FREDERICK -- Almost from the moment she moved her Irish posters and framed family photos into the Victorian city hall here, Mayor Jennifer P. Dougherty found herself caught up in nonstop spats.
Dougherty, the city's first female mayor, made fast friends -- and foes. Some admired her blunt talk and strong-willed style; others did not. Three Republican aldermen went so far as to change the city's residency rule to let more people run against her.
Now, Dougherty, 44, faces her biggest fight yet: She's trying to win a second term against a determined comeback bid by Ronald N. Young, 64, a fellow Democrat and a former mayor.
Dougherty versus Young, which will be decided in Tuesday's primary, has turned a routine municipal election into a must-follow drama in this Western Maryland city that's better known for church spires and antiques shops than for its politics.
"The city is energized by this election," says Alderman Donna K. Ramsburg, a Democrat and Dougherty supporter, who, like many in town, considers the race too close to call.
Four years ago, Dougherty, a restaurateur who had never held elected office, surprised the political establishment here by ousting Republican Mayor James S. Grimes. One of her key allies was Young.
Now, after weeks of trading angry accusations, the two are barely speaking.
Dougherty, while defending her record, calls Young one of the "good old boys." Moreover, she argues that Young has "lost touch" because he was last mayor in 1989 and lived until a year ago outside the city limits.
She's still resentful that he's on the ballot. Dougherty vetoed the aldermen's attempt to change the three-year residency requirement for mayoral candidates. But Young, supported by the Republican aldermen, sued; in May, a federal court threw out the residency rule.
"He knew the rules. Others agreed to live by them. I live by them," Dougherty says.
Young, in turn, claims Dougherty is so combative that there's been a "terrible loss of civility" at City Hall. He accuses her of overspending and raising taxes at a time of spiraling housing assessments. Legal fees alone, he says, are way up -- he says because she's constantly taking her battles to court.
"The joke is the council meetings are the best show in town," Young says. "Everyone I meet asks me what's going on. I was born and raised here, and I don't like what's happening."
Frederick, with a population of 58,000, is almost evenly split along party lines. There are about 13,000 registered Democrats and 11,000 Republicans.
Republicans had not planned on a primary. Alderman Joseph W. Baldi, 58, a three-term veteran who is well-known, seemed to scare off most challengers when he announced his candidacy.
But once the residency requirement was gone, two other Republicans got in: William "Jeff" Holtzinger, 41, a former city engineer who lives in the county, and Stanley Mazaleski, 71, of Emmitsburg.
Baldi, though he now faces a three-way race, says he has no regrets. He has focused less on his Republican rivals than on Dougherty. According to Baldi, her "aggressive way" is to blame for the county's decision to stop negotiating with the city over a 15-mile water line from the Potomac River. The city will still get water, but less than it wanted.
The sniping between Dougherty and the GOP aldermen began in her first 100 days and got worse. The Republican men continually took one side; Dougherty and the two Democratic women wound up on the other.
Baldi acknowledges the aldermen are at least partly to blame. Still, he says, "In the past, we'd have very spirited discussions and it didn't get personal. We'd walk out friends."
Ramsburg, however, says it's her male colleagues' fault. She says they were insulting, calling Dougherty "autocratic." "If Jennifer was a man doing what she's doing, there'd be no questions," she says.
A frustrated Dougherty agrees. "I don't know many mayors who have been called liars, cheats and dictators by their aldermen. I have," she says.
`The old and the new'
To Ramsburg, Tuesday's election should be less a referendum on Dougherty's personality than "a choice between the old and the new."
Dougherty is the new Frederick, one of a fast-growing group of newcomers who fell in love with Frederick's 18th-century architecture and charm. She moved here from Washington in 1987 and opened a popular Irish pub called Jennifer's. On election night four years ago, she cheered from atop the bar.
Young is the old Frederick. He grew up in town and can remember how it was in the 1970s, when shops stood empty, residents left for the suburbs and two torrential storms flooded the streets.
In 1973, at age 32, he was elected the city's youngest mayor. Over 16 years, he helped create the now-bustling historic district. He also championed a flood-control project, which has begun to pay off with a multimillion-dollar redevelopment along Carroll Creek.