New page after `black book'

Frederick: The first woman elected mayor promises `a fresh approach' in a city weary of political scandal.

November 09, 2001|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

FREDERICK - Jennifer's Restaurant needs a new, full-time manager.

The Irish pub's current owner and manager, Jennifer Dougherty, 40, was still wearing a bar towel around her waist yesterday as she greeted customers and filled glasses of iced tea behind the bar.

It's the same bar she exuberantly jumped atop Tuesday night to proclaim, "We have a new mayor in the city of Frederick, and you're looking at her!"

In January, Dougherty, a Democrat who has never held elective office, will retire her bar towel and become the first female chief executive in the city's 256-year history, succeeding Republican incumbent James Grimes. She won about 60 percent of the vote.

"We're going to make mistakes because we don't know some things, but the mistakes will come because we're trying to move ahead, not because of deceit or ignorance," Dougherty said yesterday.

In a city weary of political scandal, Dougherty's lack of ties to City Hall provided her an advantage. Her populist campaign theme was re- inforced by frequent barkeep stints at her old brick restaurant, which she bought in 1987 and where, she says, "I'm the host, bartender and Jill of all trades."

When the mayor-elect takes office in January, a new full-time manager will run the restaurant, though Dougherty will continue as owner.

She also owns an Irish goods store here that is run by her mother.

`In the trenches'

"Jennifer is someone who is in the trenches talking to people," says Joe Venezia, 37, a real estate developer and a Dougherty supporter. "We have a mayor [Grimes] who was very fond of bringing big business to town, but who appeared to slight small-business out-of-towners who aren't connected."

Dougherty is a transplant, having moved here in 1987 from Washington, where she helped manage a restaurant.

In his two four-year terms, Grimes, 61, a Frederick native, helped transform the city from a farm-oriented bedroom community into one of Maryland's fastest-growing cities.

He is proud of attracting more than a dozen residential developments and a large industrial park on the east side of town.

Tainted legacy

But the mayor's legacy will also include a scandal over a "black book" customer list seized by police during a 1999 raid on an alleged prostitution ring in the Frederick area.

The local news media pushed for release of the customer names, but Grimes and other city and police officials refused.

Grimes maintained that releasing the list out of context could subject the city to legal liability. But Dougherty and other critics said that keeping the names secret made it appear the city was trying to protect those who might be named.

Wednesday, a Frederick County circuit judge allowed news organizations to look at some of the escort service's business records.

The hundreds of names included that of an alderman, Blaine Young, who had previously been identified by the media as an escort service customer. Young says he did not pay for sex and broke no laws.

A boost to the challenger

The "black book" scandal might not have determined the election's outcome, but it did seem to help Dougherty connect with voters tired of reading about the scandal.

Her campaign theme was "A Fresh Approach."

Some of the escort records remain the subject of legal wrangling, and Dougherty vowed in an interview yesterday to reverse the city's course by releasing any names under wraps when she takes office Jan. 8.

"I think [the scandal] obviously had some effect on the election," Dougherty said. "I think people had the continuing feeling that [Grimes] was using his authority to keep information from the public."

Nonpolitical image

During his campaign, Grimes said Dougherty lacked the experience to run the state's second-largest city. But Dougherty was able to spin the argument to her gain by fostering an image as an "anti-politician."

In a 30-minute informational video broadcast on a local cable channel, she included "bloopers" of minor gaffes made during the taping, such as fumbling with a microphone.

The miscues were designed to show she is down to earth. The video also featured testimonials from family and friends.

Grimes video criticized

Grimes' video showed a day in the life of the mayor. He and his colleagues were portrayed on the job, reassuring the public about their safety.

To bolster the point that the city needs strong leadership, Grimes' video included footage of the recent terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. Showing the graphic shots became a campaign issue, as some of Dougherty's backers said they considered it inappropriate and a scare tactic.

Her supporters also complained about the use of city employees in the Grimes video, which they suggested violated city ethics rules.

Grimes dismissed both criticisms. In a local newspaper ad, the mayor said that his critics "would have you ignore tragic events" and that city employees had a right to appear in the video.

The biggest issue, he argued, was that Dougherty "has no experience."

The Frederick mayorship is a full-time position. The mayor oversees an operating budget of nearly $50 million.

Among Dougherty's campaign boosters was Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, who stumped for her. State Democrats hope Dougherty's new position will help build the party in Frederick County, where Republicans hold most elective offices.

Dougherty, who is single and has five siblings, said politics was a frequent dinner-table topic when she was growing up in Washington. She said she is glad to live in a small town "where you can still meet people by going out and shaking hands."

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