his claim of doing more with less. Trash pick-ups have been cut back to once a week and bulk trash pick-ups have been eliminated entirely, she says. And she blames Dougherty for the beginnings of the city’s fiscal problems.
During Dougherty’s one term in office, the “general fund grew by 25 percent, the budget overall grew by 25 percent, but pensions grew by 208 percent,” Young added. The current aldermen are responding to the “financial challenges created by her administration,” Young says.
Despite the signs and the candidate forums and the door-knocking, the campaign seems to have taken a back seat in town. Merchants on busy Market Street, the main commercial drag, profess ignorance and direct a reporter to Ned Bond, owner of Da Black Cat, a gothic novelty store.
Bond says voters are just worn out after years of voting for candidates who promise to fix one thing or another, “and then within a year or two after an election that all disappears or there’s some excuse why you can’t or it’s somebody else’s fault.”
In this election they “aren’t inspired by anybody.” Nor are they uninspired, he says.
And to McClement’s advantage: no one’s angry with him. That usually bodes well for an incumbent in a low-turnout election.